Champagnes challenge luxury beverage marketFrom the glowing tower of the Asia Chow restaurant in southern Seoul, the message was clear: Watch out Moet & Chandon and the same label’s prestige Dom Perignon ― the reigning champions of champagne in Korea ― here come Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque and Mumm Cordon Rouge. Over two evenings on Friday and Saturday, there seemed to be a deluge of champagne. Celebrating the first anniversary of Naos Nova, the elegant bar and lounge located at the foot of Namsan on Saturday evening, the proprietor Kyle Lee also introduced his French favorites, Piper Heidseick and Souverain, Henriot, as well as kir royales made with Moet & Chandon.
Why the overflow of bubbles? Mr. Lee said, “People are getting used to a party culture where champagne is poured, and more restaurants serve champagne these days. Also aggressive marketing helped created the current boom. One of the trendy things to do in town has been going out to brunch and it usually comes with a glass of champagne.”
The belated arrival of more world-renowned premium champagnes, such as Perrier Jouet and Mumm’s, in Korea means the market may be ripe for rigorous expansion ― all thanks to the early pioneers and promoters who tried hard to ingrain authentic champagne into the life of well-heeled Koreans. For decades in Korea, champagne was considered a foreign custom one saw only on the silver screen; or it was a $3 peach-flavored fizzy reserved for teenagers’ birthday parties.
Champagne exporters, such as Jean-Etienne Gourgues, Perrier Jouet’s Europe and Asia director, are glad the era of imitation is over. “Designed to reflect the Deco motif found everywhere in Parisian streets, I can say, Perrier Jouet captures sparkles of Paris!” said Mr. Gourgues, who was born, raised and resides in Paris. Mr. Gourgues was accompanied by Herve Deschamps, a chef de caves, or champagne master, to a trade event at the W Seoul Hotel on Sunday. Both Pierre-Jouet and Mumm’s are already on the list of major five-star hotels in Seoul and are rapidly entering upscale restaurants and bars, now that there is a demand for choices in champagne.
Mimicking the iconic red ribbon motif on Mumm Cordon Rouge, the first floor of the Asia Chow restaurant was covered with red, and the champagne was poured into tulip glasses lit up in red.
If the first floor was all red, the third floor was the green of Belle Epoque design. There, bottles of 1998 Perrier Jouet were served in glasses embellished with pink anemone blossoms, as in the emblematic Art Nouveau bottle design by legendary glass artist Emile Galle. A blend of 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent Pinot Noir and 5 percent Pinot Meunier, the light golden drink embraced elegantly rounded flavors of peach, honey and pear. Will Korean consumers buy the haute bubble at premium market price?
Selling upscale champagne in Korea could mean sharing in the already saturated luxury beverage market, now dominated by spirits. Both Mumm’s and Perrier-Jouet are distributed by Jinro Ballantines, a Korean company specializing in the Ballantine’s, Imperial and Chivas Regal brands, and the company’s international marketing director, Donagh McHenry, says the new business reflects the changing lifestyle in Korea. “We’re hoping people who would drink premium whiskey will opt for champagne as well,” he says, adding that Pierre-Jouet will be “slightly” more expensive than Dom Perignon. Piper Heidseick, Henriot and Mumm’s will be in the Moet & Chandon price range.
Back at Naos Nova, which boasts the most extensive champagne list in Seoul, Mr. Lee observes that these days it is very often Korean men who order champagne ― in place of hard spirits. So, what’s going on there? “Champagne was introduced to women first, you know. When women drink champagne, their boyfriends follow,” he said, smiling.
by Ines Cho