I recently visited Eataly in Manhattan’s Flatiron District to sit down with two extremely knowledgeable and fun-loving guys: Dan Amatuzzi and Nick Coleman. Both work for Eataly, as Wine Director and Olive Oil Specialist, respectively. Two years ago, the duo partnered to launch Grove & Vine, where they host olive oil and wine tasting events across the nation for a wide range of audiences including college campuses and businesses. In their seminars, Amatuzzi and Coleman strive to emphasize the parallels between their respective areas of expertise and to share how people can enrich their lives on a daily basis by incorporating both.
Emily Giove: Firstly, how did you each get into this industry?
Nick Coleman: When I was 24, I took a trip from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara desert with just a backpack. I happened to arrive in Italy during the time of olive harvest and was put in contact with master olive oil producer Nadia Gasperini Rossi in the town of Arezzo. Nadia owns a villa called Mulinmaria, and she took me under her wing. I started hand-harvesting and hand-cleaning olives and was hooked. I started going back annually for the harvest.
Next, I began conducting olive oil seminars, and then Mario Batali hired me to work here. I became a certified olive oil taster by the ONAOO, Italy’s most prestigious olive oil academy. Now, I sit on the judging panels at olive oil competitions, including one in Santiago, Chile. I tour the world for olive oil.
In 2012, I teamed up with Dan to construct olive oil and wine seminars focusing on symbiotic relationship of the two. I’m an oleologist, the first one in the U.S., and I’m creating a career for others to follow in. It’s a common term in Italy, but newer over here. There are a few others among me now in Texas and California. It’s something I helped bring to the U.S., and it’s amazing for me to watch others getting press for it. Dan’s story spans wine in a similar way…
Dan Amatuzzi: When I was 20, I studied abroad in Florence, where I saw wine as much more than a beverage, but rather, a larger part of Italian culture. During my first trip to Chianti, I was really transported to another dimension in time and space. I knew it’s what I wanted to do—I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew I was attracted to it. I did everything I could to focus on wine upon returning to the U.S. to finish school. My thesis was on the economics of wine production in France and Italy. It was fun to learn more about the ecosystem, about how far wine reaches and where one day I can fit in.
After graduation, I worked at restaurants as a bus boy, continually tasting, learning, studying, with an unquenchable thirst for wine. I felt there was no end in sight, there’s always more to learn about wine. To this day, that keeps me going—to know wine is something you’ll never fully master. It’s a very humbling industry.
EG: What is your favorite part of what you do?
NC: What’s so great about both oil and wine is that there’s a global community around it. We feel connected to these people through what we do, which is my favorite part. We’re linked through an ancient history that is fundamental and tangible. Other things come and go but what stays is feeling connected with people.
DA: I can’t elaborate on that any further.
EG: What are key facts you would want those who know little about wine to take away from a conversation with you, Dan?
DA: The best wine, in my opinion, is a wine that has balance—acidity, alcohol, fruit flavors, secondary flavors from oak barrels, or from soil where grapes grow. There are so many components that make up a great wine. The best are those with balance you can taste in equal proportions. They don’t need to be expensive or from a certain part of the world. It usually begins with high quality grapes, how they’re grown, how many you’re extracting from a certain piece of land. Definitely quality over quantity. But at the end of the day, it boils down to balance. And have faith in your own taste!
EG: So what can people keep in mind when selecting bottles to purchase?
DA: Wine labeling is never an easy thing to navigate, but you can always look for grapes that go into making the wine and the part of the world they’re from, which can often indicate how a wine is made. Understanding where a wine comes from is helpful: if it originates from a cool climate (like the Italian Alps), you should assume the wine will be lighter, more aromatic. Hotter temperatures produce richer, heavier, more bucolic wines.
A lot of Appalachians have rules about what kinds of grapes they can grow. Burgundy, France on a label means Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Learning these rules takes time, and rules change frequently, so it’s a challenge to keep up. All bottles should also have a vintage date or a year. If not, this indicates the wine is a blend, more like fermented grape juice.
EG: I’ve always wondered: how long is too long for a wine to age?
DA: Less than 1% of all wine made is meant to age for more than 5 years. The majority should be consumed within 3 years—even shorter for white wine. But when well made, a restricted selection of wines can last for decades. This is limited to a few key Appalachians like Bordeaux, Barolo, Burgundy, Napa—a handful of regions where great quality is there. Wine in a wine shop is ready to drink. Actually, 7% of all wines purchased in a shop is consumed within three hours.
EG: For you, what is the ultimate food and wine pairing (his answer will surprise you…)?
DA: I’m going to go with peanut butter and belly and an Alsatian (Alsace is a region in France) Riesling: the gelatinous, sugary flavors of jelly cut through the rich creamy stickiness of peanut butter. Foie gras and champagne is not interesting. This has to include simply Jiff creamy and a high quality jam, a darker berry jam, a deep, brooding fruit jam. Like Blackberry. On a gently toasted, whole grain bread with sesame seed crust. Alsace is a super cold region, known primarily for zippy whites. It’s a cool region because it’s isolated from the rest of France, a confluence of French and German culture.
EG: How unusual, but that does sound great! Do you personally have a favorite wine?
DA: Really whatever’s in the glass, it’s hard to choose any favorites. I don’t prefer red to white or anything like that. The best wines I’ve had have been more about who I was with and where. Wine is an experiential vehicle for creating lifelong memories. Theoretically, the company you’re with can make any wine a great wine.
EG: Nick, now I have some questions specifically for you. Firstly, what makes one olive oil better than another?
NC: There are many factors:
-The health and integrity of the olives is of the utmost importance.
-It also has to do with hundreds of different olive cultivars that exist throughout the world: you must plant the right one in the right climate so you create a balanced fruit.
-The moment of harvest is essential, as is the pruning of trees so all receive equal part sunlight and oxygen. Also, there tends to be an inverse correlation between quantity and quality.
-Getting olives from tree to mill in mint condition is important.
-Extracting oil in clean sanitary conditions under the guidance of an experienced person is key.
-Having olives localized is also essential—you don’t want to blend olives from different places together.
-You want your oil fresh. It doesn’t improve with age: unlike wine, the fresher the better. When you buy oil, check the harvest date.
If any one of these factors is overlooked, it can compromise integrity. You must start out with healthy olives and coddle them from tree to mill so they avoid damage of any kind.
EG: And how exactly is olive oil made? What is the difference between a green, purple, or black olive—are all used in oil production?
Firstly, you can’t make olive oil, you have to find it, since it’s already contained within the olive. You’re just extracting everything else. All olives start their lives green and ripen to black. The color of the olive directly reflects its stage of maturation. There is less oil inside green olives, but the flavor of this oil is more dynamic and robust and has a longer shelf life. When olives are dark purple, they reveal more oil but the flavor is more neutral, especially if the climate is hot. In that case, oil starts to cook inside the olive, which is no good.
EG: Great. Now that I’ve got the basics down, can you guys describe your perfect meal?
NC: My favorite perfect meal in the wintertime is ribollita, a Tuscan peasant dish made with four ingredients: white cannellini beans, black cabbage, stale, salt-free Tuscan bread, and the highest quality fresh Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. You can also include garlic, onions, carrots, celery, Swiss chard, potato, tomato, and/or green cabbage, plus rosemary and sage and then parmesan on top. It’s such an incredibly nutritious, warming dish, my favorite comfort food to eat when made well.
In the winter, you have fresh Tuscan oil—around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Olive oil is the lifeline of Italian food, yet it is often this invisible ingredient. People don’t even realize it’s on certain dishes, but you really don’t have Italian food without it. Ribollita is one of the most amazing ways to showcase fresh olive oil. I love cooking, and it’s something I make, but it takes 72 hours. The dish is fresh, grassy, herbaceous, and peppery.
DA: My answer is a fresh mushroom risotto finished with fresh porcini mushrooms at the very end. Pan sautéed for a crunchy texture element. Something like that, very simple starchy, rich, creamy, fresh, pungent, earthy. A heaping bowl of that finished with a mild extra virgin olive oil to add a little buttery nuttiness. Paired with a Barolo of moderate age (between 5-15 years). By this time, the wine is starting to break down, and you have strong, rustic fruit flavors—very tannic, a perfect balance.
EG: Both sound delicious! Thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with me today!
Nick and Dan are eager to share their passions at SoWe Food & Wine Festival this year—don’t miss their demonstration at 11am in Mamaroneck on Saturday, September 20th!