Friday, October 26, 2007

Goats Do Roam In Villages

Goats Do Roam In Villages,
South Africa
24,000 won Les Vins Maeils, Jamsil

This is a wine I was a fan of back in England and therefore I am not going to give it a big write up. It is a 7-8 pound wine in the UK, making this look not too bad a price here. This is a blend of 80% Syrah(Shiraz) and 20% Pinotage. It has a screw cap which will please all but the ultra-traditionalists I think and is really an excellent wine. A great colour in the glass it has a distinct dark fruit and spice aroma and is just full bodied enough to make you stop and think when it hits the palate. It has lovely plums and cherries with good hints of spice and tannins that are really well integrated giving a perfect wine for the coming cold months. You can't argue with it really. A super wine. The white that Goats Do Roam do is also excellent and I let Les Vins Maeils know this. You never know.........

The Chosun Ilbo has had a couple of interesting articles on wine this week. The first, here, was by their corespondent in France and he makes a comparison between the Korean wine market and the last two French Presidents. The thrust of his argument is that Korea used to be like Sarkozy who doesn't like wine and now they are like Chirac who is a wine snob. Ok, very clever. However I am not entirely sure what he is suggesting the Korean consumer should be doing. He laments their following of trends, be it wellbeing or the latest Manga. He bemoans the CEO's purchasing of only the most expensive wines. He suggests that we would all be far better off like the French where wine is part of the culture. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Korea is a new wine market and it shows all the signs of this. The fact that the wine market is surging at all is remarkable. There is very little advertising of wines and so crazes like "The Drop of God" and the well-being movement are excellent in that they are increasing awareness of and interest in wine. CEO's will always buy the most expensive wines just as they always buy the most expensive cars. The same happens in France I am sure. In order for wine to really take off here we need the distribution of a wide variety of wines and we need this to be done at reasonable prices. We need everyday wines at prices that your average customer won't baulk at paying and we need a large popular brand to make a big push here. Wine will never be part of the culture here just as it isn't part of the culture of the UK. What we can look forward to is a country that has a wide distribution of world wines and from that basis we can build an interest in the nuances of wine drinking.
A French sommelier advised, "If you want to taste wine better, walk in a forest or a park and smell as many flowers and plants as possible." I can't think of a better way of scaring off potential wine drinkers.

The second article, here, looks at the Korean Food and Drug administrations decision to state that the safe limit of red wine to drink is half a glass a day. Anything above this, they say, could lead to a cancer danger due to the levels of ethyl carbamate. I'll be honest, I hadn't heard about ethyl carbamate until I read this so it was of some interest to me. It certainly sounds like it is an issue and the fact that it occurs in fermented products, such as soy, at higher levels makes it all the more worrying for those of us in Korea. I am pretty sure that this would make safe levels of Soju consumption a cap full but I think we all knew that anyway. The interesting point, I thought, was that ethyl carbamate occurs in higher levels in products fermented at higher temperatures, thus in distilled products we get the most ethyl carbamate and more in red wine than white(which is largely distilled at cool temperatures to keep purity of fruit). Whilst it would be a shame to see red wine sales drop because of this, especially given red wines many healthy properties it would be welcome to see a Korean wellbeing white wine extravaganza!

Sunday, October 21, 2007


No bullshit! I have found sherry. I didn't think it would happen but today, in Les Vins Maeils Jamsil I discovered sherry. A Fino and an Amontillado. Proper sherry. Unfortunately they wouldn't sell it to me. I know, rubbish shopping experience really. I think the nice young lady was telling me they were samples but I was so keen that I was told I should be able to buy on Monday. I will head down next weekend and try and make sure I come home with some. I don't even know if I like sherry very much but I know I like the idea and I know they are some of the best value wines in the world. I'll keep you posted. Also they are doing Goats Do Roam, an oh so funny play on Cotes Du Rhone. They only have the red which I haven't tried before but I know the white is excellent and so have high hopes. 24,000 won.

Also, Shindong wines range seems to have improved. They have a selection of fairly reasonably priced wines from Argentinia. I have a couple and will update when they have been consumed.

Also, thanks to Seoul Steves for the heads up on limes at Shinsegae. They have been spotted in the wild at Lotte Department Store and Hyundai Dept Store as well.

Also, Hyundai department store Cheonho has kebabs. Chicken doner and beef doner. I didn't try one but they looked pretty good.

Also, caviar! Yep, caviar. Beluga, Sevruga and Ossetra. This was in Lotte Dept store at the wine shop on the bottom floor. Beluga was 250,000 won which doesn't seem that outrageous to me. Dedicated decadent that I am.

Also, and I promise this is the last also, Aquascutum shirts and ties for 29,000 won at Hyundai in Cheonho.

It has been an exciting weekend.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chateau Mousear

I had a very mature Musar a few years back. I was underwhelmed but it was at the beginning of my wine discovery so maybe I just didn't get it. I believe that is quite a common reaction to the Musar wines though, some love them others are non-plussed.

Anyway, that is by the by, the picture is only there for the awful pun made. I introduce Korean Mouse wine. Korean Baby Mouse Wine. Not something I will be tasting anytime soon but as it has been doing the rounds on the internet I thought I should share.

To real wine.......

I missed out on Korea's "Wine day". As you can see in this Korea Times article it ran over this weekend just gone and looks like there may have been some reasonable discounting going on. I am not too upset as I would imagine that most of the discounted bottles would have been the usual crap they push, the real cheap Chilean and sweet wines. Still, I should have checked out some of the offers so if anyone did and there was a decent showing please let me know. The fact they are offering a 50% discount in some cases is a good indication of the mark up already present.

The article talks up "daily wines" and goes on to list a selection of the reasonably priced wines the author thinks are of good quality. They suggest ignoring the old world wines, Laroche Viognier anyone?, and list 7 wines, 6 red 1 white, to try out. So I think I will. I am certainly intrigued by the Matthew Fox, an American blend of Cab Sauv and Merlot, very traditional so far, with Chardonnay! Sounds revolting to me but you have to try these things. Perhaps I will have to swill my mouth with the mouse wine to get rid of the taste. Terrible snobbery I know.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sideway Wine

Sideway Wine Bar and Bistro

It is with great pleasure that I report on this new Wine Bar in Gangnam and it is an establishment I urge any wine lover to hunt out as soon as they can. There is little doubt in my mind that it is a class above any other similar bar you have been to in Seoul. A grand statement perhaps, but one I feel I can back up fairly easily.

I will comment on the most important aspect first and that is, of course, the wine list. Normally opening a wine list in a Korean bar or restaurant is a fairly depressing exercise. You are confronted with the same group of wines over and over with the only real difference being just exactly how large a mark up the establishment has dared slap on an average bottle of wine. I suspect that to a certain degree the classier more aspirational ventures mark out their territory by making even a very average bottle almost out of reach. The worst example of this I have seen is a bar in Apgujeong that charges 45,000 won, around 23 pounds, for a bottle of Torres Vina Sol, at most a 10,000 won/5 pound bottle. Very discouraging eh?

Sideway is not a miracle worker, you are still paying Korean prices for your wine, but they are sensible. The sort of prices that make you want to trade up a bit and get that slightly better bottle. The sort of prices that you can justify quite quickly in your head. We picked up a Hugel Gewurztraminer for 53,000 won. Like I say, not a miracle, just sensible. I am pretty sure there was a Chablis on the list for 60,000 won, try finding that anywhere else in Seoul.

The other encouraging thing about the list is the range, it is not huge but it is interesting. Easy to read, sensibly structured and with none of the typical Montes Alpha dullness. It has the Laroche Viognier which I have bigged up on here before. I would like to see the wine list online though, but that is just for me now as I cannot actually remember much of the list.

So, a good, keenly priced wine list. What of the bar? It sits on top of the hill at Gangnam near the Euro Pub and Sky Bar. It has a curved frontage with veranda seating decked out with wine bottles. Stylish and comfortable and perhaps still doable in the early evening now the temperatures are coming down. Inside is designed with several individual areas in mind. Around the bar is, who would have thought it, bar seating, high stools and tables, running up the window are large, and extremely comfortable looking white leather sofas and then to the rear is a darker, more conventional sofa and table set up. It is not too dark, not intimidating and mostly manages to pull off style and comfort in the same space.

I didn't see their menu which is on a cheese theme. I did however try their cheese. Real cheese. That tastes of cheese. You wouldn't have thought it would be so incredible but it knocked my socks off. Being able to eat real cheese should be reason enough to get you there.

So, I have waxed lyrical for the first time on this blog? It is a wine bar that does wine well. It is that simple. Knowledgeable and genuinely nice owners, a wine shop attached where the wines can be bought at a discount, good cheese. We need to be supporting places like this if we want the exorbitant prices charged for identikit wine to change here in Korea.

To get there take exit 7 at Gangnam station, walk straight up the main road until you get to Paris Baguette, take the road to the right up the hill and keep walking, up past the Euro pub and around the corner. You can't really miss it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Corking News.

I've had two bottles of corked wine in Korea. Both from Burgundy interestingly enough. Is that interesting? Yeah, course it is. The first bottle was about 8 months ago from Les Vins Maeils at Jamsil and I bottled it in terms of dealing with the issue. I should have returned it and explained the situation but my lack of Korean meant this was a terrifying concept. So I just did myself out of about 30,000won and poured it down the sink.

The most recent bottle was a Louis Latour(excellent negociant and producer of Burgundy) Chardonnay from the new Homeplus/Tesco at Jamsil. I was hoping for a lightly oaked, simple white Burgundy at a not unreasonable 24,000w. It smelled of mouldy clothes(more of which later). However, on my first visit to the store I had the good fortune to meet with one of the marketing managers of Tesco who was taking a hands on role in the wine club. We talked for a little while and exchanged details, hopefully leading to some sort of wine club for foreigners in the future, we will see. This meant I had an excellent source of information on a company's policy towards corked wine. So I emailed. The good news is that Tesco policy appears to be that they will happily exchange a bottle of corked wine. I say appears to be as until my complaint there had been no instances of this happening.

In my previous life in the wine industry our policy was to exchange corked wines with no questions asked and I think this is the only sensible policy to adopt. Something faulty has been sold and the customer is perfectly within their rights for a new bottle. However this policy only applied to bottles under 20 pounds. Fine wines were sold as seen and there was no guarantee of how they had been kept before they made it to our store. Given the price of wines in Korea this raises a few problems, going over 40,000 won a bottle is really not hard to do and so the cost of corked wines to the retailer is exponentially higher. With corked bottles running up to an estimated 15% there is the potential for some hefty losses.

This is something that will only come with more education fortunately(for the retailers). I am pretty sure that the majority of corked wines are drunk, even in more established markets, with people putting it down to an unpleasant bottle of wine. Without knowing what you are looking for it is very easy to assume that it is you who has made the mistake in your initial purchase. I will say this, generally, if a wine doesn't smell good then there is a fault with it. Trust your nose. I equate the smell with clothes that have been left damp for too long. That musty, lingering smell that can be quite subtle but once detected leaves an insidious stain on your nostrils that can haunt you through the day. In a wine I tend to find my initial reaction is something is not right followed by a detection of the cork taint followed by an inability to smell anything but the damp nastiness. Sorry, smell is a bit subjective and I can't describe it better.

Having the confidence to return a bottle of spoiled wine is actually quite liberating. You are trusting your ability to detect problems and taking it back to the experts and leaving them with the decision of how to deal with it. If you are only spending a couple of pounds, euros or dollars however then the bad smell might well be the wine itself. Trade up!