With the exception of the Magic Kingdom — which didn't serve any alcohol at all until 2012, and even now only serves it in only one impossible-to-get-into restaurant, and only at dinnertime — Walt Disney World is an astonishingly alcohol-forward theme park.
It's easy to get drunk with Mickey ears on, but how easy is it to get drunk on good stuff? Cocktail lists throughout the park tend to be oversweet and overfussy, but when it comes to wine and beer — and some specialty spirits — there are treasures to be found. We asked some of America's top beverage experts to help us find the shiniest gems on some of Disney World's most popular lists.
Jiko - The Cooking Place
Analyzed by Ruen Ellis, wine director at Madiba, New York
Jiko is an African-inspired restaurant serving exclusively South African wines; the 120+ bottle list is the largest collection of South African wines available in the United States.
This is a comprehensive list, and Jiko doesn't skimp. The restaurant focuses on the new guard, epitomizing both trend and predominant wine production out of the Western Cape, with notable bottlings from Cape Point Sauvignon Blanc ($57) and Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, one of South Africa's best. If you're celebrating you must try The Ring by Phililp Jonker ($57) or treat yourself with the Sadie Family Collumella ($180) out of the Swartland. Classics feature strongly too, with the presence of veritable Red Blends — perhaps the most iconic and strongest representation on the list. At Jiko, a good balance exists between superstar value options like the Bayten Sauvignon Blanc out of Constantia ($45) to slightly more upscale bottles such as Lizelle Gerber's Elgin Boschendal Chardonnay ($85). And try the Chenin Blanc, perhaps South Africa's flagship cultivar, with offerings from Raats and DeMorgenzon. This is a wine safari at comfortable prices.
La Cava de Tequila
Analyzed by Jason Eisner, beverage director at Gracias Madre, Los Angeles
This tequila bar inside the Mexico pavilion is perpetually packed, with most guests ordering one of their too-sweet margaritas. But there's an extensive by-the-glass tequila list.
I try to stray from purchasing spirits that can be found behind the counter at my local CVS. But I like to look for the good in things, so here are a few gems that I'd like to point out. Casa Dragones Joven is a small batch luxury tequila. The juice is hand-finished in a unique way, by methodically blending blanco tequila with aged varieties, which creates a complex and sophisticated experience that is still highly approachable. This is tequila for people looking to have an amazing night, and not for ballers on a budget. Also on the list is Siembra Azul, one of my all-time favorite tequilas. The spirit is spectacular. Look to get an authentic and lovely tequila experience here for a great price.
Flying Fish Café
Analyzed by Cedric Nicaise, Wine Director at Eleven Madison Park, New York
Inspired by the Jersey Shore of old, Flying Fish Café's menu is heavy on seafood. The wine list plays a starring role, with a wine-oriented chef's tasting menu and a few dozen a la carte flights.
This is a place that I think a lot of people would be really happy to drink wine. Lots of interesting choices, some great unknown varietals. Kerner Abbazia Di Novacella, Alto Adige Italy '14, is a really great fresh white wine, and at $53 a bottle you can take a chance on it. There are also some good options on the more straightforward types of wines, like Michel Louis and Fils, Chablis '13, a benchmark for Chablis, the wines are always delicious and like the Kerner, at $70 it's a good value. I love Chardonnay, and they offer a nice variety in styles. If someone leans a little richer than I do, Neyers 304, Sonoma '12 will work: It's an all-stainless steel wine, no oak. It's a great balance of New World ripeness without vanilla and toast. In reds, Beaujolais Domaine Diochon Moulin a Vent, Vieilles Vignes '13 is a no-brainer for me. I love Beaujolais, and in the heat of Florida I wouldn't want anything richer. Flying Fish also offers a reserve list — there's a Krug for $240, and if you have the money to spare after a day in the park, this maybe the best-value full bottle of Krug anywhere.
Analyzed by Ryan Sweeney, owner of Verdugo Bar, Los Angeles
An authentic Irish pub — shipped to Florida brick-by-brick from Dublin — Raglan Road is generally considered to have the best beer list in all of Disney World.
Looking over the Raglan Road Beer list I was happy to see that they attempted to go beyond the BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors) plus Guinness formula that I would have expected at a large theme park. Adding major Irish brewing brands like Smithwicks and Kilkenny to the Irish-themed tap list was predictable, but I was surprised to see categories for both Irish and American craft beers. If you want to keep to the Irish theme, I still think a pint of Guinness Stout is the way to go, but if you're looking for the standouts of the this list, try the Hopsecutioner from Terrapin brewing out of Georgia, a solid American IPA with a 7.3 percent ABV, or The Old Chub Scottish Ale from Colorado's Oskar Blues brewery, a sweet and malty ale that has a hefty 8 percent ABV. Although both are pretty pricey for 12-ounce pours, they're still worth the purchase.
Victoria & Albert's
Analyzed by Bobby Stuckey, co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder
Disney World's flagship fine dining restaurant is tasting-menu only, with options starting over $150, and a wine list to match.
Victoria & Albert's has some gems, but you need to leave the comfortable zones of Burgundy and California and head to Loire, Alsace, and Austria. Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Fredric Emile — with some age on the 2001 vintage — is a steal at $95. Alzinger 2004 Riesling is another great way to drink some world class wine for a steal at $100. Baumard Savienres, $55, is another way to enjoy a night out and feel good about it.
Analyzed by Jon Leopold, sommelier at Alinea, Chicago
At this Northern California-inspired restaurant, servers are encouraged to bring multiple bottles to diners' tables so they can freely taste until they land on a bottle they like.
There are some very good bottles here at multiple price points. Some excellent Champagne, including one of my personal favorites: Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV at $140. The list of Rieslings is short, but includes Albert Boxler 2011 and Domaine Weinbach Cuvée St. Catherine 2009 from Alsace, as well as Selbach-Oster 2012 from the Mosel. All of these Rieslings are less than $100. The rest of the list focuses mostly on California, unsurprising given the restaurant's name, with a smattering of other wines, mostly European. For white, I recommend Walter Hansel "North Slope" Chardonnay 2010 for $89. Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 from the Sonoma Coast at $150 is a solid pick. As is the 2013 Banshee Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa for $90 and Turley "Old Vines" Zinfandel 2010 for $115. Their "Interesting Reds" section, which is where Italian and Rhone varietals other than Syrah are put, has G. D. Vajra Barolo 2010 for $89. Also good is Numanthia 2010 from Toro for $110.
Block & Hans
Analyzed by Cory Lane, partner at the Cannibal, New York
This quick-service kiosk outside the otherwise not-great America pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase refers to itself as "purveyors of fine American ale."
It's a good six-bottle list. They're thoughtful in covering the spread stylistically, and working with solid producers. Bells Oberon is a fantastic beer and having the brewery for Key West Southernmost Wheat that close you can almost guarantee its fresh beer. All in all, I wouldn't have any trouble drinking off this list all day while crushing Mickey-shaped pretzels with cheese sauce, perhaps two at a time.