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Epcot Food and Wine Festival Review: Tequila Pairing Lunch at La Hacienda de San Angel

While at Disney World for the opening weekend of the 2012 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Tequila Pairing Lunch at La Hacienda de San Angel.

A Food and Wine Festival special event, the lunch takes place most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the Food and Wine Festival from 12 noon until 1:30pm.

While I’d been to the very first Tequila Tasting Seminar held in Epcot’s Mexico during the 2009 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, I hadn’t yet been to one of the lunches, which began at last year’s festival and have been highly acclaimed.

Armed with a love of tequila and an appreciation for Mexican food, I headed into La Hacienda de San Angel to see what awaited me.

Atmosphere

Shazam! For a great beginning, I was welcomed with my first sample of tequila of the day — a beautiful Rose Margarita.

Rose Margarita, The Opening Cocktail

Made with premium white tequila and rose water, this is a lovely — and authentically Mexican — way to begin our journey. I sipped as I strolled to my seat.

As I entered the dining room, I passed by this display table holding various tequilas and other elements of our seminar. This table gives you a view-at-a-glance of everything we would discuss and experience during the lunch. This was clearly going to be fun!

Display Table at Entry of Luncheon

Since I was alone, I found myself sharing a table with three other women and we chatted a bit before the presentation began. We were seated in the main dining room of La Hacienda for the sold-out event.

Seating and Table Settings for Luncheon

Once we were all seated, Darwin Bravo (what a great name, eh?), general manager at La Hacienda, greeted us and introduced tequila guru Hilda Castillo.

La Hacienda Manager Darwin Greets Guests

Hilda is the resident tequila expert for the Disney restaurants owned by the San Angel Group, which include all the eateries within the Mexico Pavilion (La Cava del Tequila, too!), and the restaurants at Coronado Springs Resort.

She joined Disney when La Cava opened in 2009, and has been part of a great renaissance for these restaurants. She is very knowledgeable and is an excellent presenter. (C’mon, who doesn’t love Hilda?!?)

Hilda, Our Tequila Specialist

Even more importantly, she conveys her knowledge in a way that people can understand. If you weren’t excited about tequila before, you will be once you listen to her presentation!

Now let’s get tasting!

Eats

If you haven’t already guessed it, tasting lunches during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival are more than just a chance to eat and drink; these are real learning experiences. As you can see from my place setting, there’s a whole lot goin’ on here.

Place Setting for Tasting

The menu for the tasting lunch is prix fixe: courses are pre-determined to best highlight the tequila. Still, it was nice to have this individual menu card at our place setting to serve as a resource for what we were eating (and as a souvenir.)

Menu for Luncheon -- Click to Enlarge

Before us, among other things, were the three tequilas that we’d be sampling. There are actually five classes of tequila (here’s what Hilda taught us!): blanco (white), reposado (rested), añejo (aged), extra añejo (ultra aged), and joven (“joven” means young, but in tequila terms, it’s talking about a mixture of tequilas).

We’ll talk about them individually below, but I’ll mention here that we focused on blanco, reposado, and añejo for the tasting.

Tequilas -- Up Close

Names of the Tequilas We Sampled

We began the experience with a palate cleanser, which was actually a tiny sample of tequila to prepare our tastebuds so that the initial tasting wouldn’t feel to much like gasoline splashing around our mouths (my words…not theirs).

Palate Cleanser

Then it was time to really start tasting…and learning!

In that table setting, you might have seen a little tray of…stuff — cinnamon, lemon peels, and vanilla extract. Hilda explained that we’d be using these items to pull different scents and flavors from the tequila. (For those who have done the Tequila Tasting Seminar at La Cava in years past, this is pretty much the same general information you got back then.)

For the first tequila, the blanco, we used the lemon peel. After crushing it between our fingers to extract the essential oils, we smelled it, and then smelled the tequila to capture the citrus notes in the bouquet.

Aromatic Vanilla and Lemon Peel to Enhance the Tasting Experience

I think this “scent exercise” is a great way to start discovering the tequila for those of us who aren’t experts in the stuff. It gives you something to expect and look for, and then you have a platform from which to start drawing your own conclusions about the scent, taste, and flavor.

Hilda Sampling the Tequila

We began with Jose Cuervo Reserva Blanco Tequila. Blanco is the “youngest” class of tequila, and is bottled either immediately after distillation or within two months of the process.

Crystal clear in the glass, the liquor was…well, it wasn’t as harsh as it was when I very very first tried it in 2009, but I’m still not sure this would be something I sipped regularly for pleasure. ;-) Apparently I still have a few years of tasting to go before I understand the nuances of blanco tequila!

Jose Cuervo Reserva Blanco Tequila

Once we scoped out our tequila and drew our conclusions about the taste alone, it was time to taste it with food. Our first dish of the day was a Grilled Scallop with Chile de Arbol Foam and Huitlacoche Mushroom.

The scallop in this dish was large and fresh, and the chile oil foam was pretty much out of this world (you can totally tell just by looking at the sauce that it was delicious, can’t you?).

Grilled Scallop with Chile de Arbol Foam and Huitlacoche Mushroom

But what I didn’t understand about this dish was that the “mushroom” didn’t seem very “mushroom-y.” After getting home, I looked up the word “Huitlacoche” to figure out what, exactly, it was.

Turns out it’s “corn smut.” No, seriously. It’s called corn smut. It’s basically a blight that infects corn crops and grows as a fungus, much like a mushroom. It can be considered a delicacy in Mexico, but hasn’t yet become mainstream in American diets. (Maybe that has something to do with the fact that, according to Wikipedia, the Mexican word “huitlacoche” is derived from native words meaning “sleeping excrement.”)

Regardless, the dish was awesome, so you can serve me corn smut any day as long as it comes with that rockin’ chile sauce.

Anyway, now that the PBS portion of our episode is finished, let’s move on to the next tequila! The reposado was up (my favorite!). This time, to sense the warmer, more floral aroma, we combined the vanilla extract and cinnamon stick to smell.

Vanilla and Cinnamon Stick to Accentuate the Reposado Tasting

Our resposado tequila was Milagro Select Barrel Reposado. Aged for 10 months in new French single oak barrels, the flavors of wood and smoke really come through with this one, especially when you have that cinnamon and vanilla on hand.

Milagro Select Barrel Reposado Tequila

The tequila also had a nice peppery taste that matched well with the delicious Mini Pork Taco with Spicy Salsa Verde. Great flavor in this one.

Mini Pork Taco with Spicy Salsa Verde

Next, we came to our main entree and with it, the añejo offering: Gran Centenario Añejo. To receive the distinction añejo, the tequila must be aged a minimum of one year. This particular brand is aged for a full eighteen months in toasted American oak. (How do they toast oak? I don’t know, either.)

This time, we broke our cinnamon sticks in half, releasing the sweet and spicy scent. This helped us to identify the same characteristics in the tequila.

This is also a good opportunity to point out the tequila as it pours down the inside of the glass. These lines and legs indicate the viscosity and alcohol content of the tequila. Normally, you’ll see more of this with an añejo because the aging process gives the liquor more body.

Gran Centenario Añejo Tequila

Because of the full body, we also tasted a richer, more substantial course for this pairing. The Corvina with Plantain Puree and Tres Chiles Sauce was good (nearest in the picture) and the New York Steak with Esquites and Ancho Chile Sauce was outstanding.

As you well know, beef will always win out with me over fish, but the three chile sauce on the corvina was incredible. I actually ended up using it for my steak! And anytime esquites — basically corn + awesome — is involved, I am happy, happy!

Corvina with Plantain Puree and Tres Chiles Sauce and New York Steak Served with Esquites and Chile Ancho Sauce

We were then ready to turn our attention to dessert, which also came with a pairing: a shot of Agovera Liqueur to sip.

The liqueur is made with a blend of resposado and añejo tequila. Damiana flower extract, which is native to the Jalisco, Mexico region, adds a floral note…and is purported to have aphrodisiac properties — Hubba Hubba!

Agavero Liqueur

I can tell you that it was quite sweet and a perfect match to our dessert, which happened to be…

Merengue with Tropical Fruits and Cajeta Caramel Sauce

Merengue. And you know how I feel about merengue. Egg whites + sugar ≠ dessert in my opinion.

Still, the cajeta caramel sauce? I would have happily eaten a whole bowl of that. (Have you noticed how popular cajeta is right now? I know. I’m a total trendsetter.)

And with that, our delightful lunch came to an end!

Overall

I really enjoyed the experience of the tequila lunch, and I think that at $70/person it’s a decent deal when you consider how much a comparable dinner at La Hacienda would set you back. Factor in the alcohol, and I think you’re probably realizing pretty good value, especially given Hilda’s wealth of knowledge.

While chatting with folks at the event, it was clear that many of them were returning as repeat customers after having done the event in 2011. For them, the tequila lunch was well on its way to becoming a Food and Wine Festival tradition.

The tequilas were fantastic, and the experience is fun as well. There’s always an element of humor when a group of adults have been drinking for an hour or so, and Hilda took full advantage of that with “quizzes” at the end of the event. Have a clear enough head to answer a question correctly? Get a prize! ;-)

SO, while the first weekend of the event sold out quickly, there are still spots available for the event now through Sunday, November 11. You can still snag a spot by calling 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378). Tickets for the event are $70 plus tax, and gratuity is included. Epcot admission is required to attend the event.

Have you attended a tequila pairing lunch at La Hacienda? Let us know about your experience in comments!

FYI: I received complimentary admission to this event from the folks at La Hacienda. As always, I was not obligated to report on the event — or to give it a favorable review. As you know, I always give you the truth about what I think (corn smut and all)! Read more about our disclosure policy here.

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11 Comments

  1. Kelly says:

    We’re doing it tomorrow! I’m so excited!!

  2. Jenny says:

    Thank you for the great review. I would like to try this someday.

  3. Erin says:

    We did this on 10/21 and it was fabulous!! You come away with a good knowledge of tequila, full from the tastings and food courses, plus the speakers are very entertaining and know what they’re doing. Hilda was approachable, funny and sweet and will answer any questions you have at the end personally. I also enjoyed the setup for the tables so that you can chat and make some new friends. My Mom and I thought it was well worth the money and may even do it again next year. PS. The palate cleanser/opener was actually vodka! :)

  4. Claire says:

    To get the toasted oak barrels they set the inside of them on fire (controlled, mind you). I saw them do this on a documentary, but it wasn’t for tequila, I think it was for a wine. Looks like you had an excellent time. Thanks for the hard work ;)

  5. Alexa says:

    This sounds awesome!! Food and Wine always falls during my birthday, and I’ve always wanted to try this tasting. I’ll definitely be making a trip next year!

  6. Agnes says:

    I think I laughed way too loudly (at work, oops) over the corn smut and the fact that meringue ≠ dessert. Sounds like the seminar was a lot of fun! As always, a delightful review.

  7. Glenn says:

    Thank you for the review. We did this in 2011, and it truly is a hit. I can see why people want to return in 2012. With some many wonderful F&W events, it’ll be difficult to decide if we should do this again or try something new….OR BOTH!

  8. Jennie says:

    I was beyond pleased that we signed up for this at our first foray into F&W. I’m a fan of tequila and $70 was an especially great deal since the people next to us did not show up. Since there tequila was paid for we helped ourselves. I LOOOVED that Rose Margarita. I’m planning on recreating it at home and like you, my favorite is the Reposado. So smooth.

    Our tequila expert was Humberto, who is actually from Tequila, Mexico. He’s wearing the blue shirt and is in the background of your photo of Darwin.

    I will definitely do this pairing again. We had a ball. I may use your photos for my scrapbook. They are terrific.

  9. Marla GerberMaraudger says:

    My husband and I did the tequila lunch last year at the festival. It was one of the best events we had ever attended the festival. Even my husband, who is not a fan of tequila enjoyed himself.

    Our tequila expert was also Hilda and she was a lot of fun. The menu was different but delicious. I would recommend this event to anyone who enjoys a good tequila. Or even some one who wants to know more.

  10. rhonda says:

    Has any one gone to the tasting at Morroco? I heard from a couple that loved it, but I didn’t know about it in time . Should we plan it for next years trip.
    Also Wine classes at the Swan and Dolphin event are awesome and worth the money!

  11. AJ says:

    Rhonda — I did the tasting at Morocco a couple of years ago and it was great! Here’s our review: http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2009/10/07/2009-epcot-international-food-and-wine-festival-marrakesh-morocco-food-and-wine-pairing/

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