Friday, June 29, 2007

Drinking in Korea

Warning, this post may be a little unfair.

I am, currently, a little dispirited(pun intended) with the state of drinking in Korea. As I stated last post it is very much a story of liquids to make you drunk. Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for getting drunk. Dylan Thomas, Oliver Reed, Jeffrey Bernard, Noah, Homer Simpson. Drunks are great company. When you are drunk. You can't be a student of wine without appreciating the effects of alcohol, something many wine writers seem to glaze over, but there is a caveat. That is, there should at least be some pleasure, real sensual pleasure, in the consumption of the alcohol. Not solely in the pleasure of a temporary suicide(thanks Bertrand Russell).

Drinking in Korea is all about getting wasted. I understand(for understand read: am aware of) the cultural nuances behind the drinking culture. I understand why Soju is so popular in the same way that I understand why white ciders are so popular in the UK. Money counts. I understand why Koreans want to drink beers that are brewed in Korea by Koreans. What I don't understand is why it is all so bad. Surely, with the economic growth in Korea, with the raising of living standards, with Sparkling Korea there could be a market for Soju that is not just made through dilution by mixing pure ethanol with water and flavoring. Surely there could be a market for a beer that tastes of something other than chemicals. A true quality spirits industry? Good quality wines, red and white at reasonable prices in every city. A country that has such an important cultural role for drinking should surely have a market for drinks above the industrial? Arirang TV each day has artisans of Korea making dresses, musical instruments, hats......Where are the artisan brewers? The artisan distillers?

I will admit that I am no expert on traditional Korean drinks, but what I see and have tasted that is available in most supermarkets does not instill much confidence. I think about Korea's neighbours, Japan, with their wonderful Sake, Whisky and beer producers and I wonder why can I not see this here. Why are people drinking Soju out of juice cartons with straws? Why was I drinking a beer last night with added fibre(produced by Hite....Called S......Added fibre......S.Hite indeed!)?

Drinking is a pleasure of the senses. Korea seems to offer only senseless drinking.

I tell you what though, the above post is most likely the result of too much S.Hite last night. I'll be revelling in the Korean drinks industry later tonight!

Two wines to report on this weekend. A big, oaky Chardonnay from South Africa and a very surprising Vins de Pays d'OC Viognier.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Weeks Drinking

Moulin De Gassac, Vin de Pays de l'Herault(Pictured)
2004, France 15,000W. Enoteca, Galleria Department Store

Chateau Puech-Haut, Saint-Drezery, Rose
2004, France, 29,000W. Enoteca, Galleria

Morande, Terrarum, Chardonnay
Cassablanca Valley, Chile, 2004. 25,000W Hanam-si wine shop.

3 bottles to report on then, though I won't be going into great detail as I took notes for none of these bottles. It's been a tough week!

The first 2 are both from the Languedoc in the south of France, both come under the more localised appelations than Vins de Pays d'Oc. The white is de l'Herault the pink, Coteaux du Languedoc.
Both were very pleasant little wines.
The Gassac was a Sauvignon Blanc from old vines(Vielles Vignes), the older the vine the lower the crop the better the wine. So, I was hoping this would be great. It was good. A crisp, clean, understated Sauvignon with a touch of minerality. It is on offer at 15,000w and offers a nice contrast to the big, brash, New Zealand SBs. Much more subtle but perhaps a little too subdued to be a memorable wine.

The rose was a hot day purchase. Why I think a rose is going to be refreshing on a hot day I don't know. I am seduced by the pink I guess. It is a lovely salmon pink as well. It really is appealing in the glass. The nose is nice and fruity and ever so slightly confected, there is almost a candied cherry character to it. On the palate it is a tale of sour cherries with some of the confection coming through. Interestingly I served it too cold and it really opened up as it warmed up in the glass. Not bad then but perhaps a little expensive for what you get.

The final wine was a reward for a stressful Friday. It is a nice ripe Chardonnay. Melon, yes, fat juicy melon, on the nose and a nice creamy mouth feel. A little citrus, plenty of tropical fruit and some well integrated oak, there is just a touch of vanilla. This can probably be found much cheaper in Seoul and if so is well worth picking up.

There you go, short and sweet. 3 bottles that might be worth your time. Roast beef for dinner today so I hope to pick up an Argentinian Malbec. We will see.

I have been reading one of my many Wine and Spirit publications today and it has really brought home to me the dire state of the drinks industry here. From the beer through the the spirits it is a tale of mass produced, foul tasting, drunk making beverages. I will admit to being ignorant of the more traditional spirits however(something I would love to remedy). If I can find the time and energy a close look at the drinks business here might be in order.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

On the up.

I was determined to have a good day yesterday. Despite staying out much too late on Friday drinking the shocking draught beer I made it to Apgujeong to meet the SO. We headed straight to the Enoteca wine shop, located downstairs in the East building of Galleria department store. It is a nice store, airy and spacious with a well presented wine selection. As you might expect the focus is on high end French wine, Galleria is a store for the moneyed Koreans, but there are also a selection of monthly wines reduced to some reasonable prices. Pouilly Fumes reduced to 24,000w are pretty appealing. Perhaps this is why they had sold out. They were doing a sparkling wine tasting which was unfortunately fully booked but we gave details so we will hopefully get to experience one of their future events.
I bought two wines from the Languedoc, a rosé from a respected producer and a Sauvignon Blanc. Two bottles, 44,000w. Not too bad. I will report on them in the week but the pink is a refreshing, fruity, sour affair that may need food...

Yesterday was far too hot to be pounding the streets so we dived into a bar called Abbey Road that is just off Rodeo Street. It is a nice bar, I have no idea what the connection to Abbey Road is but it feels a long long way from a traditional English boozer. It has a really nice garden area and lots of open inside areas, the inside outside basically. I was drinking Hoegarden myself, the wine list was average and over priced, but the SO had the house white. She said it was revolting. Near the end of her glass I decided to have a sniff. It was corked. We agreed that she really needs to trust her nose more. She assumed it was just a bad wine whereas in reality it was spoiled. The corked wine is the one that has appeared at the top right of the blog. So, at least it looked nice.

We decided to hunt down some food but happened upon Once in a Blue Moon, a Jazz bar. I am not a big jazz fan but we had read a lot about this place and it sounded interesting. It's a pretty nice place, dark, comfortable with a stylish 1920's interior. It feels a long way from the more traditional Korean bars. The food is expensive! So was the wine. The closest thing to good value was a Muga Reserva, which weighed in at 84,000w. A fairly hefty price tag then, but Muga is a good Rioja producer and given the price of some very average wines elsewhere on the list it did represent value of a sort. We were in the mood for white though and so plumped for a Macon Village at 55,000w. That is a mighty mark-up for a Macon, you could get some far more illustrious Burgundies for that sort of money. The wine was opened with a level of ceremony that a Macon Village is probably not worthy of. Our waitress sniffed the cork and presented it to me, I dutifully ignored it, there is absolutely nothing to be learned from the cork. It was a pleasant enough little Chardonnay. Light, slightly nutty citrus and apples. Had the length of Sheffield United's stay in the Premiership. There really isn't a lot to be said about it except that I did detect a bit of cheesiness about it. I had been drinking in the sun though, so, you know, my radar may have been a bit out. If you have the cash to spare I would definitely recommend it as a place to go though. I think drinking Champagne in there would be a pretty pleasurable experience.

Speaking of Champagne, why aren't there any Champagne bars in Apgujeong? It would make a killing. Absolute. Conspicuous consumption is Agpujeong. What says wealth better than Champagne. In fact, if there are any venture capitalists reading, get in touch. I'll make us rich. A Champagne and Oyster bar. Dark, stylish and expensive. Seriously, this time next year......

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Bad Week

I wasn't drinking the above.

I have had a nasty cold for the second half of this week and I had two dreadful bottles of wine at the beginning of the week. It could be related?

The first was a white Bordeaux. I was tricked into buying it as the GS Supermarket near work had suddenly expanded their wine selection. It was Saint-Angel and I forget the name of the region in Bordeaux. I know it was an area close to Entre deux Mers and I found out after that it is an area noted for reasonably priced, reasonable wine. It had the wonderful phrase Cuvée Prestige on the label, which means absolutely nothing. Cuvée means vat. They are trying to tell us that this was a good batch. Which really doesn't bode well for their Vins Ordinaire or such like. Walking home I was calculating how much it would cost in Britain. I paid 14,000W which is roughly 7 quid so we are probably talking a 3 pound 50 wine. This is a dodgy supermarket though so I knocked off 51p. A 2.99 bottle then. You would have felt cheated of your 2 pounds.
I didn't do a tasting note as I pretty much just spat it out. It smelled of chemicals and rotting fruit. I did wonder if it was corked but there was none of the musty, damp smell you would expect. It tasted as dreadful as it smelled. Off-dry chemicals with an acrid finish. A bit like drinking flat White Lightning with some added sugar. It had been a hot day and this was exactly what I didn't need.

The second bottle was from that well known wine purveyor, 7-11. The bottle was behind the counter, much like fine wine and Champagne often is. It was 14,000W and the girl working there had clearly never seen it before. It was a Chardonnay, you don't often see varietals outside of the specialist retailers, and it was from the Vins de Pays D'Oc which can be an excellent source of cheaper, good quality wines. The nose was ok, had some nice ripe melon and green apple. It was nice and simple and fruity. It just did not convert to the palate unfortunately. It was all out of balance with, again, a real chemical quality. A shame really, to get a decent white from the local 7-11 would feel like a step forward. Especially if the price could come in at sub 10,000. This is probably as good an indication as any of where the Korean market is at right now(Probably another post for another day).

To add insult to injury I missed the Seoul Wine Market last weekend. Advertising? Website? Not that I could find. That will teach me to live out in the sticks I guess.

This weekend I will buy some good wine. I will try to stay true to buying an American wine. I hope to go to Aligote in Gangnam, which is reputed to have the biggest wine list in Korea.
I will have a good week.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Miguel Torres 'Tormenta' Viognier, 2006

Miguel Torres 'Tormenta' Viognier
Chile, Central Valley, 2006
24,000W Shindong Wine in Hyundai Department Store, Cheonho.

A nice bunch of Viognier(Vee-on-nyey) grapes there. Viognier is a very fashionable grape, due to the expensive and expressive wines of Condrieu in the Rhone. As is the way in the wine business, the New World took note and started planting their own Viognier to piggy back on the popularity. A good thing certainly, Viognier is a really interesting white with great character but some plantings are certainly not wise. It needs to be fully ripe to produce its aromatic qualities and in too hot a region this leads to alcoholic blockbusters......

This wine(no picture, the bottle made it to recycling before the camera got it. It has a moody modern label though) is fairly light in intensity, a clear and bright lemon green.

The nose is fairly powerful, you get a nice head full of youthful fruit smells. Anise is taking centre stage, really dominating the other aromas. However there are some classic Viognier characteristics, ripe melon, peach and a very appealing floral element. This manifested itself in cherry lips for me(remember them?). It is a really aromatic nose and is a pretty good example of what a Viognier should smell like.

Drinking, it is dry and fairly intense and full bodied. It is a mouth full of wine for sure. The acidity is surprisingly good, Viognier can suffer from a lack of acidity but this is sufficiently mouth watering. What is really noticeable is the alcohol though, there is that tell-tale burn at the back of the throat. There is lime and apricot and the finish is almost almondy. The floral elements follow through as well fortunately with orange blossom notes. Nice flavours then. But...... The alcohol is too high. It is, for want of a better expression, kicking the shit out of the wine. It has this slightly harsh effect on the overall experience, so rather than a wonderful, soft, aromatic wine we are getting a kick in the face. With Doc Martens.

I may be exaggerating a bit. I am somewhat scarred by a South African Viognier that was 14.5% and oaked into submission. Still, I haven't seen many Viogniers here so if you are in the market for something a bit different and fancy getting drunk then this is well worth a punt.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Crab and wine...

Just a quick one before the weekends drinking, I mean tasting, begins.....

Had planned to go for pork last night, boiled pork with special kimchi wrapped in lettuce(Bossam), but the place was full. So we crossed the road and went to the crab place for the first time. We had snow crab, the cheapest option and it was pretty good. The fried rice at the end that they obviously make with all the brains and other head cheese was amazing. Now, I didn't drink wine as I was a little bit scandalised by the price of the food(60,000! For both of us with beer, I am that tight), but I was pleased to see their wine selection.
Following on from the last post they were all white wines. As you would expect with something as delicately flavoured as crab and lobster. It wasn't a great selection admittedly, 1 Vins de Pays d'Oc and 2 Chilean Chardonnays. In red centric Korea it was nice to see though as I can't think of many reds that would go with crab. I wonder what wine the expert from the news article would pair with crab? Thinking about it he would probably be eating lobster. And drinking something from the Côte de Nuits. Git.

Also, my local hoff(pub) has a load of Chateau Mani in. I had a quick look and it is 10% alcohol so I am assuming it is going to be sweet. Still, I will try it out and write it up. It will be my first Korean wine!