Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic
Epcot. Disney. International Food and Wine Festival. To a traveling foodie, these words are like pheromones.
The Swan and Dolphin Resort is considered an Epcot resort (it's a short stroll to the "back entrance" of Epcot between England and France). Technically, the Swan and Dolphin are not Disney owned like the Grand Floridian or even the next-door Boardwalk. Starwood (the Sheraton people) own the resort, and although there's been a strong partnership between the companies, there has also been a faint line-in-the-sand in the past.
That line has been blurring lately, to much rejoicing among Epcot fans. This is the first year that the Swan and Dolphin restaurants (among the very best on Disney property) have participated in Tables in Wonderland. And, while the International Food and Wine Festival is attracting foodies from around the world, the Swan and Dolphin has decided to host their very first Food and Wine Classic, featuring the best food, wine, spirits, and desserts from the restaurants in the Swan and Dolphin resort.
Foodbuzz arranged for Christey and me to cover the First Annual Food and Wine Classic at the Swan and Dolphin last weekend as part of their Foodie Correspondents Program, and it was an amazing time.
The Festival was split in two parts -- a seminar, and the actual tasting event on the walkway between the two hotels. Christey and I joined the Wine Blending seminar.
It was a really interesting experience. I knew that many wines are blended -- they're not a strict Merlot or Pinot Noir, but a blend of two or three or more grapes. A French Châteauneuf-du-Pape may include more than a dozen grape varieties.
Recently, there has been a trend in restaurants and small California vineyards to create specialized blends from red wine varietals. Restaurants may commission a blend, or create one in-house from different wines created from single grapes.
The red wine blending seminar was hosted by Tony Porcellini, Director of Food and Beverage for the Swan and Dolphin resort. Tony is a no-nonsense, plain speaking Italian American from the Bronx, and definitely provided a lot of color to what might have been a snobbish presentation. It was entertaining and hands-on (we got to blend our own wines), and often very funny.
The wines we sampled were single-grape varietals from California unavailable in stores. They were examples of the five grapes used in Bordeaux red wine blending by the prestigious Meritage Association: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and malbec.
We sampled each, and noted characteristics, like tannins and fruitiness. Each wine was supposed to balance each other -- the fruit forwardness of the merlot cutting the tannin of the cabernet franc, for example. After absorbing a few guidelines, we got to create our own blend.
It was a lot of fun! Christey and I both made wine blends that we enjoyed, yet were also very different from each other's.
After the seminar, we headed down to the Food and Wine Classic. Here are a few of the samplings we enjoyed:
Todd English's bluezoo had buffalo shrimp skewered on bulbs of blue cheese sauce -- you sqeezed the bulb into your mouth while pulling off the chicken, mixing the flavors. The Fountain restaurant had fried falafel with a dipping sauce. Kimono made shrimp tempura rolls, and the Cabana made a wonderful blue crab and aioli with pressed watermelon:
It was a great event, lots of people without seeming overcrowded (except for the line at Shula's)
Christey and I were there on Saturday and heard Shula's served over 1500 steaks the night before.
Il Mulino had a great hand-made pasta with lamb ragu.
There were dueling cocktails from Square One organic vodka:
As well as cutting edge drinks such as liquid nitrogen frozen espresso martinis from Ketel One, and a sangria cooled by dropping in chips of fruit frozen in liquid nitrogen.
Desserts were created by Laurent Branlard, twice a World Pastry Champion, and were fun takes on classics, like ice cream sandwiches and cones, as well as original fun like raspberry "hamburgers"
The Swan and Dolphin made a smart choice hosting the event outdoors instead of in a ballroom. The event was pre-sold with all-you-can-eat wristbands, but they also served tickets from booths to allow folks in and around the resort to join in and sample the food and beverages.
Christey and I had a great time, and I'm sure we'll be back next year!