Epcot's
2006 International
Food & Wine Festival

Italian Wine School
October 28, 2006

Presenter: Sharron A. McCarthy, CSW
Vice President Wine Education
Banfi Wines

Ristorante L'Originale Alfredo di Roma

by Gloria Konsler
AllEarsNet.com Team Member


My husband and I have been to a number of the Epcot Food &Wine Festival wine schools over the past few years and have enjoyed them thoroughly. The 6-hour session begins with town car service from Epcot's front entrance to the classroom location and a continental breakfast. Participants then proceed to the classroom for the "school" portion of the program. A lunch is served, paired with wines and then a bit more classroom work after lunch.

wineschool2As with other all-day wine schools, participants for the October 28 event were met at Epcot Guest Relations and transported via town car through the backstage areas to the Italy Pavilion for a continental breakfast prior to the classroom work. The breakfast consisted of various Italian pastries and your choice of orange juice, coffee, espresso, cappuccino or tea, served by the wonderfully friendly and efficient staff.  Although far superior to the croissant, juice and coffee offered by France at an earlier wine school this year, the breakfast was still a far cry from the beautiful fruit, cheese and pastry-laden buffets we had experienced last year and the year before.

L'Originale Alfredo di Roma manager Richard Eyer welcomed participants, explained a little about the restaurant and its specialties and then introduced Sharron McCarthy, Vice President of Wine Education for Banfi Wines. Ms. McCarthy began her presentation by saying that Italians believe wine has only one purpose, "to give pleasure." With that as an introduction, she introduced a short film entitled "The Etruscan Legacy," narrated by Christina Mariana-May, one of the third-generation Mariana family proprietors of Castello Banfi.

Ms. McCarthy is an extremely knowledgeable, engaging and delightful presenter. She not only outlined the various Italian wine-producing regions, grape varieties and soil types, but she also interspersed her remarks with wonderfully humorous stories, legends and probable (or sometimes improbable) origins of those stories. She also explained the Italian classification system, similar to French wines in many aspects, but far different from the American system of simply naming wines by the type of predominant grape used.

The only complaint I had with this particular wine school is that Ms. McCarthy lectured for all but about 25 minutes of the allotted time and then we tasted seven wines in fairly rapid succession, not really having enough time to enjoy/evaluate one wine before we were on to the next. This was especially evident in the afternoon session. We only had 20 minutes left when we finally got started tasting the last seven wines.

wineschool3Lunch was a lovely four-course meal. Our first course was a tagliolini with shrimp in a spicy tomato-cream sauce infused with vodka and pepper, paired with a San Angelo estate-bottled Pinot Grigio. The salad course consisted of baby greens, heirloom tomatoes and way too much Italian raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I can't tell you the name of the entree, but it was beautiful, lightly breaded veal topped with roasted peppers and a wine reduction garnish, served with roasted potatoes. The wine pairing for this course was Banfi's Centine Rosso, a wine consisting of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot.

For dessert we were served a beautiful "tasting" platter with tiramisu, chocolate torte with mascarpone cheese filling, saffron infused pear with chocolate grenache and a Lemoncello ravioli with raspberry sauce.

At the end of the afternoon, participants received certificates of completion on beautiful Florentine parchment, hand-signed by Christine Mariani-May and James Mariani, the two family proprietors of Banfi. In addition, everyone was given a beautiful leatherette binder with all the information from the wine school, as well as other information on Italian wines in general and the Banfi family of wines in particular. Also, everyone received a medal in a beautiful velvet box with a picture of Castello Banfi embossed on the front and "Amici di Castello Banfi" (Friend of Castle Banfi) engraved on the back. Ms. McCarthy said we should be extremely proud of our medals because there are only about 2000 of them in existence.

In thinking back over this particular wine school, I'd say it was extremely well-done and that Ms. McCarthy is a wonderful wine educator, but for some reason, by about 1:30 in the afternoon, I was ready for the school to be over. I'm not sure if it was the somewhat dim lighting in the classroom, the fact that there were long stretches of lecture with no tasting, or some other factor, but I did find my mind wandering, which has never happened before at one of the wine schools.

wineschool4It was also evident that the seminar was geared more to younger or less knowledgeable wine-lovers than to the group that might participate in Epcot's Vertical Tastings or Exquisite Evenings. Although a couple of the wines topped the $50 per bottle mark, the vast majority were in the $10 to $15 range with one (Riunite Lambrusco) in the under $8 price category. As to pairing these particular wines with food, Ms. McCarthy most often mentioned hot wings, Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich and hamburgers.  It's quite possible that this focus on less expensive wines was because Banfi started out as an importer of less expensive wines and that is still a major portion of their business today or simply because that is the emphasis Ms. McCarthy decided on for this particular presentation.

Wines sampled (in addition to the ones already mentioned for lunch)

Principessa Gavia Gavi (dry white)
Rosa Regale (sparkling rose)
Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiadene  (crisp, fresh white)
Pinot Grigio delle Venezie (dry, crisp, fruity white)
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (full-bodied, dry red)
Riunite Lambrusco (breezy, light red)
Placido Primavra Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (dry red with soft tannins)
Vernaccia di San Gimignano (DOCG Castello Montauto) (fresh, dry red)
Centine Rosso (fresh, crisp red)
Morellion di Scansano (DOC Val delle Rose) (complex, dry red)
Chianti Classico Riserva (DOCG Banfi) (dry, fruity red)
Brunello do Montalcino (DOCG Castello Banfi) (rich, velvety red0
Cum Laude (Sant' Antimo – DOC Castello Banfi) (complex, elegant red)
Summus (Sant' Antimo – DOC Castello Banfi) (complex, elegant red)