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Epcot's 2007 International
Food & Wine Festival
South African Wine Adventure
AllEars.Net Team Member
This year's Food & Wine Festival offered a new experience called the South African Wine Adventure. Since my husband and I are great fans of both Jiko and Boma, we decided this was an "adventure" we couldn't pass up. The program brochure gave only a brief description of the event: 30 wineries, culinary specialties from the Animal Kingdom Lodge and "roaring entertainment."
We arrived at the World Showplace (formerly Millennium Village) a bit early, checked in across from the entrance and received our wristbands and then took a walk around World Showcase while just about every other "adventurer" crowded in front of the entrance waiting for the doors to open. Once the first "herd" of guests had been admitted, we walked over, received our wine tasting glass and entered the Showplace.
For those of you who have attended a Party for the Senses, let me just say this was a mini Party for the Senses and I'll be comparing it to that event often. There were five different wine stations; each station featured six different wineries and each winery was pouring three or four of their wines. So much wine; so little time! Needless to say, there were so many different wines; you couldn't begin to taste them all.
Unlike Party for the Senses, the foods and wines were NOT served in close proximity to each other. The wine stations only served wines. The food stations only served foods. No attempt was made to "pair" wines with the foods.
Without boring you to death with minute details, let me just say that there was a nice variety of wine varietals. The whites we tried were all crisp and refreshing. The reds ranged from OK to absolutely delicious. (Try Thelema Merlot from the Stellenbosch region sometime!) We tasted probably 20 different wines and there wasn't one that we'd rate as "not good." Almost every winery had their version of Pinotage. (Pinotage: a red wine grape, cloned in the 1920s from a Pinot Noir grape, which is the signature South African varietal.) Average retail for the wines served was in the $14 to $17 range, although some were in the "under $10" category (Tall Horse) and some were in the "over $35" category (Thelema). Fortunately, we didn't find any in the "undrinkable" category, no matter the price point. Overall, a very nice assortment of wines at very affordable retails.
As for the "culinary specialties," there were six different stations set up along one side of the room. I did not write down the specific names of the various items served, but there was definitely a nice variety. The first table featured large selection of breads and three different hummus spreads like you find on the buffet at Boma.
Next were seared shrimp over coconut rice with a spicy sauce of some sort. I like spicy foods and thought this was probably the best dish served, but my husband who doesn't like "hot/spicy" at all said it was too hot for his palate.
The third station featured mealy pap with a fresh tomato and jalapeno sauce (Are jalapenos South African?), Durban chicken skewers and sliced beef with traditional South African spices. I personally am not a fan of mealy pap, but with this particular sauce, it was very tasty. My husband asked for his mealy pap without the tomato sauce and thought it was good, but when he tasted just a bit of my sauce, he again thought it was too spicy/hot.
Next were bacon wrapped scallops and spinach couscous. Both were delicious! Both items had great flavor and were cooked perfectly.
Station five featured cheeses. I can't even tell you the names of all of them, but they were delicious! There was a brie with mushrooms that was outstanding. Also white and yellow cheddar, camembert, bleu, Muenster, port salud and a number of other cheeses were offered, along with pistachios, smoked almonds, dried apple rings, raisins and a wonderful fruit chutney. A variety of breads and crackers rounded out the cheese table.
The last table (and we're still trying to figure out why it was last) again featured a sliced beef that had been rubbed with various spices and herbs. It was delicious, but for some strange reason, it seemed out of place at the end of the "buffet line" and, although most of the other stations had lines, this particular one was virtually "unvisited."
The "roaring entertainment" was provided by a jazz sextet that performed almost all evening on the center stage. Their music was perfect for the evening, very lively, very entertaining, but not so loud as to drown out conversation. During the rare breaks in their performance, there was "piped in" music, some with a definite African flavor.
I'd estimate 450 to 500 guests attended, so the World Showplace was not crowded. Everyone seemed to be having an enjoyable time, but it was a "quieter" event than Party for the Senses. We never had to walk very far before we could find an empty table where we could stop and enjoy our food and wine. The servers did an outstanding job of clearing dirty dishes. Rarely did a dirty dish sit on a table for more than a minute or two.
Of course, with a new event there are always a couple of things that I think could have made it better. First, all the food stations were lined up along one side of the venue. It looked like one, long buffet line. Early in the evening lines from one station actually extended all the way to the previous station. In my opinion, it might have been better to "scatter" the food tables around the room.
Second, they served the food on salad-size china plates, but they didn't hand out the "wine glass notch" plastic plates used at Party for the Senses. This made it extremely difficult to hold your glass of wine, the plate for the food and then try to pick up a dinner roll and butter, silverware or napkins.
Also, there were no desserts! How can you have a "dinner" with no sweet to top it off? I wasn't expecting a dessert buffet, but one or two "sweet" items would have been appreciated, even something as simple as mints or mini cookies.
Despite the few criticisms, overall, this event rated a "Wow!" from both of us. We enjoyed the wines (Of course!); we found the foods tasty with plenty of variety; and we enjoyed the entertainment. Unlike Party for the Senses, where there are so many foods you want to taste that you end up not really being able to relax (and you come out just stuffed to the gills!), The South African Wine Adventure was a relaxing evening. You really had time to sit down and enjoy your wine and food. If this event is offered next year, you can be sure we will attend again. On a scale of 1 to 10, we rate this event a 9.5.