Buying Good Olive Oil

How to Buy Good Olive Oil — Honestly 

Suisun Valley, California (January 5, 2016) – Called the Food of the Gods, olive oil, true certified extra virgin olive oil, is indeed a magical food. “This is an ancient food that deserves its place on the modern table,” say Mark and Ann Sievers of Il Fiorello Olive Oil Co. in Suisun Valley Northern California.  “It’s a shame that other countries simply haven’t enforced their standards when it comes to extra virgin olive oil.  It’s a matter of cost for them, but it’s a matter of purity and integrity for the consumer.”

A recent 60 Minutes (Sunday January 3, 2016) episode focused on the production and mis-labeling of poor quality oils in Italy.  “Guy Campanile, the producer of that segment on olive oil, should come to California during fall milling season, to smell and taste how wonderful our oils are, says Ann Sievers.  “It’s no wonder we fare very well in international competitions. Italy, Spain, France, and Greece make some good olive oils, but they usually keep the good oils for themselves. And as 60 Minutes showed, the multinational companies send adulterated oils out to the world.”

How can consumers tell the difference?  Il Fiorello offers some simple advice:  “If you find an inexpensive oil a grocery store, there’s a reason it is inexpensive,” says Mark Sievers.  “It may be old, bad, or adulterated or all three. This is indeed a buyers beware, or we like to say buyer be aware business. If the label on the oil says it is from 5 different countries you can be assured it is not good quality olive oil, and probably not even much olive oil.”

The 60 Minutes segment documented the adulteration of Italian olive oils with highly refined (read processed with heat and chemicals) vegetable oil–a silent issue that consumers are only now recognizing. “It’s too bad,” says Ann Sievers.  “If the label said olive oil and vegetable oil then consumers would know what they are buying.  But then, they probably wouldn’t buy it.”

It takes an enormous effort to make extra virgin olive oil: a whole years’ worth of growing, expensive harvesters, large machinery. And the oil must be only olive oil, and have a balance of bitterness, fruit, and pungency when it comes out of the mill. If it’s not, it is fraudulent, and that is not extra virgin olive oil. Unscrupulous makers add other chemicals to try to make up for the defects. “If you bring me good olives, we can make beautiful oil,” Says Ann Sievers. “If you bring me bad olives you will have bad oil, or none as we will not mill bad fruit. Come visit us and take a tour of our farm and olive milling, (not pressing) equipment during harvest time.  It’s an enlightening experience. The taste and aroma of fresh extra virgin olive oil will stay with you forever.”

According to the segment on 60 Minutes, because of the immense amount of adulteration and bad olive oil, consumers do not even know what good oil tastes like. Ann and Mark Sievers would like to change that.  “Certified extra virgin olive oil is truly a special product and should be paired with great food,” says Mark Sievers.  “Once you’ve tasted the real thing, you won’t ever want to go back to that stuff the big conglomerates sell.”

“It’s all about knowing your sources,” says Ann Sievers.  “Take the time to know where you food comes from, how it is made and how to protect your health and dollars.”

About Il Fiorello

ll Fiorello is one of the leading premium olive oil producers in the USA, with more than thirty gold medals won at national and international olive oil competitions around the world. They grow twelve varieties of olives—all from Italian, Spanish, French and Greek olive trees—twenty minutes from the more famous Napa Valley. Il Fiorello offers tours, tastings, and a full range of visitor experiences in their olive oil visitor center in Suisun Valley, CA. For more information visit:

Just Pondering

The wine bar is quiet tonight.  It is raining and nobody comes out in the rain to wander from bar to bar, much more comforting to sit at home with your wine in the dry.  So I have time too much time to think.  Three months in – what have I learned, what would I do differently?

  • My first mistake was several months ago when I initially leased the space for the wine bar.  I had no way of knowing it would take 10+ months to get the build-out completed and the doors opened but that is irrelevant; I still should have negotiated that the rent payments didn’t start until construction was complete.
  • I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter how great your wine selection is or how great your tapas menu is, people want a festive atmosphere.  They may tell you that they want to be able to sit and talk while they enjoy their glass of wine, but they will still leave your bar and head to the party bar if they are not entertained.
  • There is a steep learning curve to running a bar or a restaurant and you have to run hard just to keep up and even harder to get ahead of the curve.
  • There are more restaurant consultants (probably in most towns) than there are restaurants.  Even though you are a new business and you have to watch every penny you spend, these consultants won’t hesitate to ask thousands of dollars to show you how to succeed.
  • Advertising dollars are scarce, but once again, sales people come out of the woodwork to try to convince you to use their advertising medium to reach the masses.  Knowing the right source for your advertising so that you actually reach your target market isn’t easy.
  • Sleep is overrated!  If you get all of these things (listed above) spinning around in your head, sleep is elusive; but you keep going because of that learning curve and because success is the only option.
  • Eating, while not overrated, isn’t quite as important as you once thought.  If are looking for a weight loss program, open a bar – guaranteed 20 pounds.
  • Your wine list does matter.  It is nice to be able to brag about how extensive your list is and even more uplifting to have a master sommelier brag about your wine list.
  • Building a group of regulars is important.  It is nice to see that smiling face come through the door.  It is like having family come visit and it is important to your customers to be recognized and treated like family.
  • I have learned that you actually drink less if you own the bar – you can’t drink at work and you are way too tired by the time you get off!

I don’t want to write about the bar very often.  I still want to write about wine and the experiences that go along with it.  So the wine bar is open.  I have survived thus far – a little thinner, a little more knowledgeable about the industry, but still going strong.  Good days are really good, slow days are just slow days, not the end of the world.


Cheers, All!!!  Thank you so much for all your support while I have chased this dream. If you are ever in the Bluffton/Hilton Head area, pleas come me.  You are all like family!


My 15 Minutes of Fame (almost!)

The wine bar has been open for 3 months now.  I keep thinking I am at a point where I can slow down long enough to post on my blog again, but something always comes up that keeps me hopping.  But I am not so stressed anymore so I do see the light at the end of the tunnel and unless it is a train, I will be back soon!  🙂

For now, please enjoy this video from my appearance on a local TV station for their Restaurant Show.

Latitude Wine Bar on the Restaurant Show



2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

7 Days, 7 Cities – 1 Great Wine

Aquaoir – from aqua,(“water”) is the interaction between a submerged container of wine and the set of special characteristics that a body of water and its environment hold – temperature, pressure, light (or darkness) and motion.

And so the experiment began in the Spring of 2013.  Mira Winery dropped four cases of their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon into the Atlantic Ocean just off the Charleston Harbor.  The wine stayed for three months.  Four cases of the same wine were left to age naturally in the bottle at the winery.  The wine was retrieved from the ocean and the tastings, along with the media frenzy, began.

I was fortunate enough to be invited as Mira’s guest to attend a blind tasting of the two wines side by side November 6.  The tasting event kicked off a 7 day tour where Mira was hosting a tasting event in 7 cities.  The tour lineup was:

  • Charleston SC – Nov 6
  • Washington, DC – Nov 7
  • New York, NY – Nov 8
  • Palm Beach, FL  Nov 9
  • Little Rock, AR – Nov 10
  • San Francisco, CA – Nov 11
  • Los Angeles, CA – Nov 12

The setting for the Charleston tasting was at Harborside East and you couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque backdrop for tasting wine

  • Charleston Harbor

    Charleston Harbor

The wine was initially aged in the ocean in an effort to discover a better process for aging wine.  The three-month experiment, by all accounts, was hugely successful.  The experiment was limited to three months to test equipment.  The bottles came out of the water covered with barnacles, but the corks were still securely in place.  Mira has now submerged eight cases in the water and plans to leave them eight months.  The difference in this group of wines is that they were submerged immediately after bottling with no bottle aging prior to submersion.  The labels were etched on the bottles for the new group of wines to avoid having to scrape barnacles off and attach labels after the fact.

Jim "Bear" Dyke

Jim “Bear” Dyke

So what was the result of the three-month aging as compared to regular bottle aging?  Answer: Significant and Amazing!

I have been following this Aquaoir experiment from the beginning.  I had already heard how significantly different the wines tasted.  With the blind tasting, I had no way of knowing which wine was in which glass.  Glass “A” appeared to be a young wine and was very tannic.   It had a great nose with hints of leather and spice.  I picked up licorice on the palate.  I felt like it needed quite a bit more time in the bottle.  Glass “B” didn’t have near as much on the nose, but the flavors were intense dark cherry, plum, and vanilla.  It was more evolved, silky with smooth tannins.  One would never guess that these were the same wine.  Glass “B” had been ocean-aged.  The difference was remarkable.

SIDE NOTE: The last case of the ocean-aged wine goes on sale TODAY.  The first case sold out to wine club members in a few hours.  Word of warning, this wine won’t last long.

So what created the differences in these wines.  As of right now, the science behind testing these wines hasn’t really given any clues.  The chemical analysis consisted primarily of  testing pH, alcohol, volatile acidity and turbidity and comparing the results of the land aged versus the water aged.  There was no significant difference in any of this.  When the wine was submerged, the bottles were at 57°.  The wine was set ay 60′ deep and stayed for three months.  When the wine came up, it was at 72°.  This was completely unexpected and they are not sure why it was so warm.  The warmth could have sped up the aging process, but the results are not conclusive.

The eight cases that have just been submerged will age through the winter months.  Will this make a difference?  Only time will tell.

Could ocean-aging be the answer to the global wine shortage that is being talked about lately in the news?  It is definitely something that should be looked at closely.  Mira is the first US winery to try ocean-aging, but several wineries around the globe have experimented with ocean-aging.


Media Samples

Explore exciting Spanish wines with great deals.

I received an email several days ago from a college student wanting me to participate in a survey he was doing for a class.  The survey was sent to several wine bloggers.  I recognized most of the names on the email list and it seemed like good company so I decided to participate.  The questions were about blogging with some of them specifically directed toward the receiving of media samples.  He wanted to know if we (wine bloggers) thought of our media samples as simply “free wine” or if we blogged about wine simply to receive these samples.  His questions really got me thinking!

When I initially started blogging about wine, I had no idea that wineries or their media/public relations firms provided media samples so that we would tweet and blog about their wines.  I simply started blogging because I love wine.  I love the whole wine lifestyle – enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, sipping wine with friends, sharing a bottle with hubby over some great conversation as we unwind from the day  and visiting wineries and making new friends along the way.  I love it all!

A couple of years ago I received a DM (direct message) on Twitter from a winery wanting to send me a bottle of wine for a live tweet-up that was happening in the near future.  I was blown away.  Someone wanted to give me wine???  I didn’t even have a blog at that time, but I hit Twitter hard every day and had started gathering a few followers.  The thoughts of tasting a “sample bottle of wine” and sharing my thoughts with the whole Twitter-verse made me absolutely giddy!

Shortly after that, I started blogging about wine.  I’m no wine expert.  I don’t have a laundry list of flowery words to describe all the different tastes and aromas of a wine.  My descriptors are fairly limited, but my enthusiasm is not.  When I receive media samples in the mail today, I feel an obligation to taste the wines and write about them.  I am very particular about them.  I mark on the back of each bottle with a silver sharpie to identify that the bottle has to be reserved for a review to keep anyone else from opening it.

2013-04-03 19.53.04Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love getting media samples!  I have the wines shipped to my office (you know, that adult signature thing) and it is like having Christmas several times a year especially when I get in a shipment that I didn’t realize was coming – like the one I received last week.  Sometimes I wait until I get home to open the box, but other times I just can’t wait.  The suspense is too much – I have to know what is in that box.

So “Thank You” to the media firms, public relations firms and wineries that send wine my way for a review or a tweet-up.  I really appreciate the opportunity to promote your wines.

Please understand that I may not get to your wine and have an opportunity to post my thoughts for several weeks, maybe even months, but I will fulfill my obligation to you.


NC Holiday Wine Project – Summary!

I love snow and the holidays!  Putting together the NC Holiday Wine Project was so much fun and the wineries that opted in (yes, they had to opt in!) to participate were great!  And, yes, I know I am a little late with this post, but I do want to take some time here and sum up the NC Holiday Wine Project.

So starting at the top:

NC Holiday Wine Project #1Raffaldini Vineyards featuring their La Dolce Vita.  Being a perfect companion for cheese and breads, this wine is actually great to have in the house year round to serve those unexpected guests.  Weighing in at 12.5% alcohol and retailing for $15 at the winery.

NC Holiday Wine Project #2: Grove Winery presented the Halbrotroken version of their Traminette.  This light elegant wine pairs well with the Holiday feast from appetizers to dessert and is mild enough to never overpower your turkey.  This wine weighs in at 12.5% alcohol and retails for $14.99.

NC Holiday Wine Project 3Laurel Gray Vineyards always features a special Holiday wine label on their Encore, a raspberry infused red blend bottled under the name for the Holidays.  This post was a lot of fun to work on as I used frosted glasses rimmed with chocolate – sounds like a great idea for a special Valentine’s evening as well!  Encore weighs in at 12.5% alcohol and retails for $17.

NC Holiday Wine Project #4Shelton Vineyards  participated in the Holiday Wine project by featuring their port.  A true aperitif, this Oporto Style port  weighs in at 18% alcohol and is a real bargain at only $16.

NC Holiday Wine Project #5Iron Gate Winery is another of those wineries that offers up a special Holiday wine.  This year was Blessings, a raspberry infused Pinot Noir with 4% residual sugar.  Blessings weighs in at 9% alcohol and retails for $12.85.  (This wine was a media sample from Iron Gate.)

NC Holiday Wine Project #6Raylen Vineyards presented their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine stands in a class all its own as it won the prestigious title “Best in Show” at the North Carolina state fair this year.  This wine is great to just sip by itself but it also pairs really well with ham and pork anytime of the year.  This Cab weighs in at 13.5% alcohol and retails for $15.99 at the winery.

NC Holiday Wine Project #7Shadow Springs Vineyard took a different approach to the holidays with something we can appreciate all winter – Merry Mist. This wine is infused with just a touch of orange and has 3.5% residual sugar.  To create a mulled wine, all you need to add is a cinnamon stick and a cozy fire to sit in front of.   Merry Mist weighs in at 12.5% alcohol and retails for $14.

NC Holiday Wine Project #8: Biltmore Estate had several recommendations for the holidays from bubbly to semi sweet to bold dry wines.  For the Holiday Wine Project, I sampled their Century Dry Rose‘.  (This wine was a media sample from Biltmore.) For those that read my blog regularly or follow my tweets, you know I LOVE a good rose’ so this was a real treat.  By far one of the best rose’ wines I have had.  If you like rose’, I highly recommend that you try this one.  The Century Dry Rose’ weighs in at 12.5% alcohol and retails for $14.99 at the winery.

NC Holiday Wine Project #9:  The final wine that was featured in the Holiday Wine Project was La-Vinia from Cauble Creek Vineyards.  La-Vinia is made from North Carolina’s native grape, the Muscadine (this one was the Carlos variety) and is sure to please anyone who prefers a bold but sweeter wine.  La-Vinia weighs in at 13% alcohol, has 4% residual sugar and retails for $15 at the winery.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to sample all the wines that I had at home for this project, but each will eventually get its own blog post up soon enough.  I want to thank all the wineries that chose to participate in the NC Holiday Wine Project.  Without you it would not have been possible.  Thank you!

Rosé Makes a Comeback!

I’ve been researching rosé for a few days now. It has been difficult to find much about the early days of this delicate pink wine that is now so trendy and has taken on such a Fab status with the wine connoisseur. America has always had a romance with French wines; however, Rosé started out in the South of France as a bone dry wine but it was not widely accepted in the US. In the 50’s the typical wine drinker in the US didn’t appreciate a dry wine. The preference was for a sweeter, higher alcohol wine. Then in the 60’s the US palate changed again with everyone becoming a wine snob and only drinking pure varietals and even though Rosé existed, it was relegated to the bottom shelf as a less than desirable wine.

So for decades, Rosé took a back seat to the more famous reds – Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot, etc. During this time, the American palate was changing once again – we now want robust, full-bodied wines with fresh fruit flavors. We want our wines to be (dare I say) orgasmic. So Rosé has been re-introduced to the American wine consumer. Today’s Rosé is modern, versatile, and elegant. It pairs with any setting or any lifestyle and is made in the dry European tradition.

I started drinking Rosé this summer (reluctantly). I was visiting Junius Lindsay Vineyards in Lexington, NC. They offered me a taste of their new Rosé and could immediately see the hesitation on my face. Smiling, they poured a sample tasting into my glass and waited for my reaction. What I was expecting was the sweet taste of a blush wine or a white zinfandel; but I was so pleasantly surprised!  On the nose I found strawberry with a hint of lime.  These aromas followed through on the palate making this a delightful wine.

This was the most refreshing wine I have had in quite some time.  It has quickly become one of my favorites.  I had thought it would only be a summer wine, but I am rethinking that.  I may have to keep it in the wine cooler all through the fall as I can see drinking this on a crisp fall evening out by the fire pit.

Junius Lindsay Vineyard

Rosé 2009 – Special Delivery

Alcohol – 11.5%

Suggested Pairing – pork (especially ham) and BBQ

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