From an agricultural perspective, it makes sense that many of the world’s most venerable wine regions also make top-quality olive oil and vinegar. Some of the greatest vinegars derive from grape must, and producers often treat vinegar and oil with the same respect for terroir and process as fine wine.
Here are five regions that produce excellent wine, olive oil and vinegar.
Due east of Rome, Abruzzo hugs a half-moon stretch of the sparkling Adriatic Sea. From the Apennine Mountains to the coast, much of the green interior has been preserved as national parks and nature reserves. The rest of Abruzzo gives way to oil and wine production. Three key oil Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) include Aprutino Pescarese, Colline Teatine and Pretuziano delle Colline Teramane. Two of the best farms for single-varietal oils are Frantoio Hermes and Tommaso Masciantonio. For finishing dishes with a touch of citrus, Agrumato bottles a bright extra-virgin olive oil pressed with lemons.
The wines of Abruzzo rely on the red grape Montepulciano and the white grape Trebbiano, which in turn become the base for vino cotto, or mosto cotto. It is derived from a 2,000-year-old process that reduces pressed grapes in a copper pot over a wood-fired flame. The resulting sauce, sweet and thick like maple syrup, might be left as a sweetener or aged in barrels to transform into a tangy, raisin-flavored vinegar.
The sunny, dry Spanish appellation of Cádiz produces delicious foods and beverages. Wine lovers know the region’s fortified wine legacy of the Sherry triangle, tucked between the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. Based on Palomino, Pedro Ximénez or Muscat of Alexandria grapes, styles range from salty, dry Manzanillas to full-bodied, nutty Olorosos.
Olive trees benefit from the arid conditions. Alma de Jerez presses small, green Arbequina olives into fruity, golden-green oils. In the mountainous Denominación de Origen (DO) of Sierra de Cádiz, the Lechín olive variety thrives. Like wine and oil, Sherry vinegar (vinagre de Jerez) has a DO to safeguard authenticity and quality. Producers age vinegar in oak anywhere from six months to 20 years and employ the solera system used for wine. Sherry vinegar has nuanced, complex flavors of nuts, dried fruits and umami, which lend fabulous complexity to sauces and stews. Many wine producers bottle vinegar, like Valdespino and Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosía. Bodegas Alvear, technically from Montilla-Moriles, specializes in dry and sweet Pedro Ximénez-based vinegar.
Wedged between Milan, Venice and Florence, Emilia-Romagna has long earned esteem for its food culture. From Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto to stuffed tortellini, residents benefit from the abundance of local wine, olive oil and vinegar.
Two olive oils have a DOP: Colline di Romagna, which accounts for half the region’s production, and Brisighella, the first Italian oil DOP. The regional olives impart fruity, herbal aromas that range from cut grass and almonds to artichokes.
Arguably, the world’s most famous vinegar comes from Modena. Regulated like fine wine, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP demands a particular production in a specific region with Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, specialized barrels and at least 12 years of aging. Prices for exceptional examples from the Affinato (old) or Extravecchio (extra old) classifications can top $200. Expect gorgeous, deep flavors of raspberry, cherry and fig.
Olive oil and wine go hand-in-hand in Southwest France’s Mediterranean climate. Picholine, Négrette and Noirette olives are found in oil blends sold at weekend markets, served as snacks and ground into tapenade spreads. Olives are integral to the local economy and diet, as production dates 6,000 years.
The wines span a range of styles from burly, spiced reds to crisp whites and fortified dessert wines. In the coastal town of Banyuls-sur-Mer, winemakers produce the Grenache-based fortified wine Banyuls, which has been made since the 13th century. The region’s local vinegar is known for extended oak aging as well as spice cake and nut flavors.
Sonoma County, California
Drive past the Chardonnay and Cabernet vineyards of Sonoma, and you’ll spy the twisted, telltale trunks and silvery oblong leaves of olive trees. California turned savvy to its potential for olive oil in 1992, when the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) was founded. The COOC Taste Panel, created in 1998, certifies about 400 olive oils a year, though olive farming in the state extends more than two centuries.
Today, estate-grown, small-batch producers work with Spanish and Italian olive varieties. Dry Creek Olive Oil Company at Trattore Farms boasts an old stone mill from Italy to crush fruit from reclaimed groves. Trattore’s pomegranate and raspberry vinegars taste of sun-soaked California produce. The Olive Press is billed as Sonoma’s first olive mill and is located inside Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Figone cultivates 45-year-old Mission and Manzanilla olive trees, producing a range of single varietal, blended and flavored oils. The family’s Italian heritage is even more evident due to its portfolio of aged dark and white balsamic vinegars.
B.R. Cohn and Jordan wineries bottle fresh, spicy oils, while McEvoy Ranch adds a Pinot Noir vinegar as well as ODE skincare line to its portfolio. DaVero Farms & Winery does all three with a biodynamic touch. Try DaVero’s bright and buttery estate Meyer lemon olive oil.