Ciao friends! And welcome back to the 2019 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival!
As you may know, this is one of our favorite times of year at Epcot! There is just so much to do and eat — from tasting your way around the Festival Kiosks to attending special events. So far this year we’ve enjoyed several — such as the Mix It! Make It! Celebrate It! Workshop and the Parisian Breakfast. And now we’re headed to one of our favorite pavilions for the Italian Food, Wine vs. Beer Pairing Event!
The Italian Food, Wine vs. Beer Pairing Event takes place select Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:30pm at Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria.
The event is a five-course Italian meal — where each course is paired with samples of both hand-selected Italian wine AND beer. We’ve attended this event in the past and enjoyed ourselves, and were excited to see what was in store for us this year!
We checked in at the podium and were escorted to the indoor porch, which had been sectioned off for the event. (The rest of the restaurant is still running as usual.)
As we checked-in, a Cast Member handed us a glass of Italian Sangria. It was light and refreshing and a perfect way to kick off the event.
At the table, you’ll notice that each table setting has 10 (!!!) small glasses for the wine and beer samples, a water glass, cutlery, and a menu of the yumminess coming your way. It’s also important to note, this is a family-style meal so smaller parties may be seated with other small parties. But don’t fret — it’s fun to chat with folks about Disney (especially when the wine and beer start flowing).
Also set out were individual plates of Italian bread and communal plates of olive oil. But as tempting as it is — try not to fill up! You’ve got 5 courses coming your way. (But if you can’t resist (guilty), it’s good to note Cast Members come by and offer you additional bread throughout the meal.)
After everyone got settled, we were welcomed by a Via Napoli manager. He laid out how the meal would work — before each course he would explain the carefully crafted dish including ingredients and backstory.
Additionally, a beer expert would explain her choice for each course.
And an Italian Sommelier would tell us about the chosen wine!
The two ladies ended up being very knowledgeable and entertaining — not only did they explain the flavors and key elements of each drink, but they had a fun back-and-forth about which beverage is better. We really enjoyed the fun atmosphere that these two Cast Members encouraged!
After introductions, it was time for our first course: Grilled Octopus with a Potato Cake, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, and Gremolata.
The manager explained that Naples, Italy (where Via Napoli gets its namesake and cooking style), is not only known for pizza, but for seafood because of the close proximity to the water. It is customary for local fisherman to catch whatever is freshest and in season, and then for locals to serve it to guests as a welcome.
The Octopus dish was paired with a sparkling rosé, as well as a light Italian beer called ViaEmilia.
We were a little apprehensive about starting the meal with tentacles, but as soon as the manager explained the accompanying potato cake was made with fresh Parmesan, we were on board. 😉
Honestly, this was DELICIOUS. The Octopus was light and fresh — not at all fishy as we expected. It also wasn’t overwhelmingly chewy, and we didn’t even notice the suckers on their way down. (This thing’s bark is worse than its bite.)
And the potato cake was obviously amazing — potatoes + fresh Italian cheese? Yes, please. We also really enjoyed the simple roasted cherry tomatoes as they added a brightness and subtle sweetness to the appetizer.
Honestly, a bite of all three components was absolutely perfect. Color us surprised at how much we enjoyed this version of octopus!
In this round, our table preferred the Sparkling wine to the beer. Don’t get us wrong — we liked the beer a lot! It was light and crisp, and more flavorful than most domestic light beers. Call us basic, but the slightly sweet, slightly dry, very bubbly pink wine couldn’t be topped.
At this point, we should note that during each course servers walked around offering to top off that round’s wine or beer, should you find one you’re particularly fond of. And water, which is very important. 😉
But this is the fun of the event — to try multiple beverages and figure out which one is the winner for you during each course!
After folks were done with course 1 and their dishes were cleared, the Via Napoli team came out again to introduce the next round. It was time for their signature dish: PIZZA!
The Manager explained that Via Napoli does their darndest to make pizza just like you’d get in Naples. They import as many ingredients as possible from Italy — including the flour, tomatoes, and cheese. (The Sommelier also told me the water is imported from somewhere in Pennsylvania because it has the closest water PH to Italy. Now THAT is dedication.)
The pizza we’d be having today was an iconic choice — the Pizza Margherita. Simple and perfect, this pie is made with buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
We loved this pizza! Which is probably a good thing because it’s Via Napoli’s claim to fame. The simple flavor combination was perfect — with the gooey pockets of Italian cheese being a highlight.
This round’s beer was one of Italy’s most popular and ubiquitous, Peroni. It was heavier than the first beer, but still light enough to pair perfectly with the pizza. The wine was a red blend, which tasted much lighter than it looked. It too, had more bite than the previous drink but wasn’t overwhelming when it came to enjoying it with the ‘Za.
As we finished up with course 2, we decided this round’s winner was the beer. As Jessyca the Beer Manager pointed out, when it comes to pizza — people want beer!
We moved right along into Course 3, Italy’s other specialty — PASTA!
This time, we were told about big Italian Sunday dinners, when families come together to share a meal. Usually, the meal is a little of this, a little of that — which is what we were served! Course 3 was Paccheri Pasta, Beef Meatballs, Pork Ribs, and a Sausage Ragu Sauce.
Not to be dramatic, but we want to fall into a vat of this sauce. It was so perfectly balanced with fresh Italian herbs and spices. The pasta was a perfect al dente, and the big noodles were just right for the Ragu. Plus the big shaves of cheese were divine. The ribs were literally fall-off-the-bone tender (seriously, we picked it up and the meat fell off!). And the meatballs? Ah the meatballs! Moist and flavorful — dare we say this was our favorite course!
For Round 3, we were given Moretti La Rossa Beer and a Primitivo Red Wine. Both were darker than previous courses in order to stand up to the beef. But yet, they were still light enough to not overpower the pork or noodles.
For our group, this round went to Wine. When eating a heavier course (read: three kinds of meat), We prefer a drink that’s not as filling as beer. That said, it was continuously fun to see how the wines and beers were carefully chosen to reflect the ingredients.
Can’t fill up now — course 4 is on the way! With course 3 being the heaviest course, it was time to start winding down. Therefore the next selection was a Cheese Plate!
From left to right, we were presented with an aged Parmesan and Honeycomb, Gorgonzola and Tomato Chutney, and Provolone with Grapes. We were also given Grissini (crunchy Italian bread-sticks) to use with the cheeses. But pro tip: use that Italian bread we told you about earlier instead! It’s a much easier surface to pile on cheese and toppings.
All three kinds of cheese were delightful — with the Gorgonzola being our personal fave. It was lighter than an average blue cheese, but stronger than the provolone or Parmesan on the plate. No matter what you enjoy, this dish encourages you to mix and match ingredients and flavor combinations!
To go with the cheese platter, we were given another Red Blend as well as a Super “Floreale” beer. Both were very fruit-forward, which makes sense considering they were paired with cheese!
Color us surprised for the second time this meal, but we liked the beer more than the wine with the cheese! This was collectively our favorite beer of the day, and we were told it’s a Belgian Style Ale. (But still made in Italy of course.)
And now we come to the last course: DESSERT!
The last course was a Baked Doughnut topped with powdered sugar and filled with cream, and topped with an Amarena cherry.
The donut was the perfect dessert to close out our meal. It was a wonderful balance of rich and light — and wasn’t overwhelmingly heavy after a four-course meal.
The cream was fresh and tasted homemade. The pastry was flaky, yet it held up well to the cream filling. Overall, the dessert was the perfect sweet (but not too sweet) way to end the meal.
For our last round beverages, we received a Baladin Leon Beer and a sweet Moscato Wine. This time Laura, the Sommelier, was the cheeky one — she said her grandmother would roll in her grave at the thought of beer with dessert!
We have to say we agreed — the sweet wine (the only white wine of the day) was a perfect compliment to the donut. Perhaps we were full, but the beer just seemed too heavy with the donut, though we did love the notes of caramel.
As a close, we were encouraged to bring our menus with us — which we certainly did! We can’t wait to look for some of these wines at our local stores. Though I have a feeling, our home cooking won’t be quite as good. 😉
As we left Via Napoli, we were handed little containers of freshly baked Italian cookies as a fun takeaway.
Overall, this was a very leisurely and delicious experience. All in all, the meal took about 3 hours, so if you have limited time at the Food and Wine Festival, this may not be the best Special Event for you.
At $99 per person, it’s not an inexpensive meal by any means. But when you factor in that it’s an entire experience — complete with 5 very delicious courses and solid pours of wine and beer throughout — it’s a pretty decent value. We learned a lot about wine, beer, and Italian culture, enjoyed some delectable dishes (we’re still stunned by the octopus), and found new favorite drinks for our next visit to the Italian pavilion.
If you’re a big fan of Italian cuisine, want to learn more about wine or beer, or are looking for to try something different this year at Food and Wine, this event is certainly one you should consider during Epcot’s Festival!
Are you headed to a Special Event at the Food and Wine Festival this year? Let us know in the comments!