Wine and Cheese Pairing with a Blockbuster BC Wine

In our second video, we chat about visiting Quails’ Gate winery, winner of the Gold Medal in The Great Canadian Wine Match:

– Tips on visiting the winery, including the special menus at the winery’s Old Vines restaurant

– How long can Optima age for those wanting to cellar this dessert wine?

– Why don’t more Canadian wineries make botrytis affected dessert wines?

– What role do people’s choice awards play in our wine and food culture?

Natalie: And we’re back with Matt Steeves the wine lover who championed Optima, Quails Gate Optima in the Great Canadian Wine Match and won gold for the Best Canadian Wine with Cheese and wine maker Tony Stewart who joins us in BC in the Okanagan Valley at his winery Quails Gate. So Matt, let’s go back to you now. Have you ever been to Quails Gate winery?

Matt: I was fortunate enough to be there last summer, actually. And it was early July and it was my first time to the Okanagan and so we visited several wineries over a period of, I guess, half a week or so. And I had a delicious branch under the patio, gorgeous set up, by far one of the nicest out there, that’s for sure, and within Canada. And I had a delicious, it was a Pinot Noir preserved from your library, I think it might have been ’06. I forget exactly now but it was absolutely spectacular and we were, you know, overlooking the vineyard there, Lake Okanagan. There were forest fires down on the state so there were smoke coming in, up the valley and it was breathtaking. So that was my first experience, I hope to get there this year as well. It’s a beautiful set up.

Natalie: That’s terrific and Tony what’s the name of your winery restaurant?

Tony: The restaurant’s called Old Vine Restaurant and Patio here at Quail’s Gate.

Natalie: And I imagine there’s a lot of wine and food pairing that happens at the restaurant? Seasonal menus, that sort of thing?

Tony: Yes, the vision with the restaurant was always to try and incorporate wherever possible the Canadian element so we try to get first items from the Okanagan Valley and the British Columbia and then we go up to Canada so we have cheeses from Quebec that are brought in regularly. We have unique items that you can’t get anywhere else on the menu, but local food and pairings are our main focus to try and build that culinary experience and we’re catering to culinary tourists here at Quails Gate.

Natalie: And Tony if you have some tips or advice for Matt in terms of when he visits your winery next and just the Okanagan in general, what would you suggest that he do?

Tony: Well Matt and I are gonna be doing the Flight of Optimus dating back to 1989 when he gets here.

Natalie: Wow, way to go.

Tony: Actually, I’ll have to check back and see. I might actually have still some 1990 Optima. Actually, it’s interesting we won our first big medal with that wine so it’s always held a special spot in our hearts.

Natalie: That was what I was gonna ask too, Tony. So how long do you think Optima can age? I imagine it varies by vintage but we got the 2011 out now, what do you think is the life on this one?

Tony: Well, you know one of the things that we’re getting more and more time to spend looking at are older wines and seeing how they’re developing and we’re quite surprised. I did a tasting recently with a group of individuals who were, you know, steadfast European buyers and I couldn’t believe that our 95 Riesling had held up so well. That’s outstanding; I paid $100 a bottle for that.

The Optima, to age that wine properly I would say no less than 5 years and ideally probably 10 years, you kind of don’t want to see that window. But you know Matt when you get here and Natalie if you get here as well, we’d be happy to pull a cork on an older vintage from the 90s and we’ll see first how exactly they’re doing.

Natalie: Marvelous. Matt, back to you. What questions do you have for Tony? Anything, it doesn’t have to be related to Optima.

Matt: Sure. Well, just regarding the Optima and like you said the botrytis that something that most winemakers aren’t really excited to see especially on a red grape and yet you guys do it so well and you have that, but of course you control it elsewhere. Why aren’t more wineries taking advantage of this? Is it due to the labor? The high cost? What are some of the barriers that other winemakers may experience that prohibit them from doing what you’re doing so well?

Tony: I think that the area of control in the vineyard is a concern to most viticulturist. So most of the time, they’re not really wanting to encourage or see any development in their vineyards because it does lead to other problems.

Matt: Right.

Tony: Where we have the Optima planted it’s close to a block of Riesling and because Riesling’s such a late ripener we’re kind of protected in that sense so we keep a pretty close eye on it but we’re establishing about 40% botrytis on the block of Optima when we bring it in, so that is a high threshold. To answer your question about why I don’t think more people are doing it, aside from the obvious control on cleanliness in the vineyard, I believe most people are working with Rieslings for their dessert wine program and when you get to late harvest Riesling, you’re almost into ice wine because it’s the last variety that we’re bringing in for the whites, so I think that might have another factor in it. But you know, we continue to enjoy a little bit of the niche with it.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely.

Natalie: Indeed, you do. Okay, well, this is terrific. To wrap up our conversation let’s come full circle. What are your reflections or thoughts on the Great Canadian Wine Match that was held, I’m sure you had a lot of fun winning but what do you think about People’s Choice Awards for one. They’re very different from those judged by traditional competitions judged by experts. Matt, let’s go to you first. What are your thoughts on the competition?

Matt: Well, first of all congratulations Natalie for a successful wine competition. The Inaugural, I think it was great that you allowed basically anyone to enter any wine. Price wasn’t a factor and I sort of thought most people would consider putting in a very expensive wine because the price wasn’t a consideration. But what we saw was people saying, “You know what this is my favorite wine. I buy this wine, I drink it, I enjoy it, my friends enjoy it” and that’s what they did, they got their friends to vote, they got other wine lovers to vote.

I’m a certified sommelier, I’ve tried thousands of wines now and I was proud to have nominated this wine because I think it’s unique, and it’s amazing it stands up against those world class Bordeaux, Sothern wines. I’ve got cases in my cellar of various Sothern’s and this really does stand up right alongside them and it’s a great product, Canada can be proud that we’re making such terrific dessert wines and botrytis affected wines in that category as well.

Natalie: Absolutely Matt and you are a fabulous champion for this wine. I was really impressed with your enthusiasm and your ability to rally so many people around this wine. Tony from a winemaker’s perspective, this isn’t a technical competition, this is about the wines that people love. These aren’t mutually exclusive, great wine and much loved wine, but from your perspective is there a place for people’s choice award when it comes to wine?

Tony: Absolutely. We’ve always reviewed the people’s choice award to see where consumer trends are and too often I’ve been quite critical of the fact that we’ve been focused only on wine and it has to be a combination of wine of food because really, this is what we’re all about. Yes, we have to analyze wines individually. We do have to do tastings for that. But by bringing consumers together on wine and food, you’ve done a marvelous job of building awareness and you know, both Canadian experience.

Can we create a culinary position in Canada where people around the world go “Holy smokes! Actually the Canadians are doing something. “You what, we’re renowned for great quality as a country, so let’s add to that we can make great food and great wines with it and competitions like this really help promote that.

Natalie: Terrific! Thank you both for joining me today. I raise more than a glass; I raise a bottle to you both.

Tony: Thank you.

Natalie: I think we’re off to enjoy some of this. It’s a little early right now but I’m looking forward to trying this later today with some blue cheeses, Matt. And thank you, Tony, for producing it and to you both for celebrating Canadian wine and food culture. Cheers!

Tony: Well, thank you so much.

Matt: Cheers! I’m enjoying mine very soon as well.

Natalie: Great!

Matt: Cheers!



You can also watch part one of our conversation about pairing Optima with cheeses and desserts.




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