I was drafted by our executive food editor Pam Parseghian to go to dinner at the James Beard House in her stead due to pages still needing to be closed. I was more than happy to agree to go to the Beard House again and this particular evening was showcasing both the food and wine with chefs and Master Sommeliers from Disneyland Resorts as well as Walt Disney World.
It was a Disney evening with tables designated with the name of Disney characters. Guests received pins of characters in case they forgot which table they were seated at. I got a Minnie pin. My face fell a little as I jealously stared at someone else's Winnie the Pooh pin. I love Winnie the Pooh...
The servers wore black and white vests with images of Mickey and the gang, which at the end of the evening during dessert mysteriously changed to a color-splashed version. Even the flower centerpieces on the table had little glowing lights in them that made it look like Tinkerbell was trying to hide in the flower vase and spy on us eating.
"After running after hyperactive kids all day, I'm sure the parents would like to relax with a glass of something," I quipped to Michael Jordan, master sommelier for Disneyland. Wow...wait, that came out wrong and mean and I totally didn't mean for it to sound like that. Let me try that again:
A Disneyland or Disney World trip is basically a dream come true for a kid, but don't forget that kids don't go on trips to Disney alone. Or for that matter, adults may make return trips for nostalgia. It's a family event. Families plan and save months in advance to visit. So why not have a food and drink experience to go with that high expectation? Let's put it this way. If after looking forward to living the princess fantasy in a Princess Diaries Suite or meeting Mickey at a place that's got castles and was built on the foundation of fairy tales, and as a mom and/or dad you've just taken out a couple of vacation days out of your busy schedule...a soggy third-rate corn dog isn't going to cut it (not that there's anything wrong with corn dogs, I inhale the things).
As Dieter Hannig, vice president for Walt Disney World food and beverage new concepts, told everyone at the Beard House that evening "I'm in the storytelling business." If someone is visiting Disneyland or Disney World expecting a magical experience, well good service, food and drink should be part of that as well.
Michael Jordan, master sommelier for Disneyland, said that adults visiting Disneyland are also more well-traveled and knowledgeable about the varieties of wines out there and are willing to try new wines. The wine program encourages the curious to try out new as well as rare wines through by the glass programs so that guests can sample a bit of the wine rather than commit to a whole bottle that may cost several hundreds of dollars. Jordan explained that with the current state of the dollar a lot of foreign tourists are visiting and purchasing more of the expensive wines.
I was glad to meet Michael as well as John Blazon, master sommelier and manager of wine sales and standards for Walt Disney World. Not being a wine expert I always feel better hearing from people who actually know something about wine rather than fumble around with my lack of eloquence in such matters. John and Michael both explained the pairing choices throughout the evening, and even followed up by walking by tables and answering any questions people had after the introduction of the wines for each course.
For example, the first course of white asparagus "floating islands" with American Sturgeon caviar, morel mushrooms and ramp oil was paired with a Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siecle Brut, Tours-sur-Marne NV. As soon as I took I sip I thought, "This tastes like mushrooms."
When I told Michael this, he said that the "mushroomy" flavor I so bluntly described comes from the presence of botrytis in the grapes used to make the wine, which gives it a more earthy and indeed mushroom-like flavor. The food had plenty of earthy flavors from the asparagus as well as the morels as well as some saltiness from the caviar, so this wine was chosen for its flavors that the two could play nice.
Note: I said "The what-what now?" in my head when Michael first said "bitrytus" and it took me several permutations on Google to find the correct spelling.
And after hearing Michael's description of how the grapes for the Chardonnay (Peter Michael, Chardonnay, Belle Cote, Knights Valley '06) were planted in holes blasted into what was basically rock and volcanic ash I did notice it tasted a bit "ashy" but was surprised at how sweet it was because I figured the hard knock life of the particular vine would made the resulting grape all rough and, well, bitter.
Michael said that this wasn't "sweetness," but sucrosity. The rough life it has sort of concentrates the fruit of the grapes.
"Aaah," I said as I thoughtfully nodded my head.
It was nice having a bit of narration going on with my meal, since my knowledge of wines falls under "Well, this is what it tastes like in my mouth right now," then describing very bluntly what it tastes like in my mouth. Hearing about how the grapes for the wines are grown and what flavors to expect was like having a CliffsNotes, and wine was my "Ulysses" full of different characters, bold and subtle context and side stories to grasp all carried in the scheme of one person's day, or in a sip in the case of wine.
The evening was closed out with the introduction of a sweet sparkling wine that was making its first US debut at this particular dinner (Magicale, Brachetto, PIemonte DOC NV).
Disney also took the dinner as an opportunity to make several announcements. Dieter Hannig announced a new African concept restaurant to open in about 11 months or so. Chef Christine Weissman mad an announcement about Disney's upcoming 3rd Annual California Food and Wine Fest.
Stuart McGuire, director of beverage sale and standards for Walt Disney World food and beverages, also announced three cocktails from the menu for The Wave, a new restaurant at Disney's Contemporary Resort that's set to open in June.
The cocktails announced:
Finlandia Wild Berries Vodka, Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur, Bossa Nova Acai Juice with agave, aloe juice, lychee and freshly squeezed lemon juice
Purus Organic Vodka, X-Fusion Organic Mango and Passion Fruit LIqueur, and cranberry juice
Agava Nectar Margarita
Partida Blanco Tequila, organic agave nectar and freshly squeezed lime juice
Chef Gloria Tae Golden Wine Winery at Disney's California Adventure
Sherry-roasted figs with Jamon Iberico and Cabrales
Wild Mushroom Suppli with BRaised Pork and Spicy Pickled Cabbage
Shrimp and Sweat Pea Tartine with Candied Garlic and Lemon Relish
Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siecle Brut,
Chef Jens Dahlmann California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort
White Asparagus "Floating Islands" with American Sturgeon Caviar, Morel Mushrooms, and Ramp Oil
Pierre Sparr, Riesling, Schoenenbourg
Grand Cru, Alsace '01
Chef Tim Keating Flying Fish Cafe at Disney's BoardWalk Resort
Fennel Pollen-dusted Wild North Atlantic Turbot with Maine Lobster, Celery Root, Leeks, and FEnnel with Tahitian Vanilla-Hazelnut Emulsion and Montegottero Hazelnut Oil
Peter Michael, Chardonnay, Belle Cote,
Knights Valley '06
Chef Andrew Sutton Napa Rose at Disney's Grand Californian Resort & Spa
Crisp Sonoma Duck Confit with Roasted BAby Spring Vegetables and Porcini Msuhroom Essence
Williams & Selyem, Pinot Noir,
Allen Vineyard, Russian River Valley '05
Chef Scott Hunnel Victoria & Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Marcho Farms Veal Tenderloin with Sun Gold Tomatoes and Garlic Roots and Shoots
Podere Le Poggiarelle,
Carmignano DOCG, Tuscany '04
Master Pastry Chef Erich Herbitschek Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa Bakery
Wild Berry Gateau wrapped in Bittersweet Chocolate with Forest Strawberry Sorbet
Magicale, Brachetto, Piemonte DOC NV
Caramel-Chocolates with Sea Salt, Pate de Fruit, and Lemon Cookies