The 22nd annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is larger than ever this year with more chances to learn about food and wine pairings.
The best place to learn about wine is close to home, and Central Floridians have an extraordinary opportunity as the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is in full throttle this month. The 2017 festival is the longest ever. It began Aug. 31 and runs for 75 days until Nov. 13.
It’s been a number of years since I attended the Orlando event, and I had to prepare for a many changes since my first foray into this epicurean wonderland. I remembered standing in line for hours to get one of the coveted seats in the wine seminars, which in the early days were free. Today, the 45-minute seminars have an admission price over and above-the-park-entry fee. That extra cost—about $17 for beverage seminars and culinary demonstrations—comes with reserved seating so you are not wasting valuable time just hoping for a seat.
Food and wine lovers actually spend more time in the Global Marketplace visiting the various “kitchen” kiosks than they do in the celebrity chef events, which are often sold out weeks in advance. Open throughout the festival, the Global Marketplace is the place to be if you want to learn what wines or beers to pair with cuisines from around the world. The booths or kiosks—35 in all to honor Epcot’s 35th year—are scattered throughout the park’s World Showcase and into Future World.
Find out in advance what is being served around Epcot’s “world,” because decisions are hard on an empty stomach. I had to choose between breakfast in Germany with its famed apple strudel, Spain’s charcuterie “cone” of goodies, or just heading toward the Eiffel Tower and starting the day with a sparkling French Kir and a crème brûlée with raspberry jam. A list of menus and wines for the Global Marketplace is available at disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/epcot/food-wine-marketplaces.
Your budget can take a beating if you stop at every booth, because…well, it’s Disney…and prices can be steep. Epcot offers a “tasting sampler” voucher for eight food or beverage items from the Global Marketplace (exclusions are listed on voucher). The tasting sampler voucher is $65 and can be purchased at several Epcot locations, including the Festival Center just beyond the entrance.
Another reason to check out the marketplace menus ahead of time is to determine which wines you want to sample. Try varietals that you can’t find locally. I was particularly curious about wines from Patagonia, the southernmost region in Argentina.
The Bodega Noemía de Patagonia “A Lisa” Malbec, Rio Negro, is a full-bodied Malbec blended with a splash of Merlot and Petit Verdot and made with organically and biodynamically grown grapes. The Patagonia Marketplace serves beef empanadas and beef skewers with chimichurri sauce, both excellent pairings for the Malbec.
In addition to the international cuisines scattered around Epcot’s World Showcase, four new kitchens have been added to the Global Marketplace. They include Coastal Eats, Active Eats, Flavors from the Fire, and Light Lab. If you are looking for seafood and Oregon wines, then Coastal Eats is a safe choice. However, if you’ve always wondered what wines or beers to pair with spicy Korean barbecue or smoked corned beef, then Flavors from the Fire has suggestions.
For the kids in your group, and the young at heart, check out the Light Lab, where you can taste nonalcoholic glow-in-the-dark beverages like the citrus apple freeze. Active Eats offers action-packed creations such as sweet avocado crema with strawberries and “hard” sparkling waters, which contain about 5 percent alcohol and are flavored with unusual cucumber and lemon-lime combinations.
The best finale has to be the Chocolate Studio, located between Future World West and the Showcase Plaza near the Imagination pavilion. Choose a gluten-friendly chocolate-almond truffle or dark chocolate raspberry torte with some unexpected wine pairings—Banfi Rosa Regale or a Justin Cabernet Sauvignon. Your taste buds will thank you for capping off the day in such a sweet way.
Tips for a smooth visit to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival
To make your day in Epcot’s epicurean playground more enjoyable, plan ahead with these suggestions:
Visit on a weekday when it’s less crowded. Disney offers weekday-only passes for Florida residents at a reduced rate.
Go early in the day when it’s cooler and you’ll have time to walk off some of the calories.
Download the Festival Guidemap from blogmickey.com/2017/08/2017-epcot-food-wine-festival-guidemap. Also look at the menus for each vendor and have an idea whether there is something special you want to try.
Set a budget for eating in the Global Marketplace. Epcot’s “tasting sampler” voucher is $65 for eight food or wine items. The reloadable Mini-Festival Gift Card is also a good way to stick to a budget. Activate it with as little as $15 and then swipe or scan to pay for food and wine.
If not staying overnight, make sure to have a designated driver. You should also enjoy Epcot and the free entertainment for a few hours after your last wine tasting.