Jiko – The Cooking Place hosts a wine tasting each Wednesday afternoon from 3pm to 4pm. Erin and I attended the event last Wednesday, May the 3rd, prior to our Pandora preview. For the official word and to reserve online, see Disney’s page, here. It’s rather difficult to book the experience as it’s only scheduled once per week and limited to around a dozen guests. As I write this on the afternoon of May 8th, the next date with availability for two is June 28th, or about seven weeks in the future. Dates 5+ months out typically show up as being available on Disney’s online calendar, but they are typically not actually bookable until about four months before a given date. You’ll want to routinely check back to see when reservations open up or cancellations are made.
With Jiko beginning dinner service at 5:30pm, the restaurant will be largely or completely empty during the tasting, which offers a nice opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere and details in an even calmer setting than usual. Check-in for the tasting begins just before 3pm at the desk in front of the restaurant, which is located on the ground floor of the Lodge. Simply enter the main lobby and take a right after passing the resort store. There are elevators there or you can use the stairs down a bit further up on the right.
You’ll see Victoria Falls Lounge, which conveniently opens right as the wine tasting lets out, on the middle level.
This is a relaxing place to grab another glass of wine and some more cheese, particularly before Boma gets going at 5pm.
Then on the bottom floor you’ll see an empty Boma on the left and then Jiko on the right. If you’re visiting Animal Kingdom Lodge for the tasting, I’d recommend budgeting at least 30 minutes to walk around the resort and enjoy the savanna views before and/or after. There’s a ton to see.
If you’re planning on making a day of it, you might also consider the free daily Culinary Tour that visits Boma and Jiko and includes a little bite to eat in both locations. The 15-minute break between the end of the tasting and the start of the tour offers an opportunity to visit the bathroom and hit the flask.
For $31.25 after tax and tip, the tasting includes three samples of wine that are about half the regular pour, and three hunks of cheese, all of which are found on the Jiko menu. A little bit of honey, a couple bites of pumpkin seed brittle, a strawberry slice, and three house-made water crackers accompany.
The wines vary from week to week based on your sommelier guide’s mood and the weather. If it’s July, don’t expect to see a glass of bold cabernet, for example. On the left is Cederberg Bukettraube ($13/glass or $55/bottle at the restaurant), in the middle is Demorgenzon Cabernet Rose ($9 glass or $39/bottle), and on the right is Warwick “The First Lady” Cabernet Sauvignon ($45/bottle). So it’s about $16 worth of wine versus the restaurant price, assuming each pour is about 2.5 ounces versus the usual five ounces.
The sommelier starts with a brief history of South African wine, which dates all the way back to 1659 with the Constantia vineyard founded by the Dutch East India Company near Cape Town. There’s a short discussion of the Apartheid boycotts nearly destroying the wine business in the country that’s three times the size of California, before your guide gives the Walt Disney Company and Animal Kingdom Lodge credit for infusing enough money for the wine producers to continue.
After that, each wine and cheese is briefly introduced before the real theme of the afternoon takes hold, which is, “whatever you taste is fine.” As I’ve mentioned before, life is an expectations game, and my assumption was that this was going to be a bit more like “wine school,” rather than, “feel good about yourself even if you taste cigar box and dark plum in chardonnay and your favorite wine is Beringer White Zinfandel over ice.” So I wouldn’t go into the Jiko Wine Tasting expecting to learn much about tasting wine or what makes South Africa’s similar to varietals found elsewhere.
Instead, the focus is largely on trying each wine with each cheese to see how the flavors change and complement one another. And the cheese is a real highlight – all incredibly flavorful and interesting in their own right. There’s enough to get a large bite with each wine. There’s a little bit of discussion as the sommelier asked us who liked which wines with which cheeses and what we were tasting.
Each party was a pair of two people, but the event might be a good fit for a solo traveler looking for a little sociability. Everyone is typically friendly at these sorts of things.
Given the amount of wine and cheese offered, the $25 cost of the event (plus tax and tip) is more than reasonable. Jiko is always a pleasant setting and it was fun to have the room to ourselves along with the close attention of someone that obviously knew what they were talking about. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t learn a whole lot about wine, but if you go in expecting a low key conversation with some new friends, I think you’ll be delighted by the experience.
Here’s Jiko’s current dinner menu so you can get an idea about how much damage you could do for 25 bucks during regular hours:
Not a whole lot, though the Cederberg wine featured in the tasting is recommended along with the Seafood Curry.