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Drinks at Disney

While Disney may be the most magical place on earth, it is also one of the most stressful--kids going nuts, crowds, problems with the app, ticket mishaps, etc; so, a drink at the park isn't the worst idea. While you can spend $8.25 on a Bud Light, you'll get more for your money by buying a craft beer or a glass of wine. For the most part, the price for a glass of wine hovers around $11-13 at the parks, which is pretty much on par for what you would pay at a restaurant. Also, kudos to whomever is in charge of the wine lists at the parks because you can find some really nice selections in between rides. You're not paying $11 for a glass of Sutter Home or Woodbridge. I certainly missed many great places to grab a drink while on vacation last week, but I'll walk you through some of my finds at each park. Since Florida is not a controlled state, the selections were much broader than what I can find in small-town Mississippi, so it was a fun opportunity for me to try wines inaccessible at home.


Wine Bar George


This is not at one of the parks, but at the free to enter Disney Springs. We made it into Orlando early afternoon on Saturday, so we didn't have time to go to one of the main parks this day. However, I had read good reviews about Wine Bar George, so we decided to check it out. The restaurant certainly did not disappoint. Owned by Master Sommelier George Miliotes, the wine list is not only impressive, but it also offers up a perfect occasion to try multiple hard-to-find (and afford) bottles. Thanks to the Coravin wine preservation system, Miliotes offers some of the wines by 1 and 3 ounce pours. This allowed me to try a handful of wines valuing upwards of $150 a bottle. My first priority was the "Champagne Experience." For $70 I was offered a 2oz pour of Ruinart Rosé, Dom Pérignon 2012, and Krug 166ème (based on the 2010 harvest). $70 for 6oz might appear steep at first, but the opportunity to try three bottles that would collectively have

cost me around $500 retail made it worth it to me. A sommelier came and poured the wines, all while explaining Champagne in general, as well as a bit about each of the wines I was trying. I had tried the Ruinart Rosé before, for Valentine's, but this bottle was relatively younger than the bottle I purchased. Very fresh and bright fruit flavors dominated, and I agree with the somm that this wine could be a "porch

pounder" (if any Champagne could be so described). Simply delicious. The Dom was next. I was very excited for my first sip of this famous prestige cuvée. I was a little shocked because at almost 10 years of age, this champagne was still incredibly young and fresh. 2012 was a great, while not exceptional, vintage for Champagne, and I think the 2012 Dom has a long life ahead of it. The tasting notes I wrote in my phone read: "Green apple, white peach, lemon with a bright current of minerality. Light toastiness on the nose." If possible, I was even more excited to try the Krug. Krug has a cult following amongst champagne afficionados, and they are a very traditional Champagne house, still using old oak barrels (foudres) for primary fermentation. It did not disappoint. My tasting note reads: "Intense smoke and caramel/nougat. Very toasty on the palate (biscuit), honey, ripe peach, flint, exotic fruit (yuzu orange)." I was very sad upon emptying my glass, but I couldn't stay sad for long because there were more wines to try! While difficult to choose, I settled on 1oz pours of a Grand Cru Burgundy (my first!) from Mongeard-Mugneret and Paul Jaboulet's Hermitage La Chapelle. The Burgundy was from the Grand Cru Echézeaux, located in the village of Vosne-Romanée, which is also home to perhaps the most famous Grand Cru La Romanée-Conti. Very young and certainly not at its peak, as the vintage was 2019, but it had a wonderful concentration and intensity of flavors, a mix of dark berry fruit with toast and vanilla from barrel ageing. The La Chapelle was from 2006, a very good age at which to drink an Hermitage--very ripe notes of blackberry and something like strawberries melted over hot stones backed up by a meatiness typical of Syrah from this region.

Despite the excellent wines, the highlight of our visit was when Master Sommelier George Miliotes came to our table to chat. He interacted well with our kids, and I even got a fist bump when I told him I had recently passed my WSET Level 3 exam. So, definitely a first-class experience; and I haven't even mentioned the food, which was also excellent. We settled on a huge board of select cheeses and meats. My almost one-year-old son loved the pork paté!


Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios


Of course, our focus at the parks was the rides, so my drinking was less academic and note-based and more opportunistic. Nevertheless, I was able to try new wines from regions that I tend to unfairly neglect. With the African themes present at Animal Kingdom, a South African Chardonnay was offered by the glass. I actually purchased it from a quick-service counter in "Asia," the Thirsty River Bar, next to the unfortunately closed Expedition Everest roller coaster, but I digress. It was Indaba Chardonnay, from the Western Cape, a catch-all region comparable to labelling a wine "California Chardonnay." While not overly complex, the wine was balanced and very enjoyable, a particularly nice break from walking. Ripe peach and pear, with buttery and vanilla notes that were not obtrusive--a solid weeknight sipper. With my Korean Fried Chicken sandwich later that evening from the Yak and Yeti Local Food Cafes, I actually settled on an IPA (yes, I do occasionally drink beer), the name of which I unfortunately cannot recall, and which isn't listed on their menu. But if you go to the Yak and Yeti, you can find it. If you like crisp and grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc, then I'm willing to bet you'll like this IPA.

I only tried one wine while at Hollywood Studios, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Copa di Vino. The idea behind Copa di Vino is a single-serve and resealable glass of wine on the go. If you like your Cab by the book without any surprises, this is for you. Simple and fruit-forward with notes of black cherry, blackberry, vanilla, and barrel spice. Grapes are from Oregon. In Galaxy's Edge, the Star War's themed portion of the park, you can treat yourself to a blue or green milk from the films. It's more of a smoothie than milk, made from rice and coconut milk. You can get the blue with rum and the green with tequila. I chose the latter, which was tasty and refreshing. While Docking Bay 7 does not offer wine on their menu, I do recommend it as a place to eat. The décor is cool and it's a great place to beat the heat. I had the smoked Kaadu pork ribs--very messy, but very tasty!


Epcot


This was the park I couldn't wait for. The last time I visited I was 17, so I couldn't partake of the wonderful selection of alcoholic libations offered. If you want to eat at any sit-down place at Epcot (or really Disney for that matter), you need to book a reservation as soon as possible, meaning three months in advance. I had been looking forward to going to Chefs de France since we didn't eat their the last time I had visited, but all the reservations were taken. There is a happy ending though! People can cancel their reservations up to a day before the reservations, so keep an eye out for openings the day before you want to eat somewhere if you didn't manage to snag a spot in advance. Thanks to my mom for keeping an eye out! Monday morning we were able to book for 12:40 on Tuesday. Our first order of business was to head to the line for the new Ratatouille ride--an 80-minute wait, but well worth it. Then we had a short break before it was time to dine. Our party ordered a mix of the prix fixe menu and a la carte. The prix fixe menu came with an appetizer, entrée, dessert, and a glass of Georges DuBoeuf Cab or Chard. The majority of us ordered the filet mignon (medium-rare of course!), which came with green beans and mashed potatoes. The filet was cooked to perfection. It was cooked the way I like my medium rare, more towards rare rather than medium. I had my heart set on a bottle of Bouchard Pere et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin to go with the meal, but in the spirit of budgeting I went with a more wallet-friendly, yet excellent bottle of Georges DuBoeuf Morgon 2018.

I am a big fan of Cru Beaujolais, and Morgon is a great appellation to reach for when a village Burgundy is just out of reach. Morgon, along with Chénas and Moulin-à-vent, are terroirs where the gamay grape shows a more muscular full-bodied dimension of itself. A quality Morgon, while lighter in tannin than a village Bourgogne, is very evocative of its northern neighbors with common notes of dark fruit and earth. The 2018 Morgon we had with lunch had notes of black raspberry, dark cherry, anise/licorice, vanilla, along with earth and smoke. In contrast to the common misconception that Beaujolais wines cannot age, I think this wine still has several good years left.

After our excellent meal at Chefs de France, I hopped into the wine shop next door for a glass of champagne before heading into the Beauty and the Beast sing-along. I noticed that in addition to offering Veuve Clicquot by the glass they had two new by the glass offerings, the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Bolinger's Special Cuvée. Bolinger was new to me, and something I had been longing to try, so I went with a single 5-oz pour (although they did offer a double-pour). At $27 for a 5-oz pour, it was a little pricey, but I didn't regret it. I knew Bolinger was highly esteemed for its non-vintage blend, but I had never tasted the evidence until then. Incredibly fresh and concentrated with notes of ginger, yellow peach, and orange peel, it is a champagne I will be buying again. (Unfortunately they were out of stock to purchase a bottle).

After a gourmet lunch of escargot, French onion soup, filet, chocolate tarte, and Cru Beaujolais it was time for coffee-- despite ending our meal with a double-espresso, the wonderful glass of Bolinger lured me back into a sleepy disposition. We took a break from the countries of the World Showcase to ride some rides before heading to Mexico. After riding the very calming Gran Fiesta Tour, we got in line for La Cava del Tequila. The tequila tasting has to be booked ahead of time, so we missed that, but my parents and I got to try some tequila. I actually tried an artisanal mezcal. While tequila is made from the Blue Agave plant (Agave weber tequiliana), mezcal is made from other agave plants. I tried a shot of Bozal mezcal, made from a blend of Espadin and Baril. While my parents were served lime wedges and sangrita with their shots, I noticed the bartender place an orange peel on my plate along with a handful of something else. When he gave my the plate, I realized it was small roasted grasshoppers. I am a rather adventurous eater, so I tried them. Salty, crunchy, and tastes like chicken! Okay, it doesn't taste like chicken, but it tasted like roasted salt and it was crunchy. Not disgusting at all, although my dad was the only other one who tried them. I wish I could accurately describe my three-year-old daughter's face when I offered her to try them...But what about the mezcal? Very clean and herbal, with notes of lime and agave. I like mezcal for its often smoky, herbal character, but this is a generalization, as not all mezcal is super smoky in flavor and aroma. But that's a topic for another post.

In Germany I tried the Warsteiner Dunkel. While its dark-brown hue might make you think of a stout or porter, Dunkels are actually lagers and not ales. They do not typically have the bitter espresso and chocolate notes of stouts and porters, and are more known for their smooth malty flavors. My mom liked it, and she doesn't even usually like beer! I popped into the wine shop in Germany where I purchased a half-bottle of Riesling Beerenauslese, a dessert wine affected by noble rot. Then it was a brisk walk back to France to purchase a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Jean-Luc Colombo before rushing back to Norway to make it in time for our lighting lane window for Frozen Ever After. By then, the firework and lights show Harmonious was about to start, so I got in line for one last libation, the Einstok White Ale. I prefer Einstok's Toasted Porter and Winter Ale, but I see why people like the White Ale. It's crisp, with mild hops and spice. Good for a hot summer day. The light show was fun for all, especially my two daughters, and the day was a success. And don't worry...my wife drove us to our Airbnb.


Magic Kingdom


After a day of rest from the parks (and from drinking) on Ash Wednesday, we went to Magic Kingdom for our last day at the parks. Unlike the other parks at Disney, the quick service counters do not offer alcoholic beverages at Magic Kingdom. However, we did manage to obtain a reservation for the Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen for 7:35 that evening. As this was our last day of eating red meat and poultry for a while, my wife and I decided to go all out on the beef this meal. She ordered the adobo-seasoned New York Strip Steak, while I ordered the beef short-ribs. We both started with the spicy jungle salad, however, which I paired with the Raats' Chenin Blanc. While Chenin Blanc's home is the Loire Valley in France, it is the most widely planted grape variety in South Africa. There are many not-so-stellar examples of Chenin Blanc in South Africa, but the Raats was crisp and balanced with notes of melon, lime, and sea breeze, with a pleasant herbal bitterness on the finish. With our main course, we stuck to the South African theme, ordering a glass of Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon for myself and a glass of Black Pearl Oro Cab for my wife. The Black Pearl Oro was a very fleshy and fruit-forward Cab, with lush tannins and ripe cherry and blackberry fruit. The Rust en Vrede was more restrained with notes of blackcurrant, tobacco, smoke, and leather with a solid tannic backbone--drinking well now, but would definitely improve with age.


I don't recommend going to Disney solely to explore the wines of the world, as you can probably travel to France, Italy, or South Africa for that matter for cheaper; however, if you find yourself at Disney on a family (or solo) vacation, it can be a fun place to try a wide variety of wine, beer, and spirits. Again, for a state-controlled market like Mississippi, selection can be a little more restricted, especially in smaller towns and cities. I tried more South African wine in the week at Disney than in the past year at home. While Disney is certainly known for high prices, the wines at the parks are surprisingly (and thankfully) not marked up heavily. Like I mentioned above, most glasses of wine are in the $11-13 range, which is about the same you'd find at most restaurants. Craft beer runs about $9-12, which makes me wonder why anyone would order Bud Light at the parks when you can have a craft beer or glass of wine for a $1-2 more. Whatever your choice of drink, I found out last week that you can certainly find a moment to savor one in between the long lines and hectic crowds of Disney.

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