After judging 258 wines over two days, what stands out most curiously? Aside from the oddball pinot-grigio port, it's got to be the olives. To help judges revive their withering palates, the coordinators of wine competitions send out plate after plate of assorted snacks, which may or may not have any grounding in scientific study when it comes to refreshing tastebuds. I suspect most don't. They might be various kinds of generally innocuous cheese, celery, raw beef, bread and water, sometimes still, sometimes sparkling. The food that is showing up at more and more competitions, however, is the mottled green olives of Graber Olive House in the Southern California community of Ontario.
Currently, at the Grand Harvest Awards wine competition in Santa Rosa, our panel alone must have gone through at least half a dozen 7.5-ounce cans of the olives. According to the list of ingredients, the cans contain just olives, water and salt, but the salt is so subdued all you taste is pure olive - cleanly herbal, largely neutral, downright addictive, even when you know that just three of them total 20 calories. For whatever reason, they seem to do what they are supposed to do at a wine competition, which is restore the palate for another flight.
Longtime wine judge Tim McDonald of Napa Valley, a public-relations consultant to the wine trade, says he suspects that the soft texture and balanced pH of the olives is just what the mouth needs to recalibrate itself.
Graber Olive House has been around since 1894, boasting that what sets its olives apart is that they are "tree ripened," thereby yielding an olive packed with natural olive flavor. "Tree ripened," says the cans. Can "Competition Tested" be far behind?