Athena competition judges under a big old olive tree

The Athena International Olive Oil Competition attracted 295 extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs) from 9 countries--15% more samples, including 200% more samples from outside Greece, than last year. They were judged by a panel of 23 international experts from 11 countries. Some of the top Greek winners commented on their success in this challenging year.

Held in Messinia, Peloponnese March 20-22 for its second edition this year, the Athena International Olive Oil Competition (Athena IOOC) received samples representing 92 different varieties (28% more than last year), exemplifying the amazing diversity of the olive oil world. 53% of the samples tasted were Greek, while 47% came from abroad.

The Athena IOOC 2017 awarded several special prizes, as well as 175 medals in the following categories: 17 Double Gold (scoring 95-100%), 65 Gold (scoring 85-95%), 55 Silver (scoring 75-85%), and 38 Bronze (scoring 65-75%). The awards ceremony will take place in Athens on Saturday, April 22, after a tasting of all 175 award-winning olive oils. (For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

One of the international expert judges, American olive oil consultant and educator Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, co-founder of the nonprofit Extra Virgin Alliance and a judge for various international competitions, told Greek Liquid Gold that “judging at the Athena International was an honor and a pleasure. I was impressed by the professionalism and efficiency of the competition as well as the innovative leadership.”

One Greek EVOO, Great Stories' 39/22 Koroneiki from the Peloponnese, earned several noteworthy distinctions: a Double Gold award and the special honors of Best Greek EVOO and Best Koroneiki EVOO. According to their website, “the 39/22 brand marks the coordinates of the exciting Greek foodscape,” featuring “countless products,” with olive oil “typical of this diversity…olive oils that are as unique as the location and the month of their harvest.” The Athena IOOC recognized the merits of many different types of olive oils.

G.E.T. Greek Exquisite Tastes in the Peloponnese won both a special prize for the Best Greek Organic EVOO and a Gold Medal. Vasileios Aivazoglou commented to Greek Liquid Gold that his team is excited by these rewards for their efforts, which provide new incentive to excel. According to a proverb, “‘better is the enemy of good,’ and the quest for even better quality, even more exquisite tastes, never ends.” Their success is a result of attention to details, a combination of “tradition with the most modern know-how in olive oil production,” and a focus on these core values: “Terroir. Variety. Sustainability. Traceability. Artisanality.”

Hellenic Agricultural Enterprises captured the special prize for the Best Aromatized EVOO in the competition as well as a Gold Medal for their Acaia EVOO with Grapefruit and Bergamot, which Ellie Tragakes believes to be “an entirely novel and unique creation that does not exist anywhere else.” Tragakes suggests “the added grapefruit and bergamot flavors bring out the best in the Kolovi olive variety. All our flavorings come from 100% all natural essential oils which (unlike other additives) maintain and do not degrade the quality of the oil.” This year’s awards confirm that even with “very adverse harvest conditions we are capable of maintaining the outstanding quality of our oils.”

Terra Creta Estate won a Gold Medal and earned a special prize for the highest score among the samples from Crete. Emmanouil Karpadakis told Greek Liquid Gold that Terra Creta’s team appreciates this “important recognition of our work.” Their work involves “continuous, intensive, scientific” dedication to knowledge, a determination “to eliminate (or control) all the negative parameters” that could “reduce the quality of our precious product,” as well as their “passion for quality and excellence, continuous evaluation of our practices and market feedback, innovation, reliable service, an open minded approach to the markets, and respect for our product, our partners, and the consumers” around the world.

Lesvos Gold won special prizes for the Best Kolovi EVOO and the Best in the Aegean islands, as well as a Gold Medal. Constantinos Kolyvas reported that he was very happy about these distinctions for the Kolovi olive variety that grows only on the island of Lesvos, and nowhere else in the world. Lesvos Gold is harvested early for an especially “fruity and pungent note” and a high percentage of healthy polyphenols and antioxidants, extracted with the “utmost care” within 5 hours of harvest, and stored “under constantly controlled hygienic conditions” in stainless steel tanks with nitrogen added. “Committed to perfection, our team of professionals brings all its passion, effort and devotion to every stage of Lesvos Gold production.”

Olive Fabrica’s The Governor was awarded a special prize for the Best of the Ionian Islands as well as a Gold Medal. Spyros Dafnis explained to Greek Liquid Gold that “a special EVOO needs something extra.” For Dafnis, this means “continuous education, hard work,” and “true love and passion for what we are doing, with our soul and all our heart.” He adds that the Governor resulted from “a personal bet and challenge” to improve the reputation of previously unimpressive olive oil in Corfu. Their goal: “to introduce the Lianolia variety to the global market by identifying an unknown EVOO,” bringing back production practices to the island, “making local producers believe again…. And later of course to keep up this high level of quality as one of the healthiest olive oils in the world due to every year’s record-high concentration of phenolic compounds.”

Athena IOOC director Maria Katsouli pointed out another unusual Greek EVOO in this year’s competition: Vasiliki Svarna’s λ-Lefkada, which won a silver medal, is produced from a virtually unknown olive variety called "Asproelia." Katsouli explained that “it's the first time in history that we have found this variety in a standard bottled olive oil.”

Additional noteworthy EVOOs came from the Agricultural Cooperative Imera in Macedonia, which earned a Gold Medal and a special prize for the Best in Macedonia, and Ktima Micheli in Thrace, which captured a special prize for the Best in Thrace as well as a Gold Medal. The complete list of winners—too long to discuss in one article--is available here.

The Governor’s Spyros Dafnis says their EVOO’s quantity is limited, but they are sure about every single drop of it, because they treat it like “our child!” At the same time, he believes “the future always has an ancient heart. Therefore the future belongs to Greek olive oil!

Thanks to the Athena IOOC organizers for the photos. Links to the websites of all the companies mentioned here that have English-language websites can be found on the Olive Oil Companies' Website Links pages of Greek Liquid Gold.

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