Wine-loving a fruitful passionA few years ago, sommeliers were hard to find in Korea as a bottle of 1953 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Today, Korean wine drinkers are challenge sommeliers by name-dropping labels from Bordeaux to Napa Valley to Coonawara. Computer-savvy enthusiasts go online to chat about their latest discoveries and organize meetings to enrich their viticultural experience.
Korea’s first official sommelier, Kong Seung-sik works at Vine (02-317-7151), a wine bar-cum-restaurant located on the lobby floor of the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul. His beginnings at the new location were tough, but he’s proud of his accomplishments.
These days Mr. Kong organizes weekly wine classes. For 160,000 won ($134), 15 or fewer participants can participate in four sessions. Each session includes a lecture on wine etiquette, three kinds of wine tasting and a three-course meal that matches the wines. Clients are roughly divided into two types, he says, either businessmen in their 40s and 50s who find wine tasting helpful for entertaining clientele, or professionals aged in their mid-20s to late 30s newly discovering the joys of wine.
Mr. Kong says most intermediate students are discovering wide varieties of delicate flavors in wine and the proper use of crystal glasses. Advanced students have begun to experiment with the use of decanters.
Yi Kyung-ok joined Mr. Kong’s wine class last year after reading a wine magazine. “I knew nothing about wine before,” she says. “Now, the more I know about the wine, the more I feel there can be no end to it.” The 34-year-old financial consultant at ING Korea says she enjoys meeting people at the classes, because they involve dinner and conversation in an amicable atmosphere.
Across the river on Cheongdam-dong Avenue in Gangnam, Casa del Vino (02-542-8003) has become the latest hallmark of new wine culture in Korea.
For the owner Eun Kwang-pyo, the discovery of wine seven years ago changed his life’s path, from a database analyst at IBM Korea to a wine importer and distributor. “I loved wine too much, but wine in Korea was too expensive to drink. So, I decided to import it myself and open a place where I can drink and dine freely,” he says.
With golden light glowing behind cream-colored marble panels on the wall, and the bar table on one side and cool silver stainless steel walls shimmering on the other, Casa del Vino is an upscale bar that has attracted droves of wine lovers.
Its glass-walled cellar can store up to 1,200 bottles; its wine list has 550 vintages from around the globe, and it is updated monthly.
As highly polished as the setting might be, the bar offers surprisingly reasonable prices and diverse varieties of wines to satisfy wine aficionados. Wines start at 11,000 won a bottle and go up to 3.3 million won for a 1999 Romanee Conti. Mr. Lee is the exclusive importer of the 1999 Les Hauts du Fief Crozes-Hermitage, which he sells for 30,000 won a bottle.
Mr. Eun’s company’s Bestwine Web site www.bestwine.co.kr has more than 15,000 members who chat about their enjoyment of wine. For a 50,000 won membership fee, participants can enjoy lectures, wine tastings, blind tests and evaluations. The Web site is also accepting online reservations for its “Chilean Great Wine” event scheduled for March 29.
Mr. Eun also organizes a monthly wine party at Casa del Vino. The next party is this weekend, to taste Les 5, or the five varieties of French Grand Cru Chateau wines from the Bordeaux region.
Outstanding food, wine highlight hotel events
A good wine and great food is a match made in heaven. So are vinters and hoteliers, who occasionally get together to showcase their best of both.
This Saturday and Sunday, the Shilla Hotel stages the Club de Cinq, a group of five Bordeaux vintners who are pairing their wines with a nine-course, black-tie dinner at La Continentale, the Shilla’s French restaurant.
On March 19, Antinori Wines and the Grand Inter-Continental Seoul will host a four-course dinner and tasting at Table 34. The feast, featuring Antinori’s oenologist Alessia Antinori and the food of chef Jens Heier, is 200,000 won per guest, inclusive of taxes and service charge.
On March 19, the Lotte Hotel Seoul will stage its Chaine des Rotisseurs, a seven-course dinner featuring dishes from around the world with libation to match. The dinner, in the Crystal Ballroom, costs 200,000 won ($167), inclusive of taxes and service.
On March 21 and 22, the Seoul Hilton will hold its quarterly Gourmet Circle dinner at Seasons, its French restaurant, and feature a seven-course dinner with a full compliment of wines. Dinner is 120,000 a person, exclusive of taxes and service.
At this weekend’s Club de Cinq at the Shilla, a 1999 Chateau Smith Haut Lafite white wine will accompany a cream of mussel soup. A fuller-bodied 1996 Chateau Smith Haut Lafite Pessac will be served with a truffle-infused custard with caviar-seared scallops and avacado salsa.
A 1995 Chateau Gazin Pomerol will accompany sauteed red mullet with mushrooms. A 1990 Chateau Branaire Ducru St. Julien goes with poached abalone and balsamic.
Two reds, a 1985 Chateau Canan La Gaffeliere St. Emillion and a 1982 Chateau Pontet-Canet Pauillac, will matched with rack of lamb and endive salad with gorgonzolla. Dessert is lemon financier with rice ice cream.
During the dinner, the winemakers will discuss the history of their wineries, wine characteristics and other topics related to food and wine.
The Shilla dinner starts at 7 p.m. The meal costs 220,000 won, inclusive of taxes and service charge. For more information or reservations, call (02) 2230-3369.
Inside the Grand Inter-Continental
6 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Vinoteque’s goal is to meld the wining and dining experience into a thoughtful and delicious whole.
Red wine costs 11,000 to 16,000 won ($9.20-13.30) a glass, and white wine costs 9,000 to 11,000 won. Vinoteque has a wine list with more than 200 selections and 12 house wines.
Each month, there is a Winemaker Dinner Party where winemakers from around the world introduce their products. Meals are chosen to complement the wines’ taste.
Couples who enjoy wines often reserve Vinoteque’s window seats, which have have a cozy ambiance.
The Wine Bar
Cheongdam-dong, across from the Gallery Department Store
6 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily
The Wine Bar’s interior is like a wine cellar ― a casual atmosphere, making it a relaxing place to spend an evening. The walls are decorated with wine-related artwork by the artist Ko Hee-seung. For people who aren’t that familiar with wines, a sommelier is available.
The bar stocks 150 wines, costing from 40,000 to 1.9 million won. The house wine is 9,000 won. Customers arriving before 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays get a free side dish of fruit.
Inside the Lotte Hotel
8 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday,
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday
Vine is where the renowned sommelier Kong Seung-sik can be found, along with six additional sommeliers. This wine restaurant has around 360 wines in its cellar, with recommendations on the menu to match wine and food.
The sommeliers also host a weekly wine class.
Vineola ― Jageun Podobat
Near Seodaemun subway station
Noon to midnight daily
Nearby office workers come during the day, while young couples fill the place at night.
The house wine costs 8,000 won, while other red and white wines begin at 6,000 won a glass. Red wine costs 35,000 to 65,000 won a bottle and white wine costs 30,000 to 80,000 won a bottle. The specialty here is the Canadian ice wine.
Near Hongik University
6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Margeaux is a definite change of pace from the Hongdae area’s usual clubbing and alternative art scene. The bar opened two years ago, and attracts a diverse crowd.
Margeaux stocks more than 300 wines, starting at 30,000 won a bottle. The house wine, which costs 7,000 to 8,000 won a glass, changes from time to time, along with the menu. Compiled by Min Byung-hee
9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and holidays
Wine Time opened its doors in 1997 with the intention of broadening Korea’s wine culture. The owners are striving for a cozy, relaxed atmosphere where customers can take the time to appreciate and learn about wine.
Beyond the stock, the store is known for service. Its staff refers to itself as “wine advisers.”
American and French wines make up 80 percent of the stock. From the beginning, the emphasis was on wines from Napa Valley, California, but interest quickly developed in other regions. Now Wine Time also has Chilean, Italian, New Zealand, German and Portuguese wine. Wine Time relies on the magazine “Wine Spectator” to rate and stock popular items.
The premises is often used for special wine events. There will be a wine tasting at the end of March, reserved for 30 guests.
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
For more than a decade, the Jell Deli was both a delicatessen and a wine shop. But in December, a new Jell Dell was unveiled that is part wine shop, part wine bar.
The owner Lee Je-chun says he made the changes so he can focus on his overwhelming passion ― wine. “Wine has such charm,” he says. He drinks “a couple dozen bottles” of wine a week he says, adding, with a wink, “Some of that is just tasting though.”
He favors the rich and deep taste of cabernet sauvignon from Bordeaux.
But he stocks 1,000 bottles, including Porta from Chile, his best seller. Jell is known for affordable prices. For the curious, the most expensive wine is a 1953 Chateau Mouton Rothschild (5.9 million won, or about $4,900).
Just two months ago, Mr. Lee launched a club. It costs 500,000 won to join, with an additional 500,000 won annual fee. Members get several privileges, including a party this Thursday at the Jell bar.
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
Cheongdam-dong (under the name Bottega del Vino)
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
The philosophy at the Sindong Wine Co. is bring “wine that’s truly wine” to Korea. Sindong offers competitive prices and a wide selection. The wines are from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the United States, Chile and New Zealand. While expensive wines are available, Sindong specializes in what the staff calls “standard wines.” Sindong stocks wines from such vineyards as Faively, E. Guigal, Torres and La Chablisienne, and champagne from Bollinger.
Compiled by Joe Yong-hee
With suggestions by Kim Min-seon at wine21.com and Kim Yeong-shim at winenara.com, both online wine communities
by Ines Cho