I arrived at the Kensington OliV Tasting Room late on Friday afternoon, intent on buying a single bottle of Black Truffle olive oil for my popcorn. Once I walked in, my first shock was “Wow, what is with all the bottles?” The room was laid out, wall-to-wall, with a large spread of black bottles topped with pourers and fustis (metal tins). Immediately I am greeted with a warm “Welcome to OliV” from Jan, as he beckons me to the center table of balsamic vinegars. He asks if I’ve ever been, before giving me a quick rundown of the experience. There are 60 different flavours of olive oils and balsamic vinegars in the shop, and each can be combined to make a pairing. He invites me to sample as many different olive oils and vinegars as I would like, and I soon realized he was very serious about his offer.
Jan picks up the first bottle, an 18-year-old traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. All the fused vinegars in the store use this one as a base, he says. Before I realized it, he poured a tablespoon of vinegar into a plastic cup and encouraged me to slurp it in its entirely. Albeit some initial apprehension, I followed his instructions. I experienced sour, spicy, yet pleasant flavours on my tongue – not what you normally expect when offered balsamic vinegar to taste!
“An equivalent of a good career was spent aging this balsamic vinegar” Jan says while picking up the next bottle, a 25-year-old balsamic vinegar from California. This particular olive oil has spent its own career in an oak barrel, then a cherry wood barrel, and finished in a juniper wood barrel. Another slurp and swirl in my mouth, and I found a more viscous and fruity vinegar that was wonderfully complex, as each aged wood barrel’s flavour came across my tongue sequentially.
Not missing a beat, Jan takes a step to the assortment of olive oils. Similar to how we taste wine, he explains, there are three main characteristics when it comes to tasting oil – colour, butteriness and texture, and the finish with the degree of pepperiness. Each region and its olive oils will have its own type of characteristics, depending on the weather, land composition, and our own palates. He then offers me his standard Arbequina to taste. Slurp, swirl, aerate, feel: I commented on the buttery texture, a bit mild on the back of the tongue, but not quite enough pepper finish. Jan then chose the Koroneiki olive oil to assist me with understanding the pepperiness, which was successful: starting with a sharper and fresher taste, with more pronounced grassiness, it then finished with a prominent peppery bang!
Now this is where it appeared Jan was having a genuine blast.
Each regular and infused olive oil could be paired with any of the balsamic vinegars to make a custom flavour. I let him know that I was looking for something to update my standard spring mix salad lunch, and he brought out my first pairing winner – an infused Persian Lime olive oil with a Pomegranate balsamic vinegar.
The pairings didn’t stop after that. He enthusiastically darted all over the store with newly poured plastic cups, filled with Pistachio with Lemon, Pear with Oregano, Orange with Chocolate, and several others. Each one had a varying degree of success with me, but he was open and receptive to each of my candid, uneducated opinions.
He insisted I sample the spicy olive oils. He prepared two cups – one with a Citrus Habanero olive oil and Chocolate balsamic vinegar pairing, and a white balsamic vinegar, used to clean the palate. The Citrus Habanero olive oil reminded me of Silver Sage Winery’s “The Flame” wine, but the chocolate added a smooth component that really made it shine. This was another wonderful combination, perfect for my sister’s upcoming birthday!
I overheard another customer express her delight when she heard about the Mango olive oil as an accompaniment to vanilla ice cream. Or the baked salmon with a White Honey Ginger balsamic vinegar glaze. It was difficult to keep track of them all! Who knew that olive oil and balsamic vinegar tastings would have so many combinations and possibilities?
By the end of my 45 minute impromptu tasting experience, I had tried at least 25 different olive oil and balsamic vinegar pairings, and I didn’t even feel like I scratched the surface. I had to carefully choose the number of bottles I took home, and I ended up with the Persian Lime olive oil, the Black Truffle Garlic olive oil, the Pomegranate balsamic vinegar and Espresso balsamic vinegar (in addition to the Citrus Habanero olive oil and Chocolate balsamic vinegar for my sister).
I did leave the Pistachio and Lemon behind, but that would have to do for now. After all said and done, it felt like the first experience I had with wine tasting – eye-opening and delicious. I look forward to my next visit back to OliV Tasting Room.
OliV Tasting Room
100-1130 Kensington Road N.W.
Post-notes: I returned to OliV Tasting Room to confirm the accuracy of my facts. The owner, Isabeau, kindly filled me in and added a few more details:
- The balsamic vinegars are made from fermented Trebbiano grapes.
- A mixture of mostly green olives, with black olives and some in between green-and-black olives, are combined for a specific flavour and oil extraction. Similar to how arabica and robusta beans are used to make an espresso blend!
- First press olive oil implies that this batch of oil came from the first, initial squeeze of the olives. Any subsequent presses involves further chemical extraction, which do not yield as high quality of olive oil.
- While the olive oils have a two year shelf life, Isabel recommended that the olive oils be consumed within a year, as the flavour dissipates after that point.