q&a with olivier kielwasser

With Vintage Ohio next weekend, here’s a q&a with someone heavily involved in Ohio wines and responsible for selecting which ones to carry as well as educating consumers and staff. Olivier Kielwasser isn’t just in charge of wine for Giant Eagle, it’s a long-time passion and he’s become quite the fan of local wines in the process.

This post was sponsored by The Ohio Wine Producers Association. If you’re heading to Vintage Ohio August 6 – 7, remember to use code 2010CLFD for discounted tickets.

1. How did your fascination and appreciation of wine start? Growing up in Alsace, France, I helped my grandfathers tend their small vineyards and make wine, mostly Riesling, Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer. They were making wine for personal consumption.

2. What is the best plate of food you’ve ever had and what were you drinking? I enjoy cooking; there are so many neat recipes.  My best food and wine pairing ever was a beef tenderloin with fingerling potatoes and Chateau Cantemerle Haut-Medoc from Bordeaux.  It was fascinating and a revelation.

3. What is your favorite Ohio winery to visit? Ferrante winery. The folks there are very nice and welcoming; they make excellent wines and have a great restaurant where you can savor both food and wine.

4. Top 5 Ohio wines worth sampling? What Ohio wines do you carry? The Cabernet and the Viognier from Kinkead Ridge.  The fruit wines from Breitenbach.   Ferrante’s Rieslings.  Wolf Creek’s Redemption Red and White Lies.

At Giant Eagle we carry wines from many Ohio wineries as we strive for diversity, and we offer the widest assortment of Ohio wines in the state. Chain-wide, we carry Breitenbach, Debonne, Ferrante, Lonz, Mon Ami, Maize Valley, Meiers and Raven’s Glenn. Many stores also carry two or more of the following, based on consumer demand: Biscotti, Dover, Firelands, Kirkwood, Laurello, Mantey, Mastropietro, Paper Moon, Quarry Hill, Silver Moon, Valley Vineyards, Virant and Wolf Creek.  While assortment varies by store, most wines are available on a special order basis.

5. What makes Ohio so ideal for producing wine? The climate mostly.  The climate in Northeast Ohio is ideal for producing whites, while down south some very nice reds are made.

6. If Cleveland were a wine, which one would it be? A Riesling – it’s Cleveland’s sweet spot.

7. Favorite wine pairing? Riesling with pork dishes and sauerkraut.

8. What’s the best way to navigate the wine menu at a restaurant? By the weight of the wines, which many restaurants are now listing. One key to pairing wine and food is to match the intensity of the food with the weight of the wine. For instance, full-bodied wines like cabernets have lots of tannins, which can make them taste bitter but are also great for cutting full-flavored foods that are spicy, peppery or fat. That’s why robust reds go so well with a steak au poivre.  Lighter, crisper, cooler wines like Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc are great for spicy foods because they ameliorate the heat.

9. Favorite sites to learn more about wine? Robert Parker is the preeminent wine critic in the world.  What he says often determines the wine market.  Jancis Robinson’s Saturday column in The Herald Tribune is an industry must-read. Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are also great resources.  To get out in the world and start sampling, visit Local Wine Events which provides information on local – and often free – wine tastings in your area.

10. What are three wines everyone should sample in their lifetime? What wine do you always keep on-hand at home? These would be the wines that are best-of-class in their appellation and/or varietal designation – based on the wines you like.  For instance, I love Pauillac, Sauternes and Riesling.  So for Pauillac I would want to sample Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.  For Sauternes, Chateau d’Yquem.  For Riesling, Zind-Humbrecht Grand Cru Rangen de Thann. Now while these wines are exceptional, when it comes to selling wine, for me, it’s all about giving the customer great quality at a particular price point.  We never wanted to be snobby about wine, because I don’t think more money guarantees a better bottle.  We realized it really turns people off when picking wines becomes too difficult and expensive, and happy wine drinkers are frequent wine drinkers. So at home, I keep Ohio wines of course, as well as California Cabernets, Pinot Noirs from the Northwest, reds from the Rhone Valley and Italian Pinot Grigios.

11. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland?  L’Albatros

12. Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Cleveland? What’s your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I grew up in Alsace, France, and moved to the US in my twenties.  After working in Illinois and Texas, I joined Giant Eagle 7 years ago and moved to Cleveland.  This is the best decision I ever made.  I love the people here; they are very friendly and welcoming.

13. Bottle Shock or Sideways? These are both good movies – this is what I know about one, and hear about the other.  I watched Sideways when it was released and loved it; I have yet to watch Bottle Shock.

14. Biggest misconception about wine? The cellar isn’t for every wine.  Not all wines improve with age, so be sure to ask before you buy.  Use your local wine steward as a resource: describe wines you’ve loved in the past, or bring in labels, and they will likely will point you toward something really delicious.  Also, while serving wine, “room temperature” doesn’t mean “warm” – somewhere in the 65 degrees range is as hot as any wine should get. Think about it – “room temperature” in a stone lodge in Italy is a lot cooler than a sweltering wine bar in mid-summer.  And while we’re on the topic of temperature, the chemistry and taste of wine changes if it is rapidly cooled.  So rather than throwing a bottle of white wine in the freezer to chill it, leave it in the fridge overnight and then take it out an hour before drinking it to let it warm up slowly.  You’ll be amazed at how much richer the same bottle can taste.

15. What wineries are must-see at Vintage Ohio? Breitenbach, Debonne, Ferrante, Maize Valley, Wolf Creek.

One Comment

  1. m. meyer
    Posted August 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Olivier-

    Gotta see bottle shock. The Paulliac references are cool. Even has Tarver’s actual truck in there from Mayacamas. Did you watch the last time trial on Le Tour. It started in Bordeaux and ended in Paulliac. Not many Chateau shots. I only saw Cos, they didn’t pan out for Lafite. They profiled Chateau Margaux.

    M. Meyer