In most competitions we use regulation blue glasses so that we are not influenced by the colour of the extra virgin olive oil. We warm these up either by hand or on special warming devices so as to bring the aromas out of the oils. Each glass has a lid which keeps the aroma in and when we are ready we tip up the lid and take the first sniff. Most of the time we try to keep our impressions to ourselves until we have finished tasting so as not to influence each other. But on a table of experienced tasters this is not a great concern because we pretty well always agree. If you are marking out of 100 we will come up with figures like: 84, 82. 89 and 81. So, as you see, this is a method which produces results which are almost scientific. So after that first sniff there can be raised eyebrows when you have a defected oil. If the defect is really bad maybe only one of the judges will actually take a sip and then, just by looking at their face, you can tell how terrible it is! At the other end of the spectrum are the oils that smell so good it is almost impossible to supress "hmmmm's" of pleasure!
Each competition has its own tasting sheet and as we go from competition ot competition we begin to form ideas as to what might be the best way to write these sheets. Every year that I go to competitions I feel that there is a healthy evolution going on and the sheets are making more and more sense.
The tastings are blind so that we have no idea who made the oils that we taste. In some competitions they tell us the varieties which can be a help because a bitter and pungent variety like for example, Coratina that is not bitter and pungent is a Coratina that has 'gone wrong', as it were. An Itrana that has not a sense of tomato is an Itrana that is not expressing itself.
Although we don't know who makes the oils we taste sometimes it is pretty obvious where they come from. Once a judge on my table sniffed and said: "ole!" That was not an Italian extra virgin olive oil! But the great thing is that the judges are mature and objective so that there is never any bias. When an extra virgin olive oil is great, it is great and it does not matter where you think it comes from.
There are all sorts of courses for learning how to taste olive oil but competitions are like going to the Best Olive Oil University in the World. You learn so much and you hope that you will have somthing to offer too. There is a great open generosity to the judges in these events which I just love. It an be hard work tasting anything up to 80 oils in a day (normally this is limited to 35) but it is such fun! In some competitions you start the mornings with the lighter oils and work up to the more bitter and pungent ones. When this happens your tongue begins to feel a little punished so we have a little yoghurt to calm things down. In all competitions we have slices of green apple and glasses of water on the table so we can cleanse our palates when necessary. Some people feel the need to 'reset' their noses between each oil and smell their hands (or worse!) but I have never felt the need.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE RUDI AND I TASTING SOME ITALIAN EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL YOU CAN SEE IT HERE AT THE END OF THIS VIDEO: