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Food & Wine Festival
Food & Wine Pairings
Fresh arugula with bresaola and shaved parmesan
served with a lemon olive oil
Wine: Banfi Principessa Perlante
di Cinghiale alla Torinese
Wild Boar Stew
Wine: Banfi Centine
Gianduia Chocolate Mascarpone Semifreddo
with Orange Caramel Sauce
Wine: Banfi Rosa Regale
by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, ALL EARS®
I'd had such a great experience at the Food & Wine Pairing at Alfredo's during last year's Food & Wine Festival, that I couldn't pass up the chance to try it again this year. I'm glad that I did, even though it wasn't quite the new experience I had hoped it would be.
A group of about 40 hungry Food and Wine Festers was ushered to the back room at the L'Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante on an unseasonably hot and humid Sunday afternoon. The long tables were set as beautifully as they were last year, with linen napkins, baskets of fresh bread, decanters of Italian butter (AKA olive oil), water, and three glasses of wine at each place. We were greeted by Richard, who hosted the program, and Marilyn Vogel, a representative of Castello Banfi, the Montalcino, Italy-based winery whose wines we'd be sampling.
Vogel, who had spoken at the Alfredo's Pairing I'd attended last year, kicked off the program with much the same explanation of the origins of the Tuscan vineyards of Castello Banfi that she'd given last year. She also spent some time explaining the restrictions placed on Italian wineries to ensure quality. Among the rules governing Italian wines are conventions for naming their products. Wines may be named in three different ways: for the region from which they come, for the grape from which they're made, and for a fantasy, or story.
As I glanced down at my place, I was slightly disappointed to see that the wines we'd be sampling were the exact same wines we'd had at last year's Food & Wine pairing. Not that the wines weren't enjoyable -- it's just that I'm interested in trying something new and different when I attend these types of events.
Nevertheless, this year we again started with Banfi's Principessa Perlante (about $20/bottle), and heard the story once more about the legendary Italian princess ("principessa") Gavi for whom the wine is named. The slightly effervescent white perfectly complemented our salad course, which consisted of leaves of arugula draped with thin slices of the pressed, cured beef known as bresaola, and accented with shaved parmesan cheese. The greens were drizzled with olive oil which had been lightly flavored with lemon -- no vinegar was added, to prevent its interference with the quality of the wine. The sharp taste of the lemon helped bring out the wine's citrus notes, and although the meat in the salad was beef, the white grape paired very well with it. (Sorry, no photo of the salad -- it was so inviting, I'd half-devoured it before I realized I'd forgotten to snap a picture!)
Before we knew it, the servers were bringing out our second course -- for some reason, no chef came out from the kitchen to talk to us about the food preparation, as they have done at other pairings I've attended. I missed the chance to hear about the dishes from the chef him or herself, but Richard picked up the slack, talking a bit about the plates being set before us.
Our second course was an exotic one -- wild boar stew (or "Bocconcini di Cinghiale alla Torinese"), accompanied with polenta. I've had boar before, so was expecting its texture to resemble that of a slightly stringy beef, but I was surprised, and pleasantly so, at how tender and bursting with flavor the dish was. When I discovered it had been marinated for 12 hours in a mixture of wine, onion, celery, rosemary, sage, clove, cinnamon, carrot, salt and pepper, I had my explanation -- sitting that long in a marinade like that would make any meat wonderful! This flavorful dish paired very well with Banfi's blended red wine called Centine (about $15/bottle). The wine, 60 percent Sangiovese, 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20 percent Merlot, was an intense red, slightly spicy with a hint of berries. Some might call a red like this too astringent, but I must admit that it's my favorite type of wine, and it stood up well to the flavor of the spices permeating the meat, bringing out the clove in particular.
The third and final course for this afternoon was an unusual "semifreddo," so called because it is not fully frozen like ice cream. This creamy concoction, accompanied by a swirl of caramel orange sauce, was made of Gianduia chocolate, a specialty chocolate that originates from the Piedmont region of Italy -- it contains hazelnut and almond paste, giving it its distinctive flavor. The Gianduia was combined with mascarpone cheese (sort of an Italian cross between cream cheese and sour cream), heavy cream, sugar, almonds and eggs, then frozen for a few hours. The semifreddo was coupled with the apparently well-known bubbly rose called Rosa Regale (about $25/bottle), which is actually Banfi's branded name for the wine produced from 100 percent Brachetto d'Acqui grapes. Sweet but not too sweet, flowery and fizzy, this dark rose-colored wine is exceptionally good with chocolate -- as was reinforced by tasting it along with the semifreddo and its bittersweet chocolate garnishes. In recent years, many friends have told me how much they enjoy the Rosa Regale with a chocolate Baci candy while visiting the Italy pavilion, a testament to the wine's growing popularity. In fact, as Vogel told us, Banfi sells more Rosa Regale in Epcot than anywhere else in the country.
Although we were not rushed, and we had ample time to ask Vogel questions (which she enthusiastically answered), our program was finished a good 20 minutes prior to its scheduled 4 p.m. end time. I attribute this largely to the absence of the discussions by the chef, something I feel would have enhanced the experience quite a bit.
Still, as I said last year, the Food & Wine Pairings are a great value for $35. As far as instruction and information go, they are slightly above "Food and Wine 101," so that the more connoisseur among us won't be terribly bored, with the added benefit that you can talk to a winemaker in a relaxed setting, while enjoying a light, well-prepared meal.
Blue Crab Tartlet
with Carmelized Onion, Mache Salad,
French Butter Pear Vinaigrette
Wine: Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse
Quail Breast served on Wild Rice
and a Pomegranate Essence
with Confit of Quail Leg in Beggar's Purse
Wine: Louis Jadot Chateau des Jacques
Bean Panna Cotta with
Crab Apple Soup
Wine: Louis Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet
by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, ALL EARS®
Having attended a Food & Wine Pairing during Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival last year, I was eager to try another a different venue in 2005. Since the Coral Reef Restaurant, in Epcot's Living Seas pavilion, is primarily a seafood restaurant, I expected this spot to be a safe bet for my family (including my husband and our 13-year old son), which loves the fruits of the sea.
Our group of 6 (which also included two first-time Food & Wine Festival attendees) arrived early at the Coral Reef and were interested to watch the late lunch crowd disperse. Promptly at 3, about 50 of us waiting participants were escorted into the dimly lit Coral Reef and were seated on the upper tier of tables, furthest away from the aquarium, the focal point of this beautiful restaurant. The tables were set attractively, with programs outlining the wines and dishes we'd be sampling for the afternoon. The arrangement of the tables proved to be awkward, however, for the presenters, forcing them to walk the length of the floor so that we could all hear and see them clearly. The constant movement was distracting, for one thing, and there were many instances in which we missed some of what was being said.
But enough about the technical aspects of the program -- on to the much more important order of business, the wines and the food. Our wine expert for the afternoon was Larry Nocera of Maison Louis Jadot, a label with which I was already familiar, having sampled a variety of its vintages at home over the years. Nocera spoke a bit about the history of the company, noting that it was founded in 1859 in Beaune, France. Like many wineries, it has expanded over the years, including the addition of a location in the Beaujolais region. Nocera also pointed out that Maison Louis Jadot is well-known for its exports. In fact, he added, Louis Jadot exports more than 85 percent of the wine it produces.
The first wine that Nocera introduced was a Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse, a medium-bodied white with a fruitiness about it, and a hint of oaky chardonnay. While I'm not normally a white wine drinker, I felt the Pouilly-Fuisse paired well with the Maryland Blue Crab Tartlet that was our first course. Coral Reef Chef Shane Cooprider came out to discuss his method of preparation of the tart, which was accompanied by caramelized onions, and a salad lightly tossed with French Butter Pear Vinaigrette. Cooprider discussed his choice of curry and cayenne seasoning as a coating for the tart, which some in our group found unpalatable, but which I enjoyed. These spices, along with the very subtle pear flavor of the salad dressing was just enough to bring out the spicy fruitiness of the wine -- this was a good pairing, in my opinion.
My dreams of an all-seafood menu vanished as the second course appeared, however. For this pairing, Chef Cooprider presented quail prepared two ways: first, as a Caramelized Quail Breast, served with wild rice and a pomegranate essence, then garnished with a strand of fried black salsify; second, as a confit of quail leg in a beggar's purse. For the confit, the tiny bird's leg was heavily salted and stewed for 5 1/2 hours, dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper, then nestled in a wonton like wrapper, and quickly deep-fried. Of the two versions, I much-preferred the latter, even if it was a bit on the salty side. Quail was an unusual dish to find in a seafood restaurant, however, it paired well with the wine selected, the Louis Jadot Chateau des Jacques, Moulin a Vent. Hints of berries and black pepper were easily discernible, illustrating Nocera's claim that matching food and wine was "not a science, but an art form."
The final, dessert course was a delightful Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Crab Apple Soup. Panna cotta seems to be the dessert of the moment, surpassing even creme brulee in popularity at this year's festival events -- not that I'm complaining. This lightly sweet custard-like dessert was a delight to the tongue, although the watery crab apple "soup" did little to enhance the flavor. Chef Cooprider did not speak as to how he derived this dish, which was disappointing. I would have liked to hear his rationale for choosing the uncommon crab apples, and also why he chose the particular wine, a fairly dry, earthy, Louis Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet, to go along with the sweet panna cotta. To be frank, the wine and the dessert didn't do each other any favors. The white was a far cry from a dessert wine and didn't mesh well with so sugary a sweet, while the vanilla bean flavoring did little to exploit the oakiness of the wine. This pairing was, unfortunately, a miss.
Still, despite this program's shortcomings (the poor table layout, the all-too-brief explanations by the chef), the overall experience was a positive one. When I take into account the type of food and wines presented, plus the chance to speak with a wine representative, and sometimes a chef, one-on-one, I continue to feel the Food & Wine Festival's Food & Wine Pairings are $35 well-spent. (One side note: My 13-year-old very much enjoyed attending the Food & Wine Pairings, and has a hearty appetite, as most boys his age do. Be forewarned, however, that there is no discount for children at any of the Food & Wine events, and that servers are very careful about ensuring that those under age do not imbibe.)