Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival
Many people mistakenly think of Walt Disney World as a kids' vacation destination. They don't realize that Disney understands that adults need to be entertained as well, and what better way to do that than to offer great food and drink? Over the last ten or more years, Disney has offered first class dining in a relaxed atmosphere. Celebrity chefs such as Todd English have opened restaurants on Disney's property, and you can find several restaurants that have received Wine Spectator's awards. For fans of Emeril Lagasse, you can travel a relatively short distance to dine at one of his two restaurants in the Orlando area. Each fall, the Epcot theme park becomes more than a place to ride rides and take pictures. The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival begins in late September and runs through mid-November, and it offers food and wine lovers a whole array of pleasures for the palate. The great thing about this festival--besides its length (it's the longest in the world)--is that many of the offerings are included with the price of admission to the theme park. It's a real bargain by any measure, especially when you realize that some single-day events can cost over $200 per person. So, what will you find at the festival? How about free wine seminars held each day? You can attend several seminars held during the day, with myriad topics. This past trip, I attended a seminar presented by the Justin Vineyards and Winery [note: site plays music], where we sampled the 2002 and 2003 estate and reserve syrahs. Another seminar featured three great pinot noirs from California, including Etude and Belle Glos. International wineries are well represented as well. I attended a great seminar offered by Argentina winery Bodegas Nieto Senetiner [note: site plays music] and Chile's Casa Lapostolle. In this last seminar, in the course of thirty minutes we sampled four different wines (which were excellent) and learned a ton about the Chilean wine industry's history. In the past, I've enjoyed seminars offered by Guenoc, where we were given barrel samples of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot and we went through an exercise in blending the wines to create a Bordeaux-style blend, known as a "meritage" (rhymes with heritage). Too bad it was only a sample set, but one can hardly expect to walk out of a seminar like that with a case of wine when the seminar is free. One year, Stags' Leap Winery showed us that it is indeed possible to enjoy big red wines with chocolate. In another seminar, Nickel & Nickel poured samples of their single-vineyard cabernet sauvignons (and at $80 or so a bottle, they certainly are not inexpensive!). Other seminars can focus on wine regions, such as the Pacific Northwest or South Africa. Some seminars may focus on styles of wines, such as how oak affects wine. The breadth of the seminar topics is almost more than one can absorb. For those willing to spend a little more money, there are lunches that feature three courses prepared by a chef paired with wines that complement the meals. You can attend signature dinners featuring gourmet courses and fabulous wines. You can attend vertical tastings, or even full-day wine schools like the Bordeaux Wine School. Cooks will find plenty to entertain them as well. Daily free cooking demonstrations are available, and you can even take three hour cooking classes led by internationally renowned chefs. For us, the highlight of the event is the Party for the Senses, which is held on each Saturday evening during the Festival. For about $100 per person, you are treated to an evening of food and wine hedonism. Dozens of chefs offer their wares for your consideration, and dozens of wineries offer samples of their wines. This year's party included chefs Frank Morales from Zola in Washington, D.C.; London's Michael Moore; Dean Max of 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale; and Diego Lozano from Diego's Restaurant in Coral Gables, Florida. The wineries included Champagne Pommery, Nobilo, Penfolds, Lindemans, Rosemount Estate, Franciscan (pouring their Magnificat, among others), Justin Winery (pouring their Justification, among others), and even Highland Distillers, pouring 12 and 15 year old Macallan and 18 year old Highland Park single malt whiskys. During the course of the evening, performers from Cirque du Soleil provide visual and musical entertainment. The Party for the Senses is an all-you-can-eat-and-drink experience (although I'd recommend not drinking too much--spitting the samples should be encouraged at this event) and is the one event we will go to great lengths to avoid missing. Check out some photos of the event. The icing on the cake is the specially etched wine glasses that guests get to take with them. (Disney has forgone the small wineglasses, now offering glasses with good size bowls to aid in the swirling of the wine.) Mere words cannot convey the depth of what this festival has to offer. Beer lovers can enjoy a free international beer seminar (and at the party for the senses they can try Sam Adams Utopias, an extreme brew more like cognac than beer). There are numerous food and wine booths where you can purchase samples of food from around the globe, often matched with wines to complement the flavors. The annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival should be on every wine lover's destination list. If there's one problem, it's that there are too many good things going on during the six week period that unless you live there, you must out of necessity miss some of the events. Perhaps when I retire I can be there for the whole event. This festival is a value by any measure, and when you consider the warm Florida climate in the fall and other offerings at the Walt Disney World Resort, it's hard to find a more enjoyable way to feed the wine lover's spirit. You can review a bunch of photos from this year's festival.