[Summer's Choice] Red, white, rosé or bubbly - a guide to where to sip in Seoul

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[Summer's Choice] Red, white, rosé or bubbly - a guide to where to sip in Seoul

Soju is no longer the drink du jour in Korea. Wine is seeing an increase in popularity and with more and more chefs and sommeliers working and studying overseas before coming back to Korea to work, getting a bottle or at least a glass of wine to accompany your food is now common place. 
 
Now, with the arrival of so-called natural wine in Korea, wine lovers have even more options to choose from. The style made with minimal human intervention, generally tends to drink more easily without tough tannins, which come from the skins, stems, and seeds of the grapes used to produce the wine and add a bitter taste. Many compare the taste of natural wine to sour beer or even juice.
 
With the increase in the popularity of wine has come a burst in bars and restaurants opening to meet demands, whether its for the more classical-style or the trendy natural wines. Such restaurants aim to offer good quality food to match with good quality wine while various wine bars offer different ambiances for wine connoisseurs to choose from.
 
For wine lovers who want to check out the scene in Seoul, below is a list of 20 bars that are trending right now. Of course there are many more out there but this list is a great starting point and if you'd like to venture out further, talk to the sommeliers or managers of these establishments to find the restaurant or bar that fits your likes. 
 
This list also includes places where you can bring your own wine so if you've been saving a bottle for something special check out some of these places where you can pop the cork! 
 
 
Jungsik Cafe
Located on the first floor of Michelin-two-starred restaurant Jungsik, the cafe serves wine all day alongside other small bites, desserts and coffee. It has a more casual vibe with a terrace that resembles a greenhouse in the back. Large groups are welcomed as well as lone drinkers as bar seats are available. The wine list the cafe has is simpler than what’s available at the restaurant but still carries a lot of options, all served by sommeliers. It also offers blind tastings from time to time, and those who guess the wine correctly win a prize of a premium Zalto wine glass. 

Gangnam District, southern Seoul
jungsikcafe_ 
 
Antitrust [JANG JIN-MO]

Antitrust [JANG JIN-MO]

Antitrust
Although this is a restaurant, it is widely known among wine fans as the corkage fee is relatively cheap compared to other restaurants in Seoul because it charges per number of glasses used rather than by the number of bottles people bring in. It is often visited by wine connoisseurs who want to pair special wines from their own cellars with a high quality meal. Food at Antitrust is prepared by chef Jang Jin-mo, who was awarded a Michelin star with his previous restaurant Myomi, and is also a consultant for many food-related TV dramas. Food can be ordered à la carte or as part of a set menu, and a good list of champagne and other wines is also available. Glasses of wine range from 6,000 ($5.00) to 12,000 won. It is also suitable for group dinners as the restaurant has a second story, which can be rented out in its entirety. It hangs the works of local artists to create a more aesthetic vibe.  
Yongsan District, central Seoul
antitrust_seoul 
 
Melange
Compared to other fancy and often overpriced wine bars located in the heart of Gangnam District, Melange is a more low-key affair, with a strong wine list that mixes natural and conventional wines. The owner uses his experiences working at fine dining restaurants to make excellent recommendations to customers. This is the place to go when you’re in the mood for a laid back and relaxed vibe but still want to enjoy some good quality wine. 
It is also where many local sommeliers gather after work so you may see some familiar faces. It is usually quite calm, so some come alone and read a book or get some work done by the bar. For large groups that want privacy, there is a separate room available.  
Food is served until 1 a.m. and closing time is 2 a.m. but it is better to call or DM before you visit, because sometimes it closes earlier than advertised.   
Gangnam District, southern Seoul 
melange_wine_bar
 
Maison Jo
Currently, one of the most difficult places to get a reservation, what once started as a charcuterie shop has now started to cater to customers who want something warm to eat with their wine. It recently moved to a spot closer to the Seoul Arts Center in Seocho District, southern Seoul, and now has four tables to serve guests. It almost never has room to take walk-ins as the space is so compact and most tables are reserved in almost one month in advance. The ambience here is cozy as if you are dining at your relatives’ ranch in the countryside. Since the owner couple used to live in France, they list many of the French wines that they used to enjoy and that are available in Korea. Here, if you want to sit down, ordering at least one bottle of wine is a must. There is no wine offered by the glass. The sommelier at Maison Jo is known to be the most knowledgeable about natural wine in Korea. Some French desserts, such as canelés and gateaux basque are available as well. They also run a wine shop so you can buy the same wine you enjoyed at the restaurant to take home.  
Seocho District, southern Seoul
maison_jo_
 
Big Lights
 
Big Lights [BIG LIGHTS]

Big Lights [BIG LIGHTS]

Big Lights is probably the most visited bar in Korea by natural winemakers. It has hosted many dinners in collaboration with winemakers from overseas who are on trips to Korea to meet local fans. It is often referred to as one of the first natural-wine-only wine bars in Korea, and carries a large selection. It recently moved its location from the heart of Itaewon out to Hannam and is now located close to the D Museum, on the second floor. It even runs a bottle shop and café next door. The bar is dog friendly as the owner herself is a pooch lover. It is open on weekdays and Saturday afternoons.  
Yongsan District, central Seoul
biglights_seoul
 
Bar Piknic  
Sister bar to Michelin-starred restaurant Zero Complex, the Bar Piknic carries quite an extensive selection of natural wines in Korea, as Zero Complex is one of the forerunners serving natural wines in the country. Zero Complex is a fine dining restaurant located in the same building. A French sommelier from Alsace, France, who speaks French, English and a little bit of Korean, chooses and manages the list while working at the restaurant above as well. Food served here is simple and served in small portions so that one can have fun ordering multiple dishes to fill up. Also housed in the building is a gallery named Piknic, so many spend their day appreciating the artwork on display before winding down with a glass of wine at the bar.   
Jung District, central Seoul
barpiknic 
 
Ichon Bar
Fans of Italian wines should head here. The owner of the bar is an Italian wine expert who also runs a company that imports wine from the region. Many of Italian winemakers used to gather here to end the night, pre-coronavirus times, when they were visiting for work. The wine bar is located in the residential area of Ichon-dong, central Seoul’s Yongsan District, so maybe not as convenient for you to visit, but the extensive wine list will make the journey more than worth the trip.  
Yongsan District, central Seoul
ichonbar 
 
Wildduck Canteen
This is the place to go when in Haebangchon, often referred to as HBC among expats. The expat-heavy area has all kinds of bars and restaurants, but Wildduck Canteen is one of the busiest of them all, catering to both locals of the area and those coming from elsewhere. The food served there is simple and it also offers a charcuterie plate provided by Maison Jo. The music played at Wildduck Canteen creates the ambiance that its Friday night every night. Natural wines are dominant here.  
Yongsan District, central Seoul
wildduck_canteen 
 
Soi Mao
Who says you can't pair wine with spicy food? At Soi Mai, Thai food is served alongside all kinds of quality wines, mostly natural and some classical. Sister restaurant to popular Tuk Tuk Noodle Thai in Yeonnam-dong, northwestern Seoul, this place is beloved by foodies who want to end the night with something spicy or a hearty beef noodle soup to try and ward off an impending hangover. Even if you came for soup, you will find yourself ordering more, such as Thai sausages and other marinated meat as well as a bottle of wine or two. Another spot often frequented by local chefs and sommeliers looking for something hearty late at night as it serves food until 1 a.m.
Gangnam District, southern Seoul
soi_mao 
 
Geumnam-vin [GEUMNAMVIN]

Geumnam-vin [GEUMNAMVIN]

Geumnam-vin
This restaurant and bar is located right next to Geumnam Market and serves dishes inspired by classical Korean food minus the spice factor. Serving dishes made with ingredients fresh from the market, this small restaurant with about three tables and bar seats makes you feel like you are in your own neighborhood. The casual vibe with loud music also helps you relax after a long day. Some may think that the restaurant feels like a spot they may have passed on the streets of Paris, as the owners here used to live in Paris and tried to recreate the vibe while serving something that tastes Korean. Natural wine only.  
Seongdong District, central Seoul
geumnam_vin 
 
Les Clefs de Crystal

Les Clefs de Crystal

Les Clefs de Crystal
One of a handful of places that can be seen as a more classical style of a wine bar in Korea, with professional sommeliers ready to serve wine. Four sommeliers are behind the bar to cater to the needs of wine connoisseurs, whether you want a budget wine or to splurge on something special. While the overall vibe is more somber and may seem intimidating at first sight, after talking with the sommeliers about your past wine experiences and hearing theirs, you'll find the overall experience to be very informative and even educational. The head sommelier at Les Clefs de Crystal won the Korea Sommelier of the Year competition last year. It has a membership system as well, and the members’ area is completely separate from the space open to the public. To become a member it is necessary to pay an annual fee.   
Gangnam District, southern Seoul
lesclefsdecrystal 
 
Clos de Yong
Clos de Yong is another very classic style of wine bar in Seoul with a sommelier that has a few decades of experience. He knows the ins and outs of how the wine scene has changed in Korea, so if you're interested in better understanding the wine history of Korea or talking a walk down memory lane, spend some time chatting with him. Only bar seats are available as the sommelier runs the place by himself. No food is on offer but customers can order in any kind of food if they are hungry. A dried mushroom snack is served. It is usually quiet without loud music, so it’s good for a couple of people to visit together for some chat. Mostly classical style wines, now commonly known as conventional, are available but some natural wines are offered as well.
Gangnam District, southern Seoul
clos_de_yong 
 
Tas
Tas [TAS]

Tas [TAS]

The owner and chef of Tas, who used to work at the Four Horsemen in New York, is passionate about delivering simple food that is easily matched to wine. As a wine connoisseur himself, he hosts different wine dinners in collaboration with local importers and has previously even invited some of the wine makers from overseas during their visit to Seoul before. There is no wine list. All the wines available are featured on a shelf on one side of the wall in the restaurant with the price of each marked on the bottle. The casual vibe makes you think that you can come here every day for a plate and a bottle to share with friends for dinner or even for a quick bite after dinner time.   
Mapo District, northwestern Seoul
tas.seoul 
 
Mirror [MIRROR]

Mirror [MIRROR]

Mirror
Mirror carries all natural wine with small bites. The inside is quite dark to create an intimate ambiance where one can enjoy a glass or two of wine and some small plates. The owner chef does everything here from welcoming guests, cooking the food and serving wine, as this is a one-person restaurant. Only bar seats are available as the space is tight. The chef tries to use a variety of ingredients not widely used in elsewhere in Korea yet, such as sweetbreads. The chef names his food Mirror cuisine, and the restaurant has many avid followers.  
Seocho District, southern Seoul
mirror_seoul
 
Palais de Chine
Despite the assumption that its expensive to buy wines sold at restaurants inside hotels, this Chinese restaurant offers a variety of prestigious wines at competitive prices. Located inside the L'escape Hotel, Palais de Chine offers food in consultation with Mott 32 in Hong Kong, and has many different a la carte options. It also has a dog-friendly section where owners can enjoy their lunch and dinner with their pets. The hotel’s other restaurant, the more fine-dining style L’Amant Secret, also carries an extensive wine list that is well priced.   
Jung District, central Seoul
lescape_hotel
 
Scuro
Another Italian-wine-heavy bar is in the fashion mecca of Garosu-gil in Sinsa-dong. Located on a less busy street behind the main road, Scuro offers everything that has to do with Italian food and wine. With the owner also running a company that imports wine, the bar has an extensive list. While the bar is pretty casual, the sommeliers here wear suits. With a variety of pasta dishes inspired by each region of Italy alongside different types of cured ham, the bar shows how great an Italian experience is available in Korea. 

Gangnam District, southern Seoul
scuro.co.kr
 
Osteria Orzo After 8  
Osteria Orzo recently renovated its wine bar After 8 and reopened. The bar is right across from Osteria Orzo, on the second floor. Those who missed their chance to dine at Orzo due to limited seating and opening hours can simply stroll over to After 8 to enjoy food and wine until late. Here you can find a mix of more classical and natural style wines alongside plates of hearty pasta. Although its name is After 8, the bar opens at 6 to welcome guests who want to start early and opens until 1 a.m. for those who want to stay until late.  
Yongsan District, central Seoul
orzo_after8
 
Cucciolo Terazza
As expected from its name, the bar has a big terrace area where diners can feel the breeze and enjoy the open sky as they sip their wine and eat their food. Mostly serving natural wine, the bar is particularly popular when the weather permits. It serves Italian dishes ranging from sandwiches to pasta and is one spot that opens from lunch time to cater to those who want to start their wine experience a bit earlier in the day. You can find some wines exclusive to Cucciolo Terazza here, as the Cucciolo Group that runs the restaurant imports wine but only distributes the bottles to its own restaurants and bars. It is also known as a great spot for some celeb-spotting.

Gangnam District, southern Seoul 
cucciologroup
 
Cafeteria La Luna
The newest spot on the list, Cafeteria La Luna is a must visit before it gets too warm outside. Sister restaurant to pizzeria Darobe, where people line up for hours for slices of Italian style pizza, Cafeteria La Luna offers Spanish tapas style small bites. While the wine list itself isn’t so big, there are some bubbles and whites to help you to stay cool during the summer nights. Since it has been about a month since it opened, the restaurant is still in the process of adding more dishes to the menu. While the Seongsu area where the restaurant is located is generally pretty busy, the back alley La Luna is located in is relatively quieter, so its easy to relax while you sip and nibble.
Seongdong District, central Seoul 
cafeteria_laluna 
 
Otrec
Otrec is seeing a surge in popularity among foodies. Located in Euljiro in central Seoul, which has become known as a trendy area for food and drinks in the past couple of years, the restaurant opened last year in a building that had no obvious signs of housing a restaurant. This trend is common for the eateries popping up in the area, similar to the speakeasy style bars that were trending about five years ago. It has been getting more of the spotlight recently with its food prepared by chefs who have experience cooking in Europe. The wine list is still relatively weak compared to other well established restaurants and bars in Seoul, but Otrec is one of the more serious wine spots in the Euljiro area. It has been trying to diversify its wine menu, so you can expect to see more in the coming weeks and months. 
Jung District, central Seoul
otrec_seoul
 
BY LEE SUN-MIN   [summerlee@joongang.co.kr] 
 
 
 
 
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