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Epcot Food and Wine Fest

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2014

A trip to Epcot at Walt Disney World is even better when you go during the International Food & Wine Festival. From Friday, September 19th through Monday, November 10th, visitors have the chance to eat and drink around the world.

The Amateur Gastronomer got a peek at what makes the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival so much fun during the first weekend of this year’s event.

Headed there this fall? Check out our tips for what to see and taste.

Epcot 2014

 

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Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival

“You just won $250 in Las Vegas!  What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to Disneyland!”

Even if I had left Las Vegas down in chips, I still would have wanted to go to Disneyland during the second half of my trip out west.  I love Disney World and have visited at least once a year since moving to Florida six years ago.

I couldn’t have timed my trip to southern California any better.  My visit to Disneyland coincided with Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival.  As a big fan of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival I was glad I finally had the chance to experience Disneyland’s version.  Now in its fifth year, this festival is held at Disney’s California Adventure Park, located across a pavilion from Disneyland.

Click here to read about the 2009 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

I arrived at Disney’s California Adventure on a warm and sunny Friday, ready to explore the park and drink some wine.  One thing I noticed right away about the park is that it already is a great place for food.  And not just standard theme park food like burgers, fries and Mickey Mouse ice cream pops.  There are stands where you can get all sorts of fresh fruit grown in California, and an area where you can learn more about the state’s food industries.  At the Mission Tortilla Factory you can snack on freshly made tortillas while getting a behind-the-scenes look at tortilla production.  At the Boudin Bakery (a favorite of mine in San Francisco), it’s slices of sourdough bread you get to taste while watching bakers prepare hundreds of boules.

As a four-time visitor to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, I was interested in seeing how Disneyland’s festival was different — which it definitely was.  Rather than being the main event, perhaps the reason to visit, the California Food & Wine Festival felt more like an added bonus of visiting the park.  This festival was smaller and more low key compared to Epcot, where there are several food and wine stands to check out in every country in the World Showcase.

The main action centered around three “walks” where you could taste a variety of wines and beers.  Chefs demonstrated cooking techniques at the Showcase Stage, near the front of the park.  The Festival Showplace — the place to check out seminars and buy festival merchandise — was tucked away in a corner of the park by the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, away from the most popular rides.  There were no separate food stands for the festival; special dishes were added to the menu at dining spots throughout the park.

Overall, the festival added to the fun experience of visiting Disney’s California Adventure, without making visitors feel obligated to participate.

I began in the Festival Showplace, at the Belgian Brewer’s Collection and Star Lounge hosted by Stella Artois.  Here bartenders demonstrated the art of pouring a perfect Stella Artois beer from the tap, a multi-step process that includes washing the glass and “beheading” foam with a special spatula-like tool.  I got a glass of the Belgian Leffe Blonde, perfect for sipping as I strolled around the park.

After flying over some of the state’s famous sights in Soarin’ Over California, I was ready to taste some California wines.  For that I headed to the California Classics Wine Walk.  After paying $10 I received my tasting passport for a trip through the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Central Coast and Paso Robles.  Each time I tasted a wine, my passport was stamped for that region.  Each region offered a choice of three wines.  For the selection of wineries (some well known, some unfamiliar) and the grape varietals, it was a nice overview of the state’s offerings.  Wine novices would definitely come away knowing more about different styles and their own tastes.  For fans of the Old World there was an Italian Wine Walk, which I did not get a chance to check out.

My next stop was the Craft Beer Walk, which featured 16 beers from around the world.  There were four stops on this walk: the Old World, West of the Rockies, the Islands (Hawaii and Japan) and the Hop Garden which featured brews from California, Florida and Missouri.  Like with all the walks, you could mix and match your tastings, skipping one area and getting two at another instead.  I skipped the Old World having tasted all four of the beers offered.  Instead I got to taste Japan’s Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo Lager back to back and discovered I prefer Kirin.  If I’m drinking beer at a Japanese restaurant I tend to order Sapporo over Kirin; now that I know I like Kirin better I’ll have to make a switch.

In addition to enjoying the wine and beer I checked out many of the park’s attractions.  My favorite after Soarin’ Over California was California Screamin’, a roller coaster that kicks the action into top gear right away.  Rather than slowly climbing up the first hill, the coaster accelerates at the start, making for a really fun ride that includes one upside down loop.  I’m guessing you might want to check this one out before eating or drinking too much.

I ended my day at the festival with a glass of California Merlot in the Festival Showplace, listening to a seminar on Pinot Noir led by a winemaker from the Central Coast.  Though I didn’t get to check out any winemaker or wine pairing dinners there’s always next year — hopefully my travels will take me to southern California again next spring.

Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival runs from April 16 through May 31, 2010.  Visit Disneyland’s website in the fall for details on the 2010 festival.

Epcot food wine fest

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2009 Part 2

Continued from Part 1

During my weekend at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival I ate and drank my way through six continents!  Here are my favorite dishes and drinks:

Paris, France
I had tried the escargot at previous festivals so this year I skipped the snails and tried the braised short ribs in Cabernet with mashed potatoes.  The meat was tender and extremely flavorful in the red wine.  With a bit of the potatoes, it was a delicious bite.

I paired the short ribs with a 2007 red Bordeaux from Château Mezain.  With delicate flavors of cherries and blackcurrants it was a nice accompaniment to the meat, and a wine I would definitely drink again.

Tokyo, Japan
Skip the food stand in the Japan pavilion (unless you’re craving a spicy tuna roll or a California roll).  The real treat is inside the store, where you can try a variety of sake.  Last year I discovered a fun sparkling sake, this year I had a glass of vintage sake.

The Tenryo Koshu is aged for three years.  It is medium bodied and extremely smooth with layered flavors of dried apple, melon and nougat.  The sake was one of my favorite discoveries at the festival, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it at restaurants and wine shops.

The United States
At the American Adventure Pavilion it’s all about beer.  Samuel Adams serves up a variety of their brews and has free seminars about their history and the art of brewing.

At the seminar you get to taste four of their beers: Boston Lager, Sam Adams Light, Octoberfest and the 14th Anniversary Festival Beer.  My favorite was the Octoberfest, which has notes of caramel and toffee balanced out by a slight bitterness from German hops.  A close second was the 14th Anniversary beer which has a nice fruitiness from blackberries and orange peel.  Though I tend to stay away from light beers, Samuel Adams’ version is surprisingly flavorful.

Melbourne, Australia
I couldn’t decide which of Australia’s main dishes sounded better so I tried both!  The seared barramundi was served with blistered cherry tomatoes and topped with arugula and lemon oil.  The flavor of the tomatoes went really well with the fish.  It actually inspired me to make my own version with halibut a few days after I returned home from the festival.  The lamb chop was even more flavorful, in a yummy red wine sauce that I hope to replicate the next time I cook lamb.

Cape Town, South Africa
I remember South Africa being one of my favorites from last year’s festival and this year it didn’t disappoint.  I started with the mealie soup, which reminded me of corn chowder.  Full in flavor and packed with corn and crab, the soup was hearty and satisfying.  I could have easily had another cup, in spite of the 80 degree weather.

Next I went for the seared beef tenderloin.  Served on top of a sweet potato purée with a tangy mango barbecue sauce, it was another winner.

Of course I couldn’t visit the South Africa marketplace without getting a glass of Pinotage, the country’s signature varietal.  The Fairview Pinotage was a nice match for the beef tenderloin, with deep red fruit and earthy flavors.

New Delhi, India
I love Indian food and have been craving it ever since my favorite downtown spot closed (I miss you Taste of Bombay!).  Though there was only one entree offering at the India marketplace it was quite tasty — a rice and lentil crêpe with a potato and onion filling.

I paired the dish with a crisp and refreshing Chenin Blanc from Sula Vineyards.  This winery is located about 100 miles northeast of Mumbai and makes an impressive variety of reds, whites, sparkling and dessert wines.  Sipping the Chenin Blanc made me want to explore more of their wines.

I ended my trip to India on a sweet note with a chilled mango lassi.  It’s like a mango smoothie only better, with a nice creaminess from yogurt.  It’s a delicious dessert if you’re in the mood for something fruity and not too heavy.

Barcelona, Spain
The Spain marketplace is a must visit for the wine, especially if you’re not familiar with Spanish varietals.  Here you can try Cava, Albariño and Verdejo.  Last year I enjoyed the Poema Cava Brut, a dry and creamy sparkling wine with a hint of pear and toast.

This year I tasted the Bodega Don Olegario Albariño alongside the Poema Verdejo to compare their flavors.  Though the Verdejo was aromatic and soft with notes of white flowers and tree fruit, I preferred the Albariño with its light and crisp peach and apricot flavors.

Buenos Aires, Argentina
If it has chimichurri, I want to try it.  So I made sure to save room for the grilled beef skewer with chimichurri and boniato purée.  The grilled beef was tender and full of flavor, and I couldn’t get enough of the chimichurri.  It’s a must-try dish unless you’re not a fan of garlic because this chimichurri packs a punch.  But you’ll definitely want to try one of the Argentine wines.  The beef was great with a glass of the Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec, and I’m also a fan of the Torrontes.

Santiago, Chile
If it’s a hot afternoon and you’re craving something cold and refreshing, head to the Chile marketplace for the rock shrimp ceviche.  Served chilled in a tart tomato-based sauce, it hit the spot in the 80 degree weather.  It was even better with a glass of the Emiliana Natura Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine has fresh citrus flavors with a hint of herbs and minerals on the finish.  It’s a perfect wine to sip on a hot afternoon and at $10 a bottle it’s a great deal too.

Montreal, Canada
My favorite fish of the entire festival had to be in Canada: maple glazed salmon served on top of lentil salad.  The salmon was cooked perfectly, with a nice crust from the glaze.  The lentils were so good I could have easily eaten a bowl of just them.

After the salmon I enjoyed a glass of Château des Charmes Merlot.  It was more full-bodied in flavor than I expected of a wine from Ontario, with silky flavors of cherry and cassis.

The New York Wine Adventure
After the Canadian Merlot I moved a little farther south on the map (but just a few steps away at Epcot), to try some wines from New York State.  I started on the North Fork of Long Island with a glass of the Lieb Cellars Bridge Lane Merlot Blanc.  The wine is pale in color because the juice has no contact with the skins of the grape.  It has fresh raspberry and strawberry flavors with well-balanced acidity.

Next I moved to the Finger Lakes for a taste of the Red Newt Cellars Circle Riesling.  It’s semi-dry and aromatic with tangerine, apricot and citrus notes.  Both are wines I would drink again.

Wellington, New Zealand
Though the lamb chop in Australia was a worthy competitor, my favorite lamb dish of the festival was the lamb slider.  It was a big chunk of meat served on a bun with a dollop of tomato chutney.  The lamb was moist and well-seasoned; it was hard to resist getting a second one.  I tried it with a glass of Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon, a pleasant mix of cherry, raspberry, cedar and tobacco flavors.

Cork, Ireland
I ended my tour in Ireland with the lobster and scallop fisherman’s pie.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  Underneath the creamy potatoes were big chunks of lobster in a yummy sauce.  I accompanied it with a glass of Bunratty Meade.  The honey wine had a hint of sweetness and nice spice on the finish.

Of course I had to try the dessert, warm chocolate lava cake with Bailey’s Ganache.  It was every bit as good as it sounds, rich and indulgent with a warm and gooey center.  It’s a must for any chocolate fan.

If you’re counting, I visited 12 countries.  Not bad for one weekend!

The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs through November 8th.

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2009 Part 1

I’m back from my gastronomical adventure around the world!  Around the World Showcase at Epcot, that is.

From September 25th through November 8th, Epcot is transformed into a paradise for food and wine fans for the International Food & Wine Festival.  Besides going on the rides you can explore countries on six continents through their food and drinks.  It’s not just the countries in the World Showcase — this year more than 25 booths feature the cuisine of more than 20 countries.

I had been looking forward to this year’s festival for quite some time and mapped out my plan of action weeks earlier.  First I’d get a glass of Champagne at the festival welcome center.  Then I’d start my eating tour in France, which has always been my favorite Epcot country.  I studied the menus in the festival guide so I wouldn’t miss any food or drinks.  Lamb chops in Australia were a must, as was the warm chocolate lava cake in Ireland.

What I love about the International Food & Wine Festival is that it is set at such a fun place.  Epcot has always been my favorite Disney theme park and I still get that giddy feeling when I pass through the gates.  Even though I’ve visited several of the countries featured in the World Showcase I still get a kick out of visiting Epcot’s versions.  And with newer rides like Soarin’ and Test Track, Epcot has some of the best rides of all the Disney theme parks.

At the festival I’m reminded of the excitement I felt when I was a child, while being able to enjoy grown-up treats.  It may not have the sophistication or selection of other food and wine festivals, but it’s the one I look forward to most all year.

From the friendly cast members to the attention to detail, there’s a certain charm about Walt Disney World that you just don’t get at other theme parks.

Of course like all good things, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is expensive.  With food and drinks ranging between $3 and $7 a pop on average, eating your way around the world adds up quickly.  I recommend purchasing a Disney gift card that you can wear on your wrist and use for charging all your purchases.  It’s less annoying than taking out your wallet all the time, and it helps you keep track of how much you’re spending.  The gift cards can be purchased and refilled all over Epcot.

One thing I missed were the wine walkabouts from previous festivals.  At these walkabouts you would purchase a wine passport and then sample a variety of wines from a single country.  This year’s Beer Hop follows a similar format with a variety of international brews, but to me it wasn’t as interesting a selection.

I also would have liked to see more wines from the United States.  I enjoyed the New York Wine Adventure because it showcased some of the state’s delicious wines, but it would have been nice to see other states.  And not just California or Oregon — an up-and-coming winemaking state like Virginia would be perfect for the American Adventure pavilion.

But enough about the festival itself, it’s time to move on to the food and drinks!

Next: Part 2 of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2008

Recently a friend who just moved to Florida asked me if Walt Disney World is fun when you’re an adult. I enthusiastically replied, “of course!” I still love riding Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean, and hold on just as tight before the big drop at Splash Mountain. And how can you not smile when you see Mickey and Minnie waving to you during the evening parade that ends with a spectacular fireworks show?

My favorite park has always been Epcot. I loved the rides that showed the future would be filled with computers and space travel. I had so much fun exploring the countries in World Showcase and I’d pretend I was actually there.

Now that I am an adult, my favorite time to visit Epcot is in the fall for the International Food & Wine Festival. If you haven’t been, here’s how it works: in each country there’s a stand where you can buy food, wine and beer from that country. In between the World Showcase countries are stands with food and drinks from other countries like Greece, Chile and South Africa. It’s a great way to try food and wine from all over. There are also “wine walkabouts” where you can learn about the different wine producing regions of a country by trying wine from there. Be sure to bring lots of cash (they do take credit cards). Each offering ranges from $2 to $7 and when you want to try something at each stand, it adds up quickly.

My favorite Epcot country to visit is France. There I ordered escargot and a glass of Michel Picard Vouvray. The escargot was baked in garlic butter and served in a small brioche. The bread was great for soaking up the delicious garlic butter. The Vouvray was light and refreshing with flavors of citrus and peach. There was a hint of minerality on the finish. It was great for sipping in the hot afternoon.

In Japan I went inside the pavilion to a sake bar located at one corner of the expansive gift shop. I ordered a glass of sparkling sake. It came in a bright pink bottle with pink foil at the top. It looked like it would appeal to young women who grew up collecting everything Hello Kitty (perhaps why I wanted to try it). It definitely stood out among the other brown, blue and green sake bottles. The taste was on the sweet side, with a little bit of citrus. The carbonation made me feel like I was drinking soda instead of sake. It wasn’t bad, but I think I’ll stick to non-sparkling sake.

At the Spain stand I ordered a glass of Poema Cava Brut. I haven’t had Poema before and I really enjoyed it. The cava was dry and creamy with a hint of pear and toasted bread. The bubbles were soft, which made it easy to drink. Doing a quick search online, I found a bottle costs around $12, which makes it a great value. It would be a great bottle to have chilling in the fridge for a special evening, and one that’s not so expensive that you can drink it any night of the week.

Istanbul was a tasty stop. I ordered beef ravioli and a glass of Kavaklidere Yakut red wine. The ravioli resembled handmade dumplings and were really good. The meat was moist and nicely spiced. It was two raviolis to a serving and I could have easily eaten many more. The wine was medium bodied with dark fruits and light earthiness. It paired nicely with the ravioli. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had Turkish wine and I’ve only tried red wine; I’ve enjoyed drinking it every time and highly recommend trying some.

In Australia I ordered grilled lamb chops with caramelized onion jam. They were really tasty, though not as good as the lamb chops I make! There was also a wine walkabout featuring wines from Victoria that I went on. I enjoyed the two Pinot Noirs I tried, in particular the Cooralook Pinot Noir. It had flavors of strawberry and blueberry with a warm, earthy taste. It made for a much fuller mouthfeel than other Pinot Noirs, which I really enjoyed.

At the Argentina stand I ordered grilled beef with chimichurri sauce and a glass of Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec. The chimichurri sauce was really tasty with a bite at the end. It had just the right amount of garlic, not too overpowering. The Malbec had flavors of blackberry, cherry and tobacco with soft tannins. Bodega Norton wines are usually pretty good and a good value.

There are a few days left to enjoy the International Food & Wine Festival, it ends on November 9th. Not to worry if you can’t make it there by Sunday — during the rest of the year there’s still plenty to eat and drink in each country.

I’ll see you at Epcot next fall!