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While many entertain the idea of Walt Disney World parks solely on the basis of princesses and spinning teacups, there is in fact a whole new world to be discovered meant for the adult that’s shall we say, young at heart. This time of year marks the season that cause foodies and winos to celebrate as the “happiest place on earth” gets a little happier.

Aug. 30 marked the kick off of Walt Disney World’s annual “Epcot International Food and Wine Festival”. Hosted in the fall, from Aug. 30 through Nov. 12, this event draws Disney fanatics, winos and foodies alike in a mélange of child-like excitement around adult Disney attractions; food, drink and merriment. While my waistline is still paying for the weekend of wining and dining, I was able to join in on opening weekend festivities and have since returned home with renewed excitement toward global cuisine and appreciation for the wines those cultures bring.

The Festival center, which greets park-goers upon arrival, is located at the front of the Epcot Park. Home to a bustling collection of activity this area includes a wine shop, featuring many of the wines available throughout the festival, areas for seminar and cooking demonstrations, and several pop ups gift stores carrying an assortment of gifts and memorabilia. Here you can also find mimosas, meat and cheese boards to go, and several wine sampling stations. At the festival center be sure to pick up a festival passport which more or less acts as your menu and wine list for the many food stands throughout the park.

While the festival is free, you will need to purchase an Epcot resort park ticket to enter, and pay to enjoy any of the small plate items and wine. Purchase park tickets, and seminar/cooking demonstration tickets in advance to avoid delays while on premise.

As you walk through the various pavilions and countries, coined World Showcase, the festival itself is made up of 22 countries represented. Several countries in this year’s festival included France, Thailand, Germany, Ireland, Australia and India, to name a few; all with their own small plate and wine/beverage offerings. There are also 18 independent areas offering uniquely themed foods and wines from “coastally” inspired to all things “cheese” related.

These are definitely not to be missed as they offer exquisite delights such as the Maple Bourbon Boursin cheesecake with maple bourbon cream, caramel, and pecan crunch paired with Alta Vista Estate Malbec hailing from the Mendoza region of Argentina. This Malbec is offers a great balance of structure and round textures and is aged partially in French oak and the rest in bottle before release. Sourced from the estate above 3,200 feet above sea level, this wine offers a very fruit-forward experience which acts as the perfect pairing with the soft Boursin elements in the cheesecake; not to be missed.

Other pairings not to miss are the Croissant aux Escargots topped with garlic and parsley, paired with a classic French Chardonnay and the spicy Thai curry beef paired with Maison Willm Gewürztraminer hailing from the northeast French wine region, Alsace. Wonderfully aromatic with floral elements and slightly sweet, this Gewürztraminer is just the thing to cut through the heat from the spicy curry beef and offer additional compliments with tastes of pepper and ginger notes.

When you visit, be sure to attend with a group of 4 or more as it can give you a greater opportunity to taste many of the small plates and the pairings that go with it. With the exception of the spicy curry beef available at the Thailand stop, skip any of the “braised beef” options. The festival boasts a wealth of culinary eats and the braised beef options are a bit lackluster to other offerings at neighboring pavilions. I would challenge you to seek out the unique labels the festival has to offer. Walt Disney World did a great job finding local (to that country) wines to bring guests. Lagar de Bouza Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain, Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko from Greece, to name a few, are great opportunities to branch out from the familiar California labels that overwhelm local grocery shelves.

When you go, be sure to book any seminars and demonstrations in advance as these fill up and can be fun experiences giving you a break from the heat of the Florida sun, and a well-deserved break from all the food and wine you’ll most definitely consume. These vary topically from cooking demonstrations complete with wine pairing, tastings with featured speakers from vineyards around the world, bottle signing events, and more. I was able to join a wine tasting and lecture by Chad Robinson of Stewart Cellars out of Napa, California. During the 45 minutes, we tasted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon from their vineyard, and got to hear his great passion for the wines they produce. Long tables are set for the tasting and makes the perfect environment for a group or family to participate. These seminars and tastings are a great way to taste some very unique labels but also add an educational flair to your festival experience.

For any Disney fanatics and winos in Quad-Cities, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is a fun and delicious way to experience the adult-side of Disney that the mouse has to offer. Surely something I will be attending for many years to come.

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently studying for his certified CMS exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson currently resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.

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