How Did Disney End Up With One of the Best Wine Bars in America?

Here's how to taste the best wines of Bordeaux, Champagne, Piedmont, and beyond without leaving the United States.

Wine Bar George, at Walt Disney World, has more wines by the glass than anywhere else in the country

Courtesy of Wine Bar George

I will be totally honest with you: the first time a friend suggested she and I go to Wine Bar George just a few months after it opened in May 2018 at Walt Disney World, I was not interested at all. I love great wine and I love Disney, but up until that point, I had not seen a lot of overlap between the two. 

But as soon as I walked through the front doors with their gnarled vine handles, I knew I was somewhere special. 

“I wanted the feeling that this is an oasis, that you were walking out of Disney and into another place, another world,” says owner George Miliotes. The restaurant is in Disney Springs, the shopping and dining district that’s part of the Walt Disney World resort, but not in a park. “You walk in and you feel like you’re in Napa Valley, or you’re in Tuscany, or Provence, and the winemaker’s behind the bar and he takes you through their wares.” 

Miliotes is a master sommelier, one of only 273 worldwide who have ever had that title, and he’s running a wine program at the restaurant that’s unlike any other in America. Wine Bar George offers every one of the 140 wines on its list by the ounce, glass, and bottle. 

“There’s a place in England that has about 1,000 choices, but it’s a private club,” Miliotes says. “The other place is in Toulouse, France, and they do, like, 2,000 wines with Coravin. So it’s being done, but it’s not being done here.” 

Wine Bar George, at Walt Disney World, has more wines by the glass than anywhere else in the country

Courtesy of Wine Bar George

The restaurant’s menu is primarily small plates like miso-roasted vidalia onion, roasted pork belly with bourbon-honey glaze, and saganaki on fire, a showstopper appetizer that involves Greek cheese flambeed tableside. There are also a few entrees and family style dishes, and a “wine country brunch” on weekends with shakshuka and carmel apple French toast. But the food is designed to complement the wine, the way wineries build their tasting menus, and not the other way around. “You can try a little plate with whatever wine you want and we'll take you through the wine,” Miliotes says.

If the restaurant were in New York or Los Angeles, or even Dallas or Chicago, it would be splashed across magazine covers as a travel-worthy destination for wine lovers. But it’s at Disney, so it gets overlooked by serious wine lovers, or people who aren’t already inclined to visit a theme park.

“You can't go to Bordeaux and taste all five first growths from 2009, one ounce each,” Miliotes says. “You'd have to buy it at each winery, and then open the bottles yourself.” But you can at his restaurant. “I can't say in the beginning we saw this opportunity being as big as it was, but [eventually] we all had this idea that this could be something really special.”

The list has a lot of the famous names you’d expect — like a 2009 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild or Chateau Latour, both of which go for $900 a glass — but the real genius of Wine Bar George is the totally unpretentious atmosphere of the place, which still has an eye toward value. Every time I go, Miliotes asks me what I want to drink, and my answer is always: “What are you excited about right now?” He might pour a glass of Spanish rosé that he thinks is the best value on the market (right now, an $8 glass of Protocolo from La Mancha), or an even less-expensive selection from Bulgaria or Croatia.

“I like the idea that anybody can come in here and talk about wine,” Miliotes says. “One of the major drivers is that we are, for lack of a better way to put it, egalitarian about wine — because it is really easy to be snotty about it.” 

I’ve seen it myself, over and over: someone comes in and takes a seat at the bar, a little bit intimidated by the expansive list, unsure of what to order. “What do you like?” the bartender will ask. The person will name a varietal, and in a moment, three bottles appear on the bar.  The bartender will pour tastes of all of them and explain the differences between each. What they pick for the guest, almost every time, is a glass in the $10 to $15 range. 

Wine Bar George, at Walt Disney World, has more wines by the glass than anywhere else in the country

Courtesy of Wine Bar George

“Sometimes guests on their way out are like, ‘Wow, I never really thought that I’d come to a restaurant and learn something,’” Miliotes says. “That’s the highest iteration of good that could ever happen. That’s wonderful when somebody walks out and realizes, ‘There was something different about that experience than what I normally have.’” 

The unspoken part of that thought is that there’s something different about the experience than what people normally have at Disney. People often assume that a theme park is an experience inherently geared towards children, and that there’s nothing interesting or enriching for adults in that kind of trip. But in between the churros and the roller coasters and the cartoon mice, there are epicurean experiences that are truly memorable. 

Miliotes’ perspective on value at each price point is refreshing, especially considering how much prices at Disney parks and resorts have gone up in the last few years. “There are $9 glasses and there are $100 glasses,” he says. “They have to show value for what their price is…we are always looking for that unicorn that drinks outside of its price, because that’s the fun of it.” 

When talking about value, Miliotes points to a Selbach-Oster Riesling at $10 a glass. “Johannes Selbach is one of the greatest producers in Germany right now,” he says. “I love the producers that make little wines in addition to their big wines, and Johannes has never neglected the lower end of the market.”

Despite the number of pricier selections — like the Selbach-Oster "Trockenbeerenauslese" dessert wine that goes for $100 for a 3 oz. glass — Miliotes almost never recommends glasses at this price point, unless someone specifically asks for something high-end. “When a guest asks me what I'm drinking, [I’ll offer something] like the Chanrion Beaujolais that’s $12 for a glass right now,” he says. “That’s a world class red. That has every piece put together.”

That’s not to say that the more expensive selections are always a hard sell. “I joke that the average Disney guest is the easiest sell in the world,” he adds. “Because if you’ve been with your kids in the park all day long, what do you deserve? Buy the glass of wine or the drink you want, because you deserve it.” 

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