In this video, we chat with the Gold Medal Winners of Canada’s Best Wine with Cheese in The Great Canadian Wine Match.
Winemaker Tony Stewart joins us from his winery Quails’ Gate in BC’s Okanagan Valley along with wine lover Matt Steeves, in Ottawa, who championed the winning wine during a very competitive voting process. We talk about:
– Why Optima made such a big impression on Matt the first time he tasted it
– How Optima pairs with cheeses, and which types are best suited to it, as well as some desserts
– What makes Optima unique on the Canadian wine landscape, and how it’s different from icewine and other late harvest wines
Natalie: Today we have a very special interview with the gold medal winners for the Best Canadian Cheese in the Great Canadian Wine Match. I am joined by winemaker Tony Stuart from his BC’s Okanagan Valley winery Quails’ Gate and by wine lover Matt Steeves, in Ottawa, who championed the wine during a very competitive voting process. Welcome to you both.
Tony: Good Morning!
Matt: Good Morning!
Natalie: Good Morning. Alright, now let’s start with you, Matt. Maybe before we get into why you chose Optima, Quail’s Gate Optima, for the best cheese wine, tell me about the first time you tasted this wine. Where were you? What did it taste like?
Matt: Okay Natalie. Well I recall, it was like last year actually, and my friend who was also a certified sommelier of wine, Neil O. Edwards, he had baked this delicious stilton cheese cake and stilton, which is kind of an odd thing to put in a cheesecake, I thought. Anyway he paired it with this Optima that he had brought back from British Columbia to Ottawa on a business trip and it was absolutely phenomenal. So that was my first exposure to it.
Natalie: And what did it sort of taste like to you if you could describe it? What hit you first?
Matt: Absolutely. Had a lot of southern wines from Bordeaux and it reminded me of an, this delicious honeyed, dried fruit, stone fruit, luscious, creamy, mouth-watering…
Matt: Yeah, exactly.
Natalie: Good job. Okay Matt and let’s see. Let’s go over to Tony now, the man behind the wine. And Tony, tell us when you started making Optima, what the idea, like who came up with the idea for making, I think, what is one of Canada’s very few botrytis affected dessert wines?
Tony: Well thanks, Natalie. It’s one of our most prized creations at Quails Gate. We’ve been making it actually since our first vintage in 1989 so it dates back quite a ways. The story of it is actually quite interesting because we grew Optima as a table wine for Mission Hill. But if you research it, it is actually quite susceptible to botrytis and very thin skin, early ripening, and we went through years of problems with botrytis before Elise Phineodas(?) who was our initial winemaker here who was a graduate of Budapest in vinology said “we should make something like, you know the Great Tokay of Hungary”. And we thought okay, let’s give it a try. So we started making this late harvest Optima, botrytis affected, and it has been a crowd pleaser and I always jokingly say that it’s the official wine with dessert so it’s very fitting that it would win this award.
Natalie: That’s great! And tell us, without diving into too technical a description, what is botrytis affected and why are there so few of them in Canada?
Tony: So botrytis is a mold that gets on to the skin of the berry, and much like ice wine, it pierces the skin and dehydrates the berry as opposed to freezing it in ice wine. The unique thing about this variety though, is that its a cross, it is vinifera, it is a cross between Riesling (inaudible) and I like to say it gets the best elements of each of those varieties. Botrytis is something you’re fighting all year long in vineyards, so it answers the question directly. Most viticulturists are absolutely appalled to see any botrytis on their vineyard so when you try to encourage it, they look at you and say “why am I doing this?”
Natalie: And yet one of the greatest wines in the world, Chateau d’Yquem in Bordeaux are botrytis affected.
Natalie: Very beautiful flavor. Matt let’s go back to you. Why did you choose Optima for the cheese category as opposed to dessert?
Matt: Well, first of all when I learned about your Wine Match, I thought “okay, I want to find a truly unique wine and a wine that I think will really inspire people to try something different” and I thought ‘cheese, wine’. We always hear about cheese and wine pairings and sometimes it is actually difficult to succeed with a great wine and cheese pairing. This wine is full of flavor, big flavor and it commands big cheese, a flavourable cheese. So, I thought what a great opportunity to profile a unique BC wine like Tony has just mentioned, very, there’s not many people doing this in Canada, let alone British Columbia. I think Tony at Quails Gate, I think you guys are the only ones, correct me if I’m wrong there. So it is a very unique product and it goes beautifully with these big cheeses and I’m thinking the, like the stilton, the blue cheeses. Very flavourable, extremely flavourable cheeses, and creamy as well. So, yeah.
Natalie: And are there any particular Canadian cheeses that you’d pair this with?
Matt: Well that’s a good point. I’ve tried many cheeses with this and just to tell viewers any blue cheese or stilton cheese is what I’d direct you to sample with this delicious wine. So no specific brands, although there are some wonderful local artisans cheese makers all across Canada, so check those out for sure. In Ottawa, yeah in Ottawa, I tend to go to La Bottega Nicastro’s and they have a beautiful selection of wine, or of cheese, there, so.
Natalie: And Matt, if you were forced to pair Optima with dessert, what would you choose for in the dessert category with this wine?
Matt: Good point. Well as I’ve mentioned, my first experience I’ve had with it was with a stilton cheesecake, so that’s cheesecake with blue cheese in it, which I thought was very unique and it was actually very delicious, with a rhubarb compote on top. I could say this could go very well with any sort of strawberry shortcake, that’s something that’s very in season right now or a fruit parfait. Anything with some creaminess to it, as well as some delicious fruit with a nice mouth-watering and a little bit of sweetness, those components will go very well with that wine. So it’s really, you can pair many things with it. I would just say try to match the creaminess and the delicious sweetness with the fruit.
Natalie: Okay Matt, you made us hungry and thirsty, you’re doing very well. And we’ll wrap up part one of our conversation with you, Tony. What has been your favorite dessert with this wine, or cheese? Like, did you have a memorable meal where Optima played a big role in it?
Tony: Yeah, it is a very versatile dessert wine and you know Matt’s comments are right on the money with the cheeses. You know the tiger blue from Poplar Grove’s, one that we serve in the restaurant which we recommend with this wine. But when we get into the desserts, what I try to do is what’s in season in the Okanagan, if it happens to be in that time when we do the pairing, so I’m looking at tree fruits typically and we make a baked yogurt with a peach and it’s a very simple dish that one of our chefs has created and has a really nice touch. It’s very light, not too sweet a dessert but it’s got a really rich peach coming through and then you add to that, the Optima, and a match made in heaven.
Natalie: Wow, that’s great. So I’m getting the sense of the fruity side of dessert, the creamy side, the cheeses, but not so much like a thick chocolate cheese cake that would kind of, perhaps not be ideal?
Tony: Yeah, that’s a good analogy.
Natalie: Okay, great! We’re all set for desserts and cheeses. And we’re going to wrap up this part of our conversation but we’re going to be back soon to talk more about this wine and some other tips and insights from both of you. So, thank you!
We’ll post part two of our conversation soon. In the meantime, try some of this gorgeous dessert elixir.
Okanagan Valley, BC VQA
Divine! A heavenly elixir of Garden of Eden peaches and apricots and clementines. Sinfully great. Pair with fruit flans, blue cheeses and great conversation.