Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2009 – Not so epic

Matt at Epcot Food & Wine Festival 2009

Matt at Epcot Food & Wine Festival 2009

We always have a good time at the Disney parks, whether with the kids, or with our adult friends. Robin & I decided it was time for an “Adult Weekend”, and planned a trip to the Epcot Food and Wine festival with our good friends Tom and Scottt. As Florida residents, the discounts available to us make it a quick and usually relatively inexpensive weekend getaway. We were all very excited to try some different wines as well as interesting food creations, and just have a Magical day.

We arrived on Disney property Friday evening and made our way to the Grand Floridan for our dinner reservation at Citricos. The bartender at the hotel bar on the second floor, Tammy, is not only fun and a great mixologist, she’s a good friend of Tom and Scott. We were excited that Tammy was working, and stopped to have a drink with her.  The first non-magical moment happened when Tom went into Citricos to tell them where we were, as the host was quite rude. He wouldn’t call us if we were not in the restaurant bar, and we’d just have to wait for a table after we came in.  Mind you, they were anything but full, and this is certainly NOT the way we expected to be treated.  Fast forward through the evening, and the food was nice enough, but our waiter and the service were terrible. The appetizer and salad was delicious, and the Albarino they suggested was nice with those courses. Our main course was served late, and only after we walked up to the kitchen and saw it sitting on the counter. The food was cold, and while probably delicious, the meal was positively ruined. Even the tasty bottle of Chappellet 2006 Mountain Cuvee couldn’t save the cold fillet of beef, roasted chicken, or lamb shank we had. It was a several hundred dollar dinner that was truly terrible. We’ll never eat at the Grand Floridian’s Citricos again. We left unsatisfied, though we all looked forward to our next day in Epcot.

Epcot Food and Wine Argentina

Epcot Food and Wine Argentina

After a great breakfast at the Yacht Club, we arrived at Epcot for 10am and walked around a bit. When you enter the World Showcase, which is a circular track, you can go left or right. We decided to go left, where the first stop was the Desserts & Champagne stand. This was poor planning on Epcot’s part, in my opinion, as having sweets before much of the wine throughout the rest of the event would tend to make the wine taste off. Perhaps they think everyone will go to the right, and finish with this stand. We did have a glass of Moet Imperial Rose each, then made our way to the next stand. We passed on Brazil, since we still had Champagne, and made our way to Argentina. I have recently done three different wine tastings of Argentinian wines, and was excited to stop at this stand. We sat for a while and finished our Champagne, then tried the Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec and Torrontes.

The Torrontes had a beautiful floral bouquet, and a nice, crisp palate of citrus and flowers. While I felt it left a waxy feel in my mouth, like eating wax lips when you were a kid, no one else minded, though they did experience it.  The Malbec, which is a varietal that I do enjoy, was over oaked and had no spice or pepper. We did not eat the food pairings, but they both looked fantastic, and we heard reviews later from a chef that it was the best food in the event.

The Mouse Catch - Cheese at Epcot 2009

The Mouse Catch - Cheese at Epcot 2009

Across from Argentina was the Mouse Catch. This was a cheese stand hosted by igourmet.com.  I’ve had their products before and think they offer some spectacular cheeses. I was a bit let down that we had just eaten breakfast and were too full to try any of the cheese. I thought we’d make our way around the event and try them later, though in the end that didn’t happen.

We took a break to ride Soarin’, and upon our return to the World Showcase, we went to the right this time, passing on “mojitos” from Puerto Rico, and stopping at Chile. The Natura Sauvignon Blanc was our selection, and probably would have rocked with the Corn & Cheese Arapa or the Ceviche. We were still full and not eating, but everyone loved the wine. Our next stop, Greece, was an interesting one. I have had a few people tell me they weren’t fans of wines from Greece. However, since I had never had any, I felt it was time to give it a shot, and move further along the road towards the Wine Century Club!

Greek Wines at Epcot 2009

Greek Wines at Epcot 2009

I can now say I’ve tasted Boutari’s white wine from the Santorini region, made from Assyrtiko grapes, as well as Tsantali’s Rapsani Reserve, a red wine. The Boutari Santorini had a bouquet of motor oil and gasoline, and the palate wasn’t much different. None of us could handle more than 2 sips of the wine. The company’s website describes it as having a metallic taste, and I’d agree. The Rapsani Reserve is made from Greek indigenous grapes of 34% Xinomavro, 33% Krassato and 33% Stavroto. It was aged for 12 months in new French oak, and showed on the palate which was mostly blackcurrant and wood. This red would have probably paired well with some nice Roast Lamb, but alone, it wasn’t to my liking. The food offerings looked great, but it was now approaching time for our lunch in France, so we passed.

The highlight of the visit was lunch at Les chefs de France. It is, of course, an every day option at Epcot, so I really can’t give this fabulous experience any weight when discussing my Food & Wine Festival experience. We started with a glass of Pommery Brut Royal Champagne, and selected the cheese plate, meat & pate plate, and escargot to share. The bottle of wine we ordered, the Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris, was not one of their “regular menu selections”, and apparently was not kept at cellar temperature. We had to wait a good 20 minutes for it to be chilled enough to serve, so we ordered a glass of Domaine Caseneuve Cotes de Provence Rose. It was a lovely dry rose, with delicious cherries and citrus balanced nicely with chalky notes that paired well with the meats and cheeses. When the Pinot Gris was finally ready, it rounded out a great lunch. Delicious ripe fruit on the palate, off dry, the fruit was so bright it almost came across sweet. However, the wine was nice and crisp, and was sipped with abandon.

New York Wines featured at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

New York Wines featured at Epcot Food & Wine Festival

After lunch we shopped a little in France, then made our way around the rest of the event area. By 3:15pm the park was packed and each area had a queue of 20-30 people deep. None of the remaining wines really intrigued us enough to prompt us to wait that long.  I was quite surprised that Australia showed Rosemont and Penfolds Kunga Hill, grocery store wines that really don’t showcase the variety and strength of the wines of the region. New Zealand and South Africa were also lack luster with their offerings. We would have stopped at Germany, which offered Prum Rieslings, but waiting 20-30 minutes for a 2 oz taste in 88 degree weather didn’t seem appealing.  Likewise, we would have stopped in New York,  where they had several of the Finger Lake wines I have had in the past, had there not been so many people in line. Add to this the fact that people were more than happy, some falling down drunk, and it just soured us on the rest of the day.

We left the park, headed over to Cat Cora’s new restaurant. They didn’t change the decor much at all from Spoodles, save for opening up the kitchen area. There is no bar, and the drinks the waiter brought, which he most likely made, were terrible. We had appetizers, the spanakopita which was amazing, the clam appetizer we all thought was fairly nice, and the calamari that was inedible. We didn’t even consider staying for a meal, with the noise level approaching headache producing, and the food really not Iron Chef quality. We headed over to The Swan hotel and Todd English’s BlueZoo. There, we ordered oysters and the crab nachos, which absolutely ROCKED, and hung out with Deb, a great bartender, for a few hours. We had a great time, and will most likely stay at the Swan next visit.

Sunset at The Swan at Walt Disney World

Sunset at The Swan at Walt Disney World

As the sun set on our quick visit to Epcot, we recapped our trip. First of all, wear sensible shoes. My feet are killing me from the flip flops I wore. Ladies, don’t wear heels. You may look fabulous, but you’ll cry for weeks about blisters. Wear sneakers & cushy socks. Second, plan more than one day to take in an event as big as the Food & Wine Festival. Frankly, we missed things we wanted to try, and had no time for shopping. Though as a Wineaux, I was terribly disappointed with the majority of the wine offerings, I still would have liked to experience some of them, and try the food pairings. That brings us to third, don’t eat a big meal before an event that showcases a lot of food. You won’t want any, and then lament you didn’t try more. Fourth, the one day park rate is absurd, as it cost us $80 per person to enter the park, then another $50 tasting 10 wines. Had we tried the related food pairings, it would have bumped the price another $50 per person. That’s only tasting one wine and one food pairing at 10 out of over 25 opportunities. Don’t think this is a cheap proposition. You may have a lot of different wine and food presented to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s a budget trip. I may have opened this post saying Disney is typically a quick and inexpensive getaway as a Florida resident, but this event really doesn’t fit that bill.

Finally, you’ll notice I didn’t mention any of the seminars available to you at these events.  After this unflattering review of the cheese seminar, coupled with the fact that on the day we arrived, nothing really intrigued us, we passed. They didn’t seem worth the price. Perhaps someone can tell me which events they enjoyed, so we can try them next time.  And that’s where I end up folks. Though Citricos was positively abysmal, and the wine at the Food & Wine festival really didn’t leave me feeling like I was trying anything special, I will probably make the pilgrimage to The House of the Mouse in a few years. Perhaps by then Disney will realize that to put on a festival showcasing wine, they should try to offer their guests something more than just $9 grocery store juice.

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  • http://www.midliferoadtripshow.com sandra mckenna

    Wow … Glad you blazed this trail for me … Knowing you, this is a spot on review!

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  • http://agoodtimewithwine.com Matt.mmwine

    Thanks Sandi! We were sorely disappointed in the food at Cat Cora’s, the Food & Wine Festival overall, and could not believe that Citricos could be SO bad. Thankfully I have good friends that made the good fun outshine the bad food and wine!

  • Valerie

    Great post and very accurate. I love going just for the atmosphere.

  • lurkingtweeter

    I’ve always liked the F&W festival, but the more years I go (and the more experience I have with wine) the more I notice that the wines on the Int’l Marketplace are rather pedestrian. Basically, they’ve opted for the cheapest wines they can get so that the 2oz. pour does not get (outrageously) marked up to more than $10.

    We’ve found better quality wines in the tastings (now paid) and some F&W pairings (skip Morocco, grocery store wines). I realize it’s about who’s invited, what vendors will bring, bad economy and all but still, sad they don’t showcase a few value priced gems. They shifted for quantity vs. quality a while back, trying to be the biggest Festival (and now quantity is cut back, while prices are up).

    We’ve stopped going on the weekend all together, save for Party for the Senses. Weekday crowds are smaller, just a much better experience. We save room for food and snacking by not doing a big breakfast or lunch.

    Sorry you had a bad night at Citricos (which was okay my only visit) and I hope you complained to management, as bad service is a correctible issue but only if TPTB know about it.

    Very fair review of your F&W weekend, thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.onemomsworld.com Jen @ One Moms World

    You know, I was bummed out we did not get to go to this as we had planned the first of this month. After reading this post, I am glad it didn’t work out. As much as Disney pushes this event, I just thought it would be better organized and my goodness… I didn’t realize you had to pay all the extras over a 1 day ticket to get in.

    Thank you for doing this review!

  • http://www.hahnfamilywines.com Philip Woodrow

    Wow Matt. How terribly disappointing on virtually all fronts. What’s interesting to me is that Disney has always been fiercely protective of their brand and in particular delivering the highest standard of care and service. At least that has always been my perception of what Disney stands for. After reading this review and the comments that corroborate your experience it seems that the standards have dropped considerably at the happiest place on earth. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of your followers. Hopefully this will help to right the ship or at least to prevent others from enduring such a painful experience.

  • http://winefornewbies.net Bill from Wine For Newbies

    I’m stunned to hear about the treatment at Citricos. I’ve only had top notch experiences there.

    I would definitely call the Grand Floridian and talk to someone in Guest Services. I’ve occasionally run into a less-than-stellar Cast Member, and when it’s brought to management’s attention, they usually jump on it. Those problems at the restaurant are correctable, and Disney needs to know about it.

    I’ve found the wine seminars are becoming less interesting, although we did plan on hitting at least one of them this year. In past years I’ve met Tom Rinaldi, the winemaker at Provenance, and he was kind enough to agree to do a phone interview with me for the podcast. Lately the seminars seem to be more reps and fewer winemakers.

    Still, I enjoy being able to walk around, try different wines at the kiosks (even if I’ve had them before), and try to see how many wines I can sample or drink during the trip. I’ve done more than 100 the last couple of years. :-) Attending the Party for the Senses helps the tally.

    Matt, you definitely need to contact the Grand Floridian and let them know. Please do follow up on that.

  • teamevil

    Food & Wine has, unfortunately, gotten more pedestrian as time go as on. And that’s coming from someone who knows nothing about wines. I really went for the food part.

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