Haute class finds fashion accessory in a glassFor a few hundred elite members of Korean high society, the road to the world of elegance is paved with roses, quite literally. These days their celebrations of success are often manifested through haute consumerism: dressing up in designer evening gowns ― or tuxedos for men, of course ― and sharing their good lives with the country’s rich and famous at a sumptuous European-style gala dinner.
At the Shilla Hotel last Thursday evening, 220 guests, who were dressed in their absolute best, walked on white rose petals, sipping flutes of 1998 Dom Perignon. Beyond white organza curtains inside the Dynasty Hall awaited a sea of white orchids, candles and traditional table settings for a nine-course dinner. The brand-new look for the hotel and its largest function room, the Dynasty Hall, has added more glamour, said Lee Man-soo, the chief executive of the Shilla Hotel, during his welcome speech.
Since 2002, the annual Dom Perignon Gala Dinner, co-hosted by Mr. Lee and James Paton, the chief executive of Moet Hennesy Korea, has become one of the most-talked-about events in town, capturing a scintillating mix of exclusivity and elegance a la Korea. To be invited to the event, one must be listed in the hotel’s secretive database of about 5,000 clientele. Every year, of about 200 guests who turn up for the gala dinner, about 30 percent are invited by the hosts, and the rest purchase a ticket, which costs about $300 per person.
As for one of the most recognized champagnes in the world, Dom Perignon has long been at the top of the champagne list. While younger elites, under 30, douse themselves at all-you-can-drink promotional parties in trendy bars, the classier and well-established elite attend galas at which a champagne glass in hand is an essential fashion accessory.
Prestige at the Shilla Hotel was evident in exquisite French cuisine, which carried the earthy perfume of black truffles all evening. To enhance the varying tastes of the champagne, every year, Bernard Dance, who is a traveling chef for Dom Perignon and also a master of French cuisine associated with three-Michelin-star restaurants, collaborates with the hotel’s executive chef, Seo Sang-ho, also reputed for his refined French.
After a round of fruity 1998 Dom Perignon, which was matched with roasted scallops, white truffle oil and grated parmesan cheese and fillet of turbot with caviar, diners were introduced to the 1996 Dom Perignon Rose. Marking it as the wine’s “official launching” in Korea, Vincent Chaperon, one of the two winemakers for Dom Perignon, described the wine as the “jewel” of Dom Perignon.
Matching the more robust wine came subtly aromatic dishes: sauteed ceps (porcini mushrooms) with Serrano ham; salmon and black truffle, and lamb tian with raspberry sauce, beetroot straws and pan-sauteed girolles. Mr. Dance said he used 2.5 kilograms of fresh truffles from France.
When asked about Dom Perignon’s reputation, Mr. Chaperon said it comes from “a paradoxical balance of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.” Mr. Chaperon, 30, a graduate of the National College of Agronomy in Montpellier, joined Moet & Chandon in 1999. He moved to Dom Perignon three years ago, working closely with the Dom Perignon Chef de Cave, Richard Geoffroy, 50. Together they developed ways to appreciate Dom Perignon. “If my youth means innovation, then Mr. Geoffroy stands for the champagne’s long tradition, and that’s what’s captured in each bottle of Dom Perignon today,” said Mr. Chaperon, adding that back in Reims, they have served Thai, Mexican and even Moroccan cuisine with Dom Perignon.
As with many Euro-chic functions in Korea, the gala offered inside knowledge for its deep-pocketed patrons, which they can flaunt for years to come. For example, they all know now they must start looking for the 1999 Dom Perignon, to be introduced later this month in France and in Korea in January. And, above all, that the ultimate luxury is Dom Perignon’s “Vintage Dom Perignon Oenotheque” ― known as the “Black Dom,” and available in extremely limited quantities.
If there is no limit on one’s extravagance, which year in particular should one demand? “The 1973 and 1976,” came a furtive tip from the Dom Perignon winemaker.
by Ines Cho
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