We kicked off our Epcot Food & Wine Festival adventures with a special wine tasting given by Achaval Ferrer Winery of Mendoza, Argentina.
Achaval Ferrer produces low-yield wines, consistently rated in the 90+ in both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. They produce around 15,000 cases per year, 85% of which is exported (25% of that to the U.S.). The winery was launched 10 years ago by 5 friends and they purchased land near the Andes mountains with vines that average around 80 years old.
The winemaker takes an interesting tactic, spending more time with the wood in the barrels and in the field than worrying about the actual blends. In fact, the wine ferments in extremely warm temperatures in concrete vats for 5-6 days – other wineries take months, not days, before moving to the barrel.
We tried three wines at this tasting. Prices listed are what I call “Disney prices,” so in many cases you’ll want to drop $5-$10 from the cost of the bottle.
2009 Malbec Mendoza ($29.95): The winery specializes in Malbec. This one has a lot of big fruit on the nose, as well as violets. There are also a lot of big fruits up front on the palette. I found this wine to be a little hot, and the presenters mentioned that while it is drinkable now, it is a little young. Lay it down for at least a year, I think, and some of that alcohol hotness will burn off (14.5% abv). My rating:
2008 Quimera ($54.95): This blend is named for the mythical beast Chimera, which is a blend of different animals. This wine includes 40% malbec, 22% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 14% cabernet franc, and 4% petit verdot. Interestingly, the winemaker chose to blend this wine right after picking – no fermenting first. The petit verdot and the cabernet sauvignon lended a lot of structure to this wine, as well as a long finish. The middle of the palate though was all malbec. This wasn’t my kind of wine – the fruit was just too big and I still felt like it was a little too hot for me. But if you love the big fruit monsters, you’ll enjoy the Quimera. My rating:
2007 Finca Mirador ($142.95): The Finca Mirador is one of three separate single vineyard wines produced by Achaval Ferrer. Each one of these showcases malbec from a specific elevation, really emphasizing altitude, terroir, and soil. The Finca Mirador Malbec is grown at 2400 feet, and the other two single vineyard wines are grown at even higher elevations. This wine is pricey, but it tastes like it. I loved it. There was a lot of “dirt” in this wine, with dried cherries and dried fruits. There was a lot of complexity and structure to this wine, reminding me of a really wonderful bordeaux. My rating:
Achaval Ferrer is imported by TGIC. The rep was pretty sure you can pick it up at either The Party Source or Cork n Bottle.
Back in 2005, I went to a Learning-themed conference (as I’m a training & development professional) held at a convention center on the Walt Disney World property. I was excited to begin with, as I’m quite the Disney aficionado. Kevin flew down with me and we spent an extended weekend after the conference exploring the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. We loved it! At the time, the F&W offered a bunch of free seminars with park admission, which is how we discovered super-cool Master Sommelier /Master of Wine Doug Frost and were introduced to Greek wine.
Since then, we’ve been back in 2006 and 2009, and we just made our reservations for 2010. We really do enjoy it and for those of you who are kid-free like us, well, let’s just say that Epcot is filled with more adults than kids during F&W Fest weekends. The F&W Fest has changed a bit since 2005, but a lot of the great things have stayed the same.
Every country in the World Pavilion has its own special booth setup where you can get tapas size bites from that region, as well as a beer or wine. For instance, France usually has some sort of eclair, a quiche, and champagne. (This is aside from the specific Champagne booth that is set up.) In addition to the regular countries, booths are added for new countries so that you can have food from Australia, Spain, Belgium, India, and more. It tends to grow and change every year. Australia also has a special wine walk in which you can participate for a small fee. America usually offers an included Samuel Adams beer tasting that is a lot of fun.
There’s also a Festival headquarters, where you can partake in those seminars I mentioned. These now cost ~$8 per person. Last year we took a class from a rum maker from Bacardi and listened to a winemaker from a small winery speak. I haven’t yet looked at this year’s list of seminars, but it is available for download. You can also sign up for special dinners, parties and tastings. These, of course, have a much higher fee and generally require registration several months in advance. In fact, on July 20, they announced all of the special events and opened the registration lines. Last year we enjoyed a Tequila tasting in the new Tequila bar in Mexico. This year we’re participating in a Grand Marnier Tasting and Cocktail event in France. Cost? $45 per person.
In 2006 we participated in two expensive but amazing events. We took a day-long class with Doug Frost that introduced us to Spanish wine. It was amazing, and I learned a lot – in fact, since that class I’ve had a real passion for Spanish wines. (Thank you Doug!) We also went to the Party of the Senses. At the time, I think it cost $110/pp (and is now up to $135/pp). It was worth it. I had mixed emotions about it at the time. Due to a combination of my nut allergy and my pickiness, there wasn’t all that much I would eat. There was an amazing amount of excellent wine though. The Party of the Senses is a giant room, decorated so beautifully it’s almost over-stimulating, filled with various chefs, sous chefs, and their food. All of the food is paired with wine as well, so you get to try things you wouldn’t find either out in the park or here at home. Adding to all of this is Cirque du Soleil, who perform periodically in the great room, but also offer face painting and juggling off to the side. I haven’t made up my mind on the Party of the Senses this year. It’s a big expense for two people, but it’s also incredibly memorable.
Last year we discovered the best way to control your spending during the F&W festival. You can buy the equivalent of Gift Cards, branded with the F&W Festival, at the F&W Fest headquarters. Just grab one of those and fill it up with cash at the beginning of each day. It’s easier than dealing with cash as you hit each food booth and does give you a bit of a budget. Just be careful. They give you a wristband to which you can attach the card. Last year, my card fell off the band. I’m going to probably use a lanyard of some sort this year.
Last year, Friday was a great day at Epcot, without a lot of people until evening. Saturday was packed and we flew out Sunday. As far as we can tell, locals actually come to Epcot during the F&W Festival, as there is some sort of special F&W Fest pass you can get if you live in the area. And why not? What a great chance to try a lot of different food, wine, and beer? For us, staying on park property is the best bet. We can drink and eat as much as we want and rely 100% on Disney’s excellent transportation system to get us from the park to our hotel – no driving necessary.
The Epcot wine and food festival runs daily from Oct 1 – Nov 14. You can view information from our last few years of Disney adventures in the Disney category or just visit the F&W Fest official site. I also highly recommend the disney food blog, which is one of the few blogs I actually read on a daily basis.
Hello all, this is Kevin once again with a delayed review of our trip to Big River Brewery in Walt Disney World during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
We went to Big River after spending an exhausting but fun day sampling wines and our palates needed a little bit of hops and malt to help reset themselves, so we headed out the back door of Epcot and took a boat over to Disney’s Boardwalk for a mircobrew experience. We hope to try Big River again, hopefully with our friends the Hoperatives, who are big fans of the place. I suspect that we were too tired to fully appreciate the experience.
We tried the following:
Southern Flyer Light Lager (3.61% Alcohol by Volume – AbV) – The light cross over beer for people who are comfortable with Bud’s American ale, the flavor had a slight soapy quality similar to what I find in Bud American ale. I believe that quality is from the Liberty hops used.
Gadzooks Pilsner (3.61% AbV) – Standard Pilsner for those who like pilsners. Nother super remarkable, but exactly what is promised.
Steamboat Pale Ale (4.4% AbV) – Traditional Pale Ale. Once again a nice solid entry that hits the expected notes and won’t dissapoint ale drinkers.
Rocket Red Ale (5.3% AbV) – Nice upfront malt, fades to rounded finish. This one is pretty tasty and is memorable. This one is reccomended if you like a malty flavor in a light bodied beer.
Sweet Magnolia American Brown Ale (5.18% AbV) – Has similar taste to a Chocolate Malt. Very little coffee. Kevin’s favorite, Michelle not as much. The sweetness and chocolate would make this a recommendation for Guinness lovers, but it’s not a stout so the overall flavor has a strong hop presence, so try a sample and see if it’s a fit.
Wowser’s Wheat (4.29% AbV) – Traditional German style Wheat beer served with a wedge of lemon. The banana and clove components are balanced and in line with what is expected.
Overall, Big River was a nice diversion from the Food and Wine festival and the standard theme park food that you can usually find. If you are in the mood for a beer and chicken nachos, head over to Big River at Disney’s Boardwalk.
“Zweigelt is a red grape.” That’s me at my best folks.
We’re unexpectedly still in the Orlando airport this morning, so you get another video! My hotel didn’t have AMC so I missed last night’s Mad Men. No Mad Men Monday today! But you do get to see me enjoying some sparkling champagne and creme brulee in “France.”
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