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FINDS : A Noble Spaniard

June 15, 1995|KATHIE JENKINS

It was on a wine buying trip to Spain six months ago that Stephen Metzler discovered Luis Herrera and his fabulous Almazara olive oil.

"We were having dinner in this small town and the locals raved about the olive oil," says Metzler, who owns Classical Wines From Spain, a Seattle-based company that imports estate wines. "Well, people always rave about their local oil."

Skeptical, Metzler tried it anyway. Although the oil was a year old, it still held its fruitiness and other characteristics. "That told us it was stable for exporting," says Metzler, who immediately scheduled a side trip to see where the oil was produced. "We fell in love with Sr. Herrera," says Metzler. "His sincerity and his knowledge were impressive."

Even though the estate is located in an isolated mountain valley 2,500 feet above the town of Jumilla in Murcia, Metzler later found that the Herrera name is well known by the big players in Spain's olive oil business. "I think they were trying to keep Herrera a secret," says Metzler. "They were buying his oil and using it to improve their own blends. They didn't want any Americans coming in and stealing it away from them."

But the Americans did. And it's here. The estate-bottled, vintage-dated Almazara (from al-ma ' sara , the Arabic word for "olive press") is actually never pressed at all. Herrera uses three large conical granite stones to slowly crush his Manzanilla and Cornicabra olives to a pulp, releasing the oil. The juice that runs free is collected and clarified through settling and then decanting. The resulting oil has a nice fruity front with a little spice in the end.

Herrera makes only 12,000 half liters of the free-run oil a year. Almazara's suggested retail price is $11.99 a half liter; it is available at Wally's wine shop in Westwood and Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa.

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