[originally posted on Tableau Vivante]
Between Epcot’s Italy and Germany pavillions lies nestled a miniature European town planted like a bonsai forest, alive with dwarf species of all real, living trees.
It’s similar, but not quite as grand, as the scenery in a ride at Disneyland. As native Southern Californians with season passes, my wife and I visit Storybook Village several times a year. I’ve always wanted one.
We live in a townhome with no proper yard. There’s a patio, but the planter space is limited. A miniature garden, then, seemed like just the thing…
With my last post before we embarked upon our 11-day adventure in Epcot, I urged readers to get a special bottle of wine and Take Some Time with it. In so doing, I snuck in a couple of pictures of my own little developing horticultural hobby. To my surprise, they got more reaction than most of my wine ramblings.
Admittedly, that was several months ago. Well, better late than never says I. Welcome to Diminishire (you can click through for larger photos).
The unseen residents of Diminishire are tiny, but tidy. Wood piles remain neatly stacked outside cottages.
Lawns are green and trimmed.
Flower beds are (mostly) weeded and there’s even the occasional gnome.
The English garden is a popular attraction on the west end of town, it’s brick-lined gravel paths leading to the cottages of its quiet residents.
Or you can head past the gazing ball, through the arbor trellis, past the birdbath and beyond the garden walls. The gravel path becomes cobblestone and just over the bridge lies the pub, while the manor atop the hill surveys it all.
When the weather’s nice, some prefer to sit outside the pub. Take a bench beneath the apple tree. I can’t be sure, but I strongly suspect the innkeep has been brewing cider with a kick from the windfalls. If I listen closely at night, I can hear the revelry brought on from strong drink.
I made the trellis myself, but most of the accessories come from a couple of my favorites sites. For the budding miniature gardeners out there, you really must visit Two Green Thumbs and Little Landscapes. The cottage buildings themselves came from Design Toscano.
Then just walk around your local nursery. Look for plants with small leaves and flowers. Most of the difference between a shrub and a miniature tree is in the trimming. Ground cover often works well for low flower beds. Irish or Scottish moss makes a good lawn or grassy field. Alyssums trim nicely into row hedges. If you have an Armstrong’s near you, check out their Steppables section. There’s all kinds of miniature-looking things there.
And don’t forget the herbs section. Look closely and you’ll find authentic chamomile, dill and curry growing within the realm of Diminishire. What do you know? I think I just brought this post back around to Farmer’s Markets!
Epcot stays open an hour later than the parks, making it just right to head on over to for eats after the amusements close. With at least one restaurant in each of the World Showcase’s eleven country pavillions, the place is fertile ground for foodies of all stripes.
Having tasted at their booth earlier, I was interested in further exploring the cuisine of Morocco. Lucky for me, my wife had booked us a reservation that night at the Restaurant Marrakesh.
Amidst a tropical breeze, we arrived to the gentle susurration of palm fronds punctuated here and there by the clink of dinnerware and the occassional whiff of roasted meats.
The dining room was a study in intricate detail. Inlaid wood beams checkered the ceiling. Carved stucco reliefs bordered the walls. Tile mosaics ran throughout the interior and the place was lit by stained glass lanterns filigreed with the most delicate wrought iron lace.
Going over and over the menu, I couldn’t decide on just one thing. With my luck holding true, I found the answer to my dilemma across from the entrées on page two: the Taste of Morocco Royal Feast. Oh boy, sign me up!
My feast began with Harira Soup, a traditional brew of tomatoes, lentils and lamb. On the side was a Beef Brewat Roll, layers of papery pastry stuffed with seasoned minced beef, fried, and then sprinkled with cinnamon and a bit of powdered sugar. The chunk of bread came off a hearty, brown multigrain loaf.
With an eclectic mix like that, pairing a wine seemed nigh impossible. But from the wine list came this description for a Beni M’tir Rouge Amazir: “A dry and full bodied wine whose ruby red colour has depth and subtlety. A highly fragrant nose of almond, citrus peel, orange marmalade, fig, mixed spice (cinnamon, mint). Very elegant and seductive, generous, dense and complex. A voluptuous, fine wine to be savoured slowly.”
It was as interesting as the first course. The aromatics in the wine blended nicely with the seasonings in the food. It was a bit tart and thin for what I would expect from a claim of voluptuousness. The acidity was fine against the tomato soup. I just wouldn’t sit down with a glass unless there was food to go with it.
The main course was more like three courses in one. A platter-sized oval plate landed before me with a thud that may have been my jaw following it to the table. This is for one person?!? Royal Feast, indeed. I was raised to always finish what’s on my plate. Just looking at this mass of food had me groaning before I started.
It was good, though.
On the left was the Roast Lamb Meshoui, a Moroccan tradition - slow roasted lamb shank in natural juices. It was so tender that the meat slid off the bone with just the caress of a fork. On the right was a full breast of Lemon Chicken, braised in a rich stew of seasoned garlic, green and black olives, and perserved lemon. And in the middle had been heaped a hill of couscous, a Moroccan national dish of tiny steamed semolina pasta served with steamed carrots, onions, squash and chickpeas. It was all very savory and afterwards I felt royally stuffed, but the Feast included Assorted Moroccan Pastries so I wasn’t done yet.
I’ll confess I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the dainty bits of dessert presented. I’d already popped the top button of my jeans halfway through the couscous and was quite sure there was precious little room left in my distended gut. Some royal mercy, at last.
I got two small squares of a Moroccan baklava. The phyllo was light and flaky, sandwiching layers of honey and chopped nuts. At the top of the plate was something like a Moroccan rugalach, a denser roll of dates, figs, brown sugar, cinnamon and more chopped nuts.
When all was eaten and done, I could have used Mr. Wonka and his whistle to summon a host of Oompa-Loompas to roll me away. It was good enough that I’d go back, but next time only for the lamb entrée like my better and wiser half had done. She wasn’t in pain at all…
When last I’d left the Festival, I was working my way west along the Mediterranean, having gotten as far as the boot of Italy. Upon my return to the region this ninth day of our trip, I trekked further still along that route all the way out to Epcot’s representative for the Iberian peninsula.
In this case, that consisted of Spain’s booth and its attendant line of eager food and wine seekers.
The Spanish wine lineup included reds, white, and a rosé. I was intrigued by the description of the Abadía Retuerta Selección Especial: “…combines power and flavor with elegance and suppleness. This full-bodied wine offers aromatic complexity and rich, ripe cherry and plum flavors with a hint of spice.”
It’s a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Merlot. Disney’s sommeliers suggested pairing it with the Papas con Chorizo, a thick stew of potatoes and spicy sausage.
The two made a very nice couple. A tomato base in the stew kept the Tempranillo from being too acidic. The Cabernet and Merlot gave the wine it’s deep color and darkened the red cherry fruit with some of the promised plum.
Where to go on the Mediterranean when you’re as west as it gets? Dive off the rock of Gibraltar. Due south and literally within swimming distance you’ll come upon the shores of northern Africa. In Epcot, just head for the tower.
Morocco has its own permanent pavillion in the World Showcase. You pass through arches ornately tiled in colorful mosaics to reach the Festival booth.
There was beer, a token bottle of water, and two wines available. One was a sweet Moscatel dessert white. The other was a unique red grown in Morocco but made from a blend of the French varietals carignan, grenache and cinsault, and bottled in the French name of Les Trois Domaines under the Moroccan appellation of Guerrouane Rouge. The result of many years spent as French-Morocco, no doubt.
To eat I chose the Kefta, grilled beef and hummus in a pita pocket.
The grapes used for the Guerrouane Rouge are all traditional blending partners in the French appelation of Languedoc-Roussillon, which sits on the southern coast as the closest region of France to Morocco. That seems fitting since the climates are most likely to be as close as possible.
The pairing, rather than being simply red wine for red meat, was more of a mild wine for mild food. Neither the hummus nor the beef was heavily spiced. This incarnation of Rouge kept the fruit subtle. Together, they resulted in a lighter snack than I had expected.
I was intrigued by the Moroccan menu. Fortunately, it was not to be my last encounter with African cuisine for Dinner #9 awaited…
[originally posted on Tableau Vivante]
As night fell on the 8th evening of our trip, my wife and I made our way through the retro neon turnstyles of Disney’s MGM Studios into a carefully reconstructed facsimile of a bygone Tinsel Town.
The pseudo-Hollywood Blvd. we trekked down did manage to remind me of the real thing, albeit with distinctly Disneyesque overtones.
Our goal was the site for Dinner #8, a loving recreation of the now dearly departed 1920’s Los Angeles dining icon, The Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant.
The original was famous for its wall-covering collection of caricatures, a veritable who’s who of Hollywood’s heyday. The Orlando version’s dining room remained faithful to all of that detail.
The original Brown Derby’s key claim to culinary fame was the invention of Cobb salad by none other than Mr. Cobb, one of the owners. He raided the fridge one night for an impromptu snack that, once served, guests began to request on a regular basis. Needless to say, there was Cobb salad here. But, taking it as seriously as they do, it’s served only in a size requiring two or more persons to devour it. My wife and I have had it before and we wanted to try something new.
So I ordered the Mulligatawny Soup with Scented Basmati Rice, Crème fraîche, and Snipped Chives. It was thick, creamy and exotically spiced. From the menu descriptions, I knew just what wine to pair it with.
As part of their Year of a Million Dreams, Disney sommeliers had colaborated with wineries around the world to create unique bottlings just for that celebration. I chose the Chalk Hill “Imagine” Chardonnay bottled right in the heart of Sonoma of all places (eyes Ms. Vivante). It was described as “rich, full-bodied, displaying pear, red apples and spicy oak, delicious long finish.” I found most of that and a buttery texture, as well. It went great with the soup.
My wife got the Blue Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with Potato Crust, Savoy Cabbage Slaw, Dijon Mustard and Remoulade Sauces. It was alternately sweet, tangy and creamy, and big enough that I got to finish it off. It, too, paired well with my Chardonnay.
My wife’s entrée was the Split Roasted Half Chicken with Rice Pilaf, Almond Cranberry Polonaise, and Maple Vinegar Sauce. Her report? “Yummy!”
I moved on to a glass of Cakebread Chardonnay (Napa) and so stayed with white wine food.
The Chardonnay was even bolder than the first. It kept pace nicely with the strength of my main dish’s sauce. I got the Pan-fired Black Grouper with Aged Balsamic Roasted Asparagus, Sweet Onion Marmalade, and Citrus Juices. The citrus in the food keyed similar notes in the wine while the sweetness in the marmalade tarted up the drink. It worked, but ended up being a very different pairing than my first course.
I’d love to get back there someday before the menu changes. It was a real toss up for what to order and I’m still missing what I didn’t get: Pan Roasted Duck Breast and Venison Sausage with Celery Root Puree, Natural Reduction, and Currant-Chili Jam. But, it can’t be time to plan the next meal until you’ve finished the one you’re at. That required dessert!
If there’s one thing that can occasionally pry my wife off of a dark chocolate dessert, it’s bananas. And a Banana White Chocolate Toffee Tower on Cocoa Almond Cookie and Bananas “Foster”? Just the thing.
I went festive with a Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingerbread Crust, Pumpkin Seed Brittle, and Brandied Pear Glaze.
Each bite was pre-diabetic bliss. It put me in the mind of Thanksgiving and Christmas combined.
No doubt about it, if ever you venture out Disney World’s way, the Brown Derby belongs on your short list of essential feeds.
[originally posted on Tableau Vivante]
Day #8 at the Festival was to begin my tour of the Mediterranean…and some of Florida’s signature unpredictable weather.
Having just come from the Far East, my figurative arrival at the sparkling blue-green waters of the Mediterranean Sea was by way of the shores of Turkey.
Their booth featured three genuine imports, two whites and a red by Kavaklidere.
Not having any previous familiarity with Turkish wine, I let the food guide my choice. In this case I opted for the Manti, a Spiced Beef Ravioli with Yogurt and Paprika Butter.
It was a zesty morsel of ground beef in a noodle blanket. The yogurt sauce was buttery, creamy and tangy. To go with it, Disney’s Sommeliers had recommended the Selection Beyaz White.
The Beyaz is a blend of Narince and Sémillon. It’s dry, citrusy character made a perfect partner to the lively tang of the yogurt sauce, not unlike a Sauvignon Blanc would. That makes sense. Sémillon is the traditional blending partner of Sauvignon Blanc in white Bordeaux. This was one of my favorite pairings. Surprising, unusual, and right.
Working my way west, I encountered Greece. In addition to their food and wine booth, they had another dedicated just to the bottled produce of their ancient vines.
The Greeks shared their wine culture with the Romans and the conquering Romans, in turn, instilled vines and their own drinking ways into the whole of Europe. From Europe to the New World. None of that, I would discover, meant that modern Greek wine would be recognizable to a native Californian. A couple of thousand years of clonal cultivation will do that.
The Boutari Naoussa was a full-bodied red made with 100% xinomavro. Don’t feel bad. I never heard of it, either. The wine was described as having “good acidity.” I found it tart to the near point of face-making.
It came paired with a savory spinach and cheese Spanakopitta. The pastry was nice. And while I’ll admit that it does sound very Greek for a wine to have the “very intense aroma of olive, cedar, tomato juice, spices and mint,” I personally consider most of those things to be off-notes in vino. Not even a hint of berry? Really?
I had room for one more taste before dinner. Carrying my Mediterranean tour ever westward, I went from Dionysus to Bacchus and landed on the coast of Italy.
Home to another permanent pavillion in the World Showcase at Epcot, Italy® comes with its own piazza. You get a tower, marble columns, and stone arches!
And it wouldn’t be Rome® without a fountain, right? Good ol’ Neptune helps keep up appearances.
For the Festival, Italy’s booth served up the classics.
There was Insalata Caprese, Lasagne, and Cannoli. These came paired respectively with Pinot Grigio, Chianti, and Moscato di Asti.
What I wanted was the Pizza. I survived the lion’s share of my school life on little else than beer and pizza. Many a pie has gone the way of this here gut, but standing there pondering that menu with rumpled dollars in hand, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve never once had a slice with wine.
In this case, it was more of a square. Make that one brick of spongy, deep-dish Fennel Sausage, Bell Pepper, San Marzano Tomatoes and Mozzarella to go, please. To drink, there was Cecchi Chianti Classico. Lively acidity followed by bright red fruits and a bit of earthiness. That and a spicy tomato base, a timeless combination. The older me says, “Who needs beer?”
You haven’t finished the Mediterranean until you’ve put Gibraltar in your rear view mirror, but that would have to wait another day. I needed what was left of my appetite for the upcoming Dinner #8…
[originally posted on Tableau Vivante]
My wife and I, we have an affinity for the beef. So as the seventh day of our trip drew to a close, we sought out the Dolphin Resort wherein lies Shula’s.
We arrived at dusk, a bit early for our reservation, which gave us the time for a sunset walk around the lagoon.
As night fell, it was time to head back to the hotel. Our table awaited.
There is a casual elegance about the Dolphin. The canopied lobby was aglow primarily from its large central fountain.
From there, you enter the restaurant proper, a wood-wrapped, amber lit enclave of all things football and meat.
Yes, Shula is Don Shula of Miami Dolphins fame, the team he led to a pair of Super Bowl victories. Hey! Waaaaait a minute. Dolphin resort? I just got that…
As you might expect, Shula’s makes no bones (except maybe T-bones) about its status as a red-blooded American steak house. And if you didn’t expect it, the cart full of Saran-wrapped slabs of supper they wheel up tableside will definitely set things straight.
I had an inkling this might be a worthy feed, so I thought I would go light with a house chopped salad. What I got was more than just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.
My leafy Matterhorn came snow-capped with tangy, crumbling Bleu cheese. Above the timberline it was diced red onion and leaning heavily on the side were two mammoth planks of Beefsteak tomato so fresh and rich they were sweet. A light rain of balsamic and fresh-cracked pepper was all that was needed to bring life to the mountain.
My wife fared no better in her pursuit of temperance than I.
Her French onion soup arrived hermetically sealed beneath a caramelized cap of Gruyère. Carving her way inside, she found a broth so thick as to be more aptly described “onion stew.”
With those starters cleared from the table, our waiter presented us both with gleaming serrated weapons whose purpose was clear. We steeled ourselves to make war on the bovine species.
For me, rare is the only way to go with steak. The better the cut and the more I trust the chef, the rarer I like to go. When the waiter asked me how I wanted my filet done, I held up my hand and swept my fingers outward dismissively. “Just have him walk it by the fire.”
What I got was pure meat fantasy in every butter-braised bite. I hardly touched the dish of herbed Bernaise, though the side of sautéed onions and forest mushrooms was just the accompaniment.
To wash down the quintessential American bloodfest, you need a Napa cab. I ordered a 2004 half-bottle of Darioush. It was thick with dark berries and the firm tannins cut cleanly through all the fat. A perfect match.
Khaledi Darioush is an Iranian immigrant who grew up in Shiraz, the place that lent its name to the grape and a wine growing region of Iran until the Islamic revolution. Now Californians receive the gift of his passion for wine.
No good steak house dinner is complete without dessert, and cake follows meat like, well…meatcake.
I couldn’t fumble the camera out of my pocket fast enough to capture it in its pristine state. My wife was all over this classic rendition of a chocolate lava cake like a bulldog on a meat truck. Gutted and bleeding its molten chocolate innards, she dressed the carcass in vanilla buttercream sauce and had at it.
I think the only thing missing was a pair of wheelchairs to get us out of there after it all.
Thank you, Don. It was both touchdown and extra point.
[originally posted on Tableau Vivante]
Theme Park means park food. Disney World is just for kids. And Disney sommelier? Well, that’s just an oxymoron, right? You wouldn’t be alone if you thought so, but you’d better think again.
Last October my wife and I attended Walt Disney World’s 12th Annual International Food & Wine Festival at the Epcot World Showcase. By day we visited attractions and attended the festival. By night we feasted in as many of the Signature Dining establishments as we could get reservations in. We had an absolutely amazing time, and I’ve been blogging about it ever since.
Please join me now for a series already in progress that began here.
I’d done North America from Canada to Mexico. I’d been through South America by way of Chile, Argentina and Peru. My tour of the southern hemisphere was rounded out by visits to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. On Day #7 of our trip, I woke up with dreams of the Far East.
Across distant oceans lies the world’s most populous nation and what Anthony Bourdain has called the mother of all cuisine, China. In Epcot, it’s also home to a permanent pavillion in the World Showcase.
Chinese culture has affected western ways far more than the reverse. Architecture or noodles? Take your pick.
But one thing China hasn’t been traditionally is a wine culture. The presence of its booth at the festival intrigued me.
I’d experienced South Africa’s chicken skewer and Chardonnay combination, so when I saw the same pairing here I decided to give it a try. In this case, an authentically Chinese Chardonnay from the He Lan Mountain appellation was offered.
My Chicken Sha Cha came in a peanut sauce, and it was done just right with chewy edges and a juicy center.
After a bite, however, the wine seemed…undersaturated. That’s polite, euphemistic winespeak for watery. Onward, then, to my next stop: the island neighbor of my last.
Home of another permanent pavillion, your arrival in Japan is definitively marked by a 5-story pagoda with shingled eves as blue as the sky. Here, you enter the serenity of gardens alive with the watery chatter of small falls emptying into shallow, rock-lined pools, and the occasional splash of a playful koi.
For the festival Japan, too, had a booth.
They may call sake “rice wine”, but to me its just grain alcohol by another name. Show me the fruit!
Introducing: Takara Plum Wine. It was dessert wine sweet, but not heavy. Like plum nectar with a kick, it was elegant and balanced without any of that wineyness you might be inclined to associate with fermented fruit. It came paired with a classic spicy tuna roll.
As I’d come to learn, what each booth really offered the interested visitor was a chance to experience a professionally arranged pairing. Some bite matched with some sip in a way that was intended to better the both. The secret for wine with spicy food is a bit of sweetness. As incongruous as it may seem, one the best partners for a sizzling plate of Thai is a chilled, off-dry Riesling from Germany.
Rounding out my tour of the East was the nearest of the Far. India’s booth burst from the bushes like a bull elephant. There’s more to Asians than Orientals.
Here again I was on unfamiliar territory. Indian wine? Remembering Ms. Vivante’s affinity for France’s white lady of the Loire, I knew what to chose: the Chenin Blanc.
In this case, it was a Sula Vineyards Chenin Blanc estate bottled in Nashik, India. I found it to be rich with fruitiness. It was one of the more memorable wines I encountered at the festival, one worth looking up back home. Though you’re not likely to find it in the grocery store or even a wine shop, you can get it on eBay. From the winery: “Semi-dry, refreshingly light wine bursting with fresh, fruity characters which make for a delightful aperitif. Pair with food that has a hint of sugar and spice, such as Southeast Asian or Gujarati dishes. Serve well chilled.”
For the festival, Sula’s dance card was marked with a deep-fried Samosa (spicy pea and potato pastry) and Tamarind Sauce (just the “sugar and spice” called for). Quite nice.
Another successful day at the festival, with a blog-worthy dinner yet to come!
[originally posted on Tableau Vivante]
A while back a friend of mine asked me what I thought would make the ultimate $100 cellar. Fancy wine’s not cheap and there’s so much good stuff to chose from. I thought about variety and balance. You’d need some reds, of course, but also some whites. You’d want to be able to pair with different kinds of food.
After much deliberation, I came up with the following list:
- Turnbull Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon ($34), an amazingly rich, fruit-forward cab that rivals competitors at twice the price
- Mollydooker Shiraz ‘The Boxer’($20), classic Aussie Shiraz concentrate almost sweet with oak vanilin
- Rombauer Napa Valley Chardonnay ($27), heroin for Chardonnay addicts
- Van Volxem Saar Riesling ($17), delicious off-dry lemon and apricot that pairs with almost anything
That got me up to $98. Say what you will, but there’s really no other choice for that last $2: the infamous Two-Buck Chuck itself…
- Charles Shaw Cabernet ($2), smooth and easy drinker consistent across vintages
Okay, new vintages have been released since I originally priced this list and some have gone up. But still, it was a perfect $100. I’m a genius, right?
Then I thought about it some more…
Why cellar a wine? Why buy something years in advance of when you intend to consume it? Unless you invest in wine only as a commodity, the answer is to age it. The wines I picked were very enjoyable, ones that I’ve personally tried and bought again for myself. They all could age, but they didn’t need to age.
As wine sits in the bottle, it is not in stasis. Chemical reactions are in constant flux. This enzyme consumes these precursors to produce those results. Another compound simultaneously breaks down into a unique set of others. This goes on endlessly, in a thousand different ways all at the same time. Thus the wine’s composition, and therefore its character, change over time.
That’s complicated enough by itself, but here’s where it gets interesting. Every one of these reactions occurs at a rate that is affected by temperature…differently. Store a wine for a year at 76 degrees and you end up with concentrations of A, B, and C. Store it for a year at 66 degrees and you get D, E, and F. Let it cycle between summer and winter room temperatures and you get still another set of results. The wines you can end up with are as infinitely varied as the conditions you might store one in.
Why age a wine at all? A controversial, and therefore good, question. The short answer is, you should only age a wine if it needs it. Young wines can have an edge to the vibrancy they enjoy. You age to mellow, to round those edges and to integrate flavor, acidity, and texture. Ageing can, of course, be over done. While tannins (a flavorless chemical that provides velvety texture and grip) will soften over the years, so will fruit weaken. Your goal is balance, harmony of both flavor and feel.
The caricature of wine meant to be drunk young is one of simplicity (not always true, in my opinion, but that’s a discussion for another day). A wine built for ageing, on the other hand, promises power, complexity and finesse in one package, like a professional football player gliding his way effortlessly through an intricate waltz.
Such a wine may be nigh undrinkable in its youth. In anticipation of how it will fade, the fruit may be over the top. Think Welch’s with alcohol. It may be bitter with acid, stemmy with herbal notes. It’s tannins might pucker you up until your mouth feels like it’s been upholstered in corduroy. Ah, but when the thing ages those flavors and feels melt into synchronicity. It all slides together in a way that just can’t be duplicated right out of the barrel.
Sure, you can just buy vintage wine. But, it’s more expensive that way. The effort and patience to age costs money. Prices rise on a given wine year after year while availability falls. Wine Spectator’s wine auction index has outperformed the stock market’s DOW over the entire span of its keeping.
If you want to experience the best wines at their best, you can most afford to do so by ponying up the cash now and cellaring them yourself for later.
So now I want to change my answer.
What I’d originally done was choose something more like my own ultimate $100 gift basket, not a cellar. Cellaring requires patience. To be the most fun, a cellar should represent a series of prized acquisitions over time. Think of your cellar as a hobby. Give it the care and researched consideration that any collector would, because that’s really what you’re talking about: becoming a collector.
As such, a one-time infusion of cash won’t suffice. You need a budget. Without permission, I re-worked the conditions of my assignment. I gave myself $100 per year to spend and went back to my lists. Understanding that nothing is more personal than taste, here are a few of the candidates that would be on my short list if I had but a Benjamin with which to build.
- 2004 Turnbull Estate Grown Cabernet (20/20 Wine, $47) - 95pts, Connoisseurs’Guide: “…shows no shortage of youthfully gruff tannin. It is built to get better for a number of years, and it comes with a recommendation for five to eight years of cellaring.”
- 2005 D’Arenberg Shiraz The Dead Arm (LaBodega Wine, $56) - 95pts, Robert Parker: “Full-bodied, opulent, and super-concentrated, this structured, lengthy wine will benefit from 3-5 years of cellaring and drink well through 2025.”
- 2004 Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet (20/20 Wine, $55) - 94pts, Robert Parker: “It makes a youthful entry on the palate with layers of black fruits, mouth-filling flavors, a plush texture, with plenty of ripe tannins to hold this big wine together. The finish is long and pure. The wine demands 8-10 years to show to full advantage and should drink well through 2032.”
- 2005 Plumpjack Estate Cabernet (20/20 Wine, $85) - 92pts, Robert Parker: “…full-bodied, chewy effort displaying copious aromas of lead pencil shavings, black currants, blueberries, licorice, charcoal, and spice box along with a hint of new oak. This beauty should unfold gracefully over the next 5-7 years, and last for two decades or more.“
- 2005 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau (B-21 Wine, $65) - 95pts, Robert Parker: “…full-bodied, powerful, concentrated wine reveals fabulous purity as well as a finish that lasts over 45 seconds. Purchasers of this beauty will need patience. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2025.”
Refrigerated wine cabinets for every size and space can be found here at Wine Enthusiast. Or, if you’re a big shot, get a custom walk-in cellar. Alternately, check out International Wine Accessories’ selection.
Obviously you can’t get all the wines shown here for just one year’s budget of $100. Choices must be made, priorities determined, and some things put off until next year. That, my friends, is your exquisite dilemma.
I'm not so lucky as Tableau Vivante to have seen the real thing, but I suspect the City of Light's Floridian facsimile is authentic enough in that it's best photographed at night.
The miniaturized town square provides both a general gift shop and a specialized wine shop.
And if you're willing to stand in line, you can at least get in to gawk at the racks of delectables in the pâtisserie. Eclairs, pies and tarts. Cakes and confections of every sort.
I should point out that in each pavillion at Epcot, from cashier to chef, every worker hails from that respective homeland. They speak the language. They grew up with the culture. Wandering through each meticulously crafted national mock-up, you begin to feel as if it is you that has been imported.
I guess what I'm saying is, here in France®, these folks can bake some Brie.
Being one of the culinary capitals of the world, it is fitting the French pavillion has not one, but two eateries. Set just below street level into the brick-lined sidewalk is the Chefs du France cafe.
Here you can find the best of French country cooking and comfort food, served in a casual atmosphere. The food is no-holds-barred rich. The French Onion Soup? Excuse me, Garçon, may I get some broth with this bowl of melted Gruyère?
Ah, but there is an elaborate, wrought iron-railed staircase that spirals upward to the Bistro de Paris. It's quieter, dressier, and more than just figuratively upstairs.
Not counting the incomparable Victoria & Albert's, we were about to have our most amazing meal of the trip.
It began with bread, butter, and bisque.
On the menu, I went right for the prix fixe with wine pairings while my wife ventured à la carte.
My first course was a Saffron and Mussel Soup, nicely frothed and floating a garnish of sour cream and chives. It was rich, creamy, and generally fantastic. The Domaine Pichot Peu de la Moriette Vouvray (2004) pairing, a fruity Chenin Blanc from southern France, was just the compliment.
My wife opted for the Salmon Domes, a surprisingly complex hors d'œuvre of blue crab wrapped in salmon tartare with lemon grass vinaigrette and curry biscuit.
French sushi? If you must. We could have made a meal just of that.
Compared to my wife's dinner, I had some extra courses coming and next was the first of them.
The Seared Scallop Skewer came on a bed of Braised Green Cabbage, bacon and tomato blinis. The sauce was something like a bacon and chive bernaise. It took a lot of creative spoon work and some mopping up with bread, but when I was done there wasn't anything left even to lick off that plate. It was nicely paired with a Willm Pinot Blanc (2004) that gave off light citrus notes and the nuttiness of French oak.
Then, in the midst of my courses, it was time for a break of sorts.
This gastronomic intermission came in the form of Strawberry & Basilic Granite, Key Lime Sorbet, and Pomegranate Liqueur. It was all delightful, leaving my palate cool and cleansed for what came next.
My main course matched her entrée. We had both zeroed in on the same thing, which for me came paired with the earthy red berries of a Chateau Tour de Segur Lussac St. Emilion (2000).
Behold...morsels of chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with porcini mushrooms, a cream-stewed chicken drummette in sauce with baby onions, and Macaroni with black truffle au gratin.
When the FBI is not looking, I will kidnap this chef, bring him to California and chain him in my basement surrounded by ingredients. You're all invited over for dinner. Bring wine.
What comes after dinner but before dessert?
You're damn right it's cheese. It is France®, after all. We shared an assortment of cows and goats cheeses, toasted bread, and mixed salad with pine nuts. The plate was adorned with white truffle honey and a syrupy balsamic.
Then it was time. The real reason my wife eats dinner was finally at hand. No one should be surprised that she got chocolate.
What the menu described simply as Warm Chocolate Cake with 70% Dark Chocolate in fact turned out to be that and more. She got a chocolate-dipped strawberry, a truffle cemented to a cookie with melted chocolate, and a shotglass full of something like a cocoa Crème de Menthe. I remember being briefly blinded by the glow of her halo and she drifted gently off to heaven.
There were similar surprises in store for me. I had innocently enough ordered the Crème Brûlée. When the waiter set the plate down in front of me, my first reaction was: there's been a mistake.
There was, indeed, a miniature mug of the charred custard in question, but it was just one member of a veritable dessert Dream Team. What looked like flan was actually a second Crème Brûlée envisioned upside down and drizzled in caramel syrup. That wasn't to be outdone by the caramelzied boat of rice pudding or the loving spoonful of dulce de lece iced cream. Far more than I'd bargained for yet not a drop unfinished.
I sipped my Marquis de Perlade Blanc de Blanc bubbly and pondered this grand encounter with our Atlantic neighbors' cuisine, after which I came to the following conclusion:
The French are insane...in the most magnificently delicious way humanly possible.
Would Syrah taste as rich by any other name? Richer, perhaps, if that name was Shiraz. Unlike Petite Sirah, which really is a different grape, Shiraz is merely the Down Under denomination of what we in the States enjoy as Syrah. And the Aussies have the weather for some serious, fruit-driven Shiraz. Penfold's Grange is considered by some to be the single best incarnation of Syrah/Shiraz in the world, which is quite an accomplishment for a juice whose ancestral home is France's more storied Rhone valley.
Needless to say, I aimed on the menu for whatever paired with the Wolf Blass President's Select Shiraz. That happened to be a Grilled Lamb Chop with Caramelized Onions.
The chop was spicy and tender. The wine was a concentration of smooth, dark berries. As hoped, I'd learned another pairing tip. Lamb is not too light for a deep, rich red.
There was one other bit of business before I could even consider leaving the Australian booth, however. They had Shrimp on the Barbie, people. It's like a right of passage or something. C'mon.
This sub-equatorial classic was paired with a Rosemount Traminer Riesling, which I found to be tart and on the dry side. They might as well have chosen a Sauvignon Blanc, I thought, which led me off to my next stop.
Not to be outdone in the surpassing-the-French-with-their-own-gra
Sauvignon Blanc has become the pride of New Zealand, hailed by many as some of the best anywhere including amongst white Bordeaux, as the grape is bottled at its home in France.
The tasting notes read, "Exceptional aromatic ripe gooseberry and lime characters dominate with hints of green pepper. Pairs well with Marinated Seafood Salad." And so it did.
The salad was reminiscent of a mixed ceviche. It had chilled bay scallops, shrimp and squid together in a lime dressing. Sauvignon Blanc tends to be an acidic wine. That was necessary to hold its own against the dressing.
Rounding out my visit to the bottom half of the globe, I traipsed on over to South Africa. I begin to traipse after a couple of glasses of wine.
As its economy begins to emerge, so does South Africa's wine market. Right now, they produce a growing number of value wines, but premium efforts are being made. It's a region to watch.
In the store, the wines are likely to be snuck on a shelf without much in the way of signage. Without resorting to fine print, the easiest way to spot a South African wine is: Look for the goat.
Okay, I'm half joking. I'm also half serious. It's like a thing with them. Goats Do Roam, anyone? And no, I don't get what it is with Billy. Still, I couldn't resist the urge to 'kid' around.
To go with my Goat Door Chardonnay, I was given the Durban Spiced Chicken on a Skewer.
The Chardonnay had a light oaking over melon and pear flavors. Its finish was crisper than the creamy stuff more typical of a Californian style. It went well with the spicy chicken and the gravy covered potato cake square that came with it.
Once again, I'd had another successful day at the festival. There were still so many booths yet to visit. Fortunately we had several more days left on our trip.