Nose Diving is a feature column, in which a novice wine writer fumbles toward grace.
My feet are dangling freely as we coast, hang-glider style, over the vast expanse of California below us. It’s a gloriously sunny day as we float by the majestic Golden Gate Bridge; seconds later, we’re looking down on the winding Redwood Creek watershed.
Then, it’s on to Napa. I think, “Mmm, let’s stop for a drink.”
And how fortuitous: Outside this popular simulator ride at Disney’s California Adventure — Soarin’ Over California, it’s called — the theme park’s fifth annual California Food & Wine Festival is just kicking off.
Scattered throughout the park are festival tents and pavilions, precious sidetracks for the 21-and-up set to steal away and enjoy some palate-teasing adventures of their own.
Image: Brioche French toast creme brulee with four-berry compote (Courtesy of my companion’s iPhone)
I’ve already spent the morning consuming what might be the most decadent breakfast of my life. The Sweet Sundays champagne brunch was conducted by the Disneyland Resort’s executive pastry chef, Jean-Marc Viallet, who lives in Rosemead and who also was once head pastry chef of the old Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel and Spa in Pasadena.
The lot of us at the sold-out event are seated around tables in one of the stages in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, and through the food Viallet is preparing, we’re getting pretty close to feeling like Hollywood royalty. (Even a few of the pastries we’re served are featured on the menu at Club 33, Disneyland’s very private, VIP-only club started by Walt Disney himself to accommodate elite sponsors.)
Image: Caramel-apple Charlotte, Brittany butter cookie
After a starter-buffet of traditional breakfast savories — quiche, croissant, fresh fruit, sausage, washed down with the crisp, refreshing Iron Horse Vineyards’ special Fairy Tale Cuve produced just for Disney — the sweet part begins.
First up was a brioche French toast creme brulee with four-berry compote. This, I am still fantasizing about. (First impressions: They go a long way.) The sweetly tart compote and crunchy mini toasts complemented the rich creme. With this, my dining companion and I tasted another sparkling Disney specialty: Magicale Brachetto, a bubbly ros, full of ripe cherries and berries, perfectly tuned to the sweet fare.
Image: Chipotle pot de creme, served in hollow, golden egg shell
Next was presented a gorgeously plated caramel-apple Charlotte and Brittany butter cookie, following by the tasting finale: a trio of chocolate desserts. This included Chocolate-raspberry ganache with gold chocolate pearls, a chipotle pot de creme — a spicy little number served in a hollow, golden egg shell — and French chocolate mousse. (The hostess of ceremonies, reading off a question card for the chef, mispronounced this final word as “mouse,” but quickly rebounded: “What? I can’t help it; I’m at Disney.”)
Sweet Sundays satisfied my inner child — the one that wanted cake and butterscotch pudding for breakfast — almost, almost as much as the “Monsters, Inc.” ride, during which I squealed with delight at every appearance of the fuzzy blue monster Sulley. (“Sulleeeeeeeeeeey!” Yes, that was me.)
Following the brunch, we set out to put some stamps in our wine-tasting passports. Fresh off the thrill of flying over California in a simulator, we headed straight for the wine walk dedicated to the state’s classic wine-growing regions. Ten bucks at the entrance to each wine walk earns you a taste of four wines, one from each region: Napa, Sonoma, Central Coast and Paso Robles.
We opened with a Beaulieu Vineyard 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a creamy wash of chocolate and earthen raspberries that slinks into a dry finish.
From Paso Robles, a San Juliette 2007 Petite Sirah was also a standout. I’m continually drawn to the spicy, fruity explosion that marks the best Petite Sirahs, and this was no exception. It goes down ripe and smooth, a stellar everyday wine.
Determined to put an international stamp in our wine passport — and I mean this literally, because Disney hands you a play, paper passport upon entry to each wine walk — my companion and I headed over to the Italian wine tasting center. Here, we sailed from Tuscany to Veneto and then to Apulia. Our final tasting was a Casa Abbazia Prosecco Spumante Gold, a return to sparkling, where we began our day at Disney. Cooling, sweet and rosy in the afternoon heat of almost-summer, this pink-tinged prosecco was a refreshing high point.
Back at the Star Lounge, a comfortable watering hole in the main food-and-wine festival showplace at California Adventures, we sink our teeth into some appetizers and drinks. I pick a Clos du Bois Tempranillo, a wine I can trust at $9.50 a glass.
My partner has gone off the rails; tempted by curiosity, he orders a habaero-lime margarita. It is, after all, a festival celebrating California.
More than half of the cocktail is gone by the time he returns from the food line. (Oops.) “Cheers!” I say, hoping he won’t notice.
Through May 31, disneyland.com
(Photos by Leo Jarzomb / Staff)