Appreciating olive oil as you would a fine wine

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Let us pause to consider that bottle of olive oil perched next to the bread basket. For you, it may be an afterthought — just something to drizzle on bruschetta while you browse the wine list.

What you may not realize is that good olive oil can be just as complex and just as exhilarating as good wine. And just like wine, an olive oil can make one person think of the smell of a wildfire or tobacco or citrus, and make another person say, “Uh … it tastes like olive oil.”

I watched olive oil take center stage recently at the New York International Olive Oil Competition, in which 15 lucky judges weeded through 651 extra-virgin bottles. Each are warmed to precisely 86 degrees before the judges taste them, working off a sheet asking to pinpoint specific flavors in the oils such as arugula, radish, pine seed and fig leaf, and to note defects such as “muddy sediment.”

The medals they award carry influence and prestige with chefs and markets, just as a high Wine Spectator rating might with wine stores.

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