The land of wines, excellent produce and incredible landscapes, Mendoza has now received a new honor: Extra Virgin Olive Oil has got its first GI in Latin America.
The Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Mendoza GI is a major honor as it is the first of its kind on the continent and in the world outside of Europe and Tunisia.
“The Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Mendoza GI is excellent news for Argentina as it amounts to global recognition that will help us to continue consolidating our place as a region that produces extremely high quality olive oils,” says Gabriel Guardia, an oenologist specialized in olive oil and the general manager of Olivícola Laur (named in 2021 as number 1 in the EVOO World Ranking, which chooses the 100 best olive oils in the world every year).
Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Mendoza: world renowned
Susana Mattar is an eminence in the olive oil universe. She has an extensive CV, but most relevantly she has been Head of the Tasting Panel for Extra Virgin Olive Oil at UCCuyo since 2005 and is a member of the group of experts who represented Argentina at the COI in Sensory Evaluation of Virgin Olive Oils, and Regulations for Table Olives, as well as being an organizer and a juror at ArgOliva, one of the most important competitions in the sector.
We spoke to her about the significance of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Mendoza GI:
“Our Extra Virgin Olive Oils are greatly appreciated across the world, we see this at the different fairs to which we accompany the producers. Today, a lot of different brands are selling overseas and winning major awards. That shows the enormous potential of EVOO from different regions of the country.
”A Geographic Indication has specific parameters that must be respected, establishing criteria for differentiation and quality that producers must respect and regulatory entities must continuously monitor for its continued use.
Argentina stands out for its use of the latest technology, the mechanized harvest process which gets the raw material to the processing center quickly, its edaphalogical characteristics (climate and soil), and intensive cultivation, all of which make the country a top quality EVOO producer. Each region has its own characteristics and varieties that thrive best.”
Gabriel Guarda, from Laur, adds: “Argentina’s reputation has spread thanks to the number of awards the country has won and its appearance in major European markets and the United States because we sell a lot in bulk as well as brands, leaving us well-positioned in the supermarket aisles.”
Arauco, the Malbec of Argentine oils
Just as Malbec is recognized across the globe as the country’s flagship wine, in the world of EVOOs, one variety stands out: Arauco, an olive that dates back to the first variety planted by Jesuit priests who settled in the Americas after the conquest.
Arauco took on a distinctive character in Argentina and has two major virtues: the fruit is large with an elongated oval shape and pointed end, a good flesh to stone ratio and excellent flavor, texture, color and aroma.
Arauco varietal oils, meanwhile, are potent, bitter and spicy, with fruity, intense vegetable aromas. They can be consumed on their own or in blends to provide fresh, intense aromas. Argentina has won several international awards with its Arauco varietals due to its fruitiness and intense bitter spice flavors.
“In demanding markets where olive oil is widely consumed such as Spain and Italy, they truly appreciate the quality of our olive oils, especially the Arauco variety with which we’ve surprised plenty of juries,” says Guarda.
A little history
Susana Mattar remembers that back in 2009 a conversation began among the producers of EVOO in San Juan (the province that produces the most olive oil in the country, with 32% of total output) about working on a GI or DOC: “the olive oil expansion had only recently begun, different kinds of EVOO were only just being categorized and different regions were still being defined. We were discussing launching the Argentine EVOO brand. Time passed and we’re still learning more.
Today, the EVOO of Mendoza GI has arrived, which is very important. I think that other regions such as San Juan and the producers of the south will follow. They understand the importance of the added value.”
What characteristics must an olive oil from Mendoza have to qualify for GI status?
Mendoza has always had an olive oil growing culture, mainly based around the cultivation of Arauco, but also Frantoio, Farga, Le chino, Nevadillo and other traditional Spanish and Italian varieties.
“There are also other important factors such as the climate, the thermal range between day and night, which helps the oil to develop characteristics that are very different from those found in warmer or wetter areas. We make oils with large amounts of polyphenols (very healthy antioxidants). The oils are fruity, bitter and spicy, all good qualities in olive oil,” says Guarda.
To use the Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Mendoza GI brand, the following criteria must be met:
- High content of oleic acid in accordance with the latitude of the crop and the Mediterranean climate.
- Presence of the area’s traditional variety, Arauco, which must be at least 20% up to a maximum of 50%, mixed with complementary varieties such as Frantoio, Arbequina, Farga, Coratina, Picual and Corneiki, which are all present in the specified area.
- The sensory profile must be intensely fruity with other valued attributes such as mild to high bitterness and spice with no defects. They should be full-bodied in the mouth with a light, fruity nose.
- The oleic content must be above 60% and acidity lower than 0.6%
- Total polyphenols should be higher than 100 ppm
- Peroxide content should be lower than 12%
The formal request for the establishment of the Geographic Indication (GI) was made by the Mendoza Olive Oil Association (Asolmen), following work done in partnership with the Ministry of the Economy, Infrastructure and Energy, the IDR foundation which is in charge of tracking and branding, the INTA, the INTI and the UNCuyo tasting panel, who are specialists in sensory analysis.
In Resolution 31/2022 published on June 7, 2022, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries declared that the province meets all the technical and legal requirements needed for the establishment of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Mendoza GI. This officially established the GI and the logos for the brand’s sale were subsequently approved.