From April 7, since we have no alternative, the Leone tasting panel entered the era of “smart tasting”
We use the IOC sheet plus the Leone d’Oro sheet, specifically designed on the “character” of the competition, both digitized and therefore I, as Panel Leader, manage to monitor the alignment and performance of the tasters in real-time.
The choice to continue with the tastings remotely was initially a forcing, I myself have always been very hostile to the idea. But then things started to fall and it was clear that, if you wanted to continue the competition, there was no alternative.
Having already tasted more than half of the samples received since November, I took responsibility for doing this test.
I can assure you that looking for, finding and being able to get a thousand glass 50ml bottles here was not easy. Numbering them and filling them with a steady hand (no, you cannot use a funnel, otherwise there would have been contamination between samples) and, in the meantime, manage a family with two teenagers growling and perpetual hungry, took almost a week.
The next step was to find the couriers who deliver to the tasters (I remind you that we are in the Brescia-Bergamo “bomb” zone, several couriers no longer deliver and there are a thousand first-order bottles lost between Milan and the Lake).
The tasters of my Panel are a very heterogeneous, such as age and professional training, but they have in common a tireless enthusiasm for the tasting technique.
Tasting at the same time you can make a “semi-open panel”, which is the method that is used for the competition. I also like it because my tasters are well trained and aligned, we meet ourselves 4 times a month since a couple of years (and, information for the unnecessary controversy that Italians are doing better ;-) : this panel has been formed, trained, aligned and works in a recognized panel room, it was recognized by the ministry as a professional, passed the ring test and works using the Coi methodology. Each Competition has its own regulation and that follows, if you want to make a competition where you taste in an ancient olive grove in the presence of a flamenco dancer it’s enough you write it in the regulation than it is up to the producers to choose which competitions to send their samples to by reading the different regulations. So welcome to biodiversity, even in EVOO competitions.
At an initial alignment on the perception of the intensity of the fruitiness, the bitterness and the spiciness , each one then works individually and simultaneously, each one inserts the values that he deems correct also in all the other fields. As Panel leader, I often ask individual tasters for details, we take into consideration the harmony of the product (but having an excellent chef in the group we often also appreciate disharmonious but interesting oils), persistence and complexity. We discuss varietal perfumes and nuances with accuracy that flows into moments of comedy (the famous perfume of flowers cut on an April morning by a barefoot virgin who wears a linen dress … ivory color, can you recognize it? ;-) , but all this without losing sight of the fact that the sensorial analysis that producers will receive must be an objective stimulus and not an imaginative wink
We are aware that our response in this context will not make a difference in the commercial category , this work is done in official sensorial analyzes, out of competitions (from any competition), our aim is to do an analysis that is a balanced comparison between the hundreds of samples from all around the world that we taste every year. Often also by comparing oils of different years, thinking about the shelf life coneected to the inevitable inconveniences caused by the fly, anomalous temperatures and other variables. (No, they don’t know which producer they taste, but yes, after having sent the form and the score I tell them the variety or the blend composition).
This is the peculiarity of using a group that does not change: for us, we are committed to always growing, studying, dedicating time and a lot of commitment to this training, year after year, for producers to know (and sometimes even painfully accept) where is positioned, in a scale from 0 to 100 places, its own oil, with the room for improvement that the position highlights.
It is clear, and this applies to all competitions, that there is no absolute value, it would only be possible in a competition in which the same group tastes ALL the oils in the world, but this is clearly impossible. This is why it is not possible to compare the results between the different competitions, each competition has its rules, its range to be rewarded, the characteristics that most influence the final mark. And this is why it is right for a producer to rely on different competitions.
This is why I want to tell this story about my competition, not because it is the best (of course I’m sure about it ;-) , but because is in the interests of the producers to know what they pay for. (Yes, ok, but you producers should also read the regulations, huh? ;-)
Returning to remote tastings, the 7th of April we had the first four hours of tasting, everything worked well, after the first ten minutes we entered the rhythm and I had to change my mind. Clearly you have to trust in the sense of responsibility of the group, to be in a room without distractions, without smells, with cell phones off and your head on the piece, in short, like when you enter the panel room.
It is tiring and beautiful, it is a form of meditation, for a few hours we really don’t think about anything other than the difference between a perfume that recalls the green of lettuce or the green of rocket. We forget that all of us in the group come from the provinces of Brescia and Bergamo, that the people outside die and those inside are freaking out.
Being a professional oil taster is a crap in those days, if you think of the real “professionals” who are working to save lives, but for me (and I repeat for me) to continue this Competition is a way of reacting flexibly and adaptive to the new life that isolation has brought, is to continue to feed the enthusiasm for my work, is to honor the time, the money and the samples that the producers have sent to Leone d’Oro. And all this is possible only THANKS to the other professional tasters who have followed me for years and dedicate time and energy to these moments together.
We don’t know what the future will hold for us, we hope that the evolution of our systems will improve, we try to exploit this period to implement our skills (or at least not to loose them).
And yes, I would advise other contest directors who are blocked by this emergency to try tasting at a distance, we don’t know how long phase 1,2,3 will last, etc and time is not allied with oil, you know.
Until today we hung in there, we try to tell stories and we save ourselves in this way.
"Good afternoon!I am really happy to inform you that your sample has been admitted to the Leone d'Oro 2020 Competition..."
So from tomorrow I will start sending this mail again while the loudspeakers are croaking outside: “#stayathome”