Thursday, June 24, 2010
Korean food for those who are new to it can be challenging. Yet despite the massive amounts of chili and kimchi, Korean food can be paired successfully with wine. Taking a bottle or two to your local Korean restaurant really enhances your meal and can be a lot of fun.
For Korean food think white wine. Bold tannic reds such as Bordeaux and fruity reds such as Australian Shiraz overwhelm most Korean dishes. The acidity and freshness of whites wines complements the textures, smoky and spicy flavors of Korean food. While some Korean dishes work well with red wines, white wines and rose tend to be the most versatile.
Every Korean meal is served with side dishes known as banchan, (반찬). Banchan are small portions of fermented vegetables and sauces, the most famous of which is kimchi. When pairing wine, it’s important to remember these flavors and textures too. A wine with structure and an acid backbone will do better. Wines with medium tannins are better than big tannic wines. Broad fruit through the mid palate will help manage the chili and all that kimchi. Avoid wines with a lot of oak.
Most people’s first encounter with Korean food will be at a barbeque restaurant. You cook your own meat over a charcoal grill in the middle of the table. There are a variety of pork and beef cuts on the menu. My personal favorite is Hang Jeong Sal항정살, the back part of a pig’s neck. This pairs well with Arneis or Soave Classico. These wines have acidity to handle the spice and textures of the banchan. Be sure to keep your bottle off the table as it gets really hot next to the grill and will cook your wine.
Grilled beef is another popular dish at a Korean barbeque. Korean beef is more marbled and has a softer texture than most western beef. Hanwoo beef (한우소고기) melts in the mouth and pairs well with merlot based Bordeaux. Choose a wine with little or no time in oak and medium tannins.
Bibimbap is Korean rice with mixed vegetables, egg and chili sauce. This dish is very textural and can overwelm wines with its textures. A crisp dry Rose is best. The acidity and structured fruit can handle the textures of bibimbap. A medium bodied Pinot Grigio is a good backup.
There’s plenty of fresh fish and seafood in Korea. Daepohang in Gangwon-do or Jagalchi market in Busan are fun places to visit with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. Mussels, scallops and raw fish are cheap and a natural pairing for wine. Remember to ask the staff for a bucket of ice to chill your wine.
There’s great street food in Korea. Haemul pajeon can be found on every street corner. This is a Korean flour pancake made from leeks, onions, chili, mussels and diced squid that’s fried in oil. Avoid sweet wines. Choose a wine with racy acidity and medium body. Mosel Riesling works perfectly. A refreshing pairing, great for summer.