Wines to Pair with the New Hot Food Trend: Korean

John Crisafulli, Village Vino Kensington
Metro View: Community Home Journal, Kensington/Talmadge Edition, July/August 2017Image result for korean food bibimbap

Typically when serving a meal we keep the menu separated by courses or on our plates, making it easy to segregate flavors and pair a wine with the main entrée being served. With Korean foods, one of the latest food trends to sweep the country, wine pairing needs a different approach as the meals are served family style often with a multitude of ingredients and flavors being served and consumed simultaneously. To further confuse the palate, the presence of fermented flavors and frequent use of chilies makes it even more challenging to pair with wine.

The complexity of flavors in a typical Korean meal makes it nearly impossible to create a “perfect” pairing, but you can try to partner wines that will provide harmony and avoid conflict. The wild mix of salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami with a lot of heat often found in Korean food generally pair better with wines that are dry to off-dry, not overly sweet or dense, and not too tannic. The wines need to be well balanced and show boldness, ripeness, and body without being too heavy.

Many people assume the sweeter the better for wine as the dish heats up with spice, but in reality, the sweetness will take away from the flavors.. The subjective sweetness of a wine is determined by the interaction of several factors, including the amount of sugar in the wine, but also the relative levels of alcohol, acids, and tannins. Sugars and alcohol enhance a wine’s sweetness; acids (sourness) and bitter tannins counteract it.

Bibimbap is one of the most traditional Korean dishes. It is in essence a one bowl meal with meat, vegetables, rice, and egg, tossed with a spicy chili paste. Just for kicks, like many Korean meals, this dish also often contains Kimchee (traditional Korean side dish of fermented cabbage). It’s flavorful, spicy, and delicious, but can you drink wine with it? The answer is yes and choosing the proper options it will further enhance your enjoyment of the dish.

For Vegetarians, this dish is also great, if you choose to enjoy Bibimbap without the beef or chicken, traditionally included, our recommendation is to go with an aromatic white wine with just a touch of sweetness like a Riesling, Arneis, or Kerner. With meat in the dish, try a Rosé from Bandol (France) or a medium bodied red wine with moderate alcohol such as a well-balanced grenache or pinot noir.

Bulgogi (marinated grilled beef), rice, kimchi, and a variety of side dishes. This combination exemplifies the wild mix of flavors you often find in a Korean meal. Not only is there meat, the meat is marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and sugar. This is the ultimate umami, sweet, salty combination. In addition, the side dishes will most definitely include kimchee and other fermented vegetables. Here you get spicy, salty, sour to accompany the umami influences from the meat. Dry Rosés from Bandol work well and red wines with pronounced fruit flavors, medium body, low to medium tannins, bright acidity, and moderate alcohol work better, such as a young Pinot Noir or Cru Beaujolais.

Pajeon or Seafood Pajeon, this dish is a typical appetizer served pancake style with scallions and the Seafood version includes prawns, clams, and bay scallops. White wines with good acidity, depth, and texture along with hints of herbs and stone fruits pair well. This would be lovely with a Gruner Veltliner varietal.

Get out there this summer and try these delicious Korean dishes and make sure you grab one of these suggested wines to pair with it for your perfect meal:
• Gruner Veltliner
‘Ausstich’ DAC, Setzer
• Habit “Dry Farmed”
Santa Ynez Valley Gruner
Veltliner 2015 ($30)
• Domaine de Terrebrune
Bandol Rose 2016 ($34)
• Chateau de Pibarnon
Bandol Rose 2016 ($35)
• Wind Gap, Sonoma Coast
Pinot Noir 2014 ($34)
• Bellwether “Sawmill
Creek” Pinot Noir 2014
• Jean Foillard Morgon
“Cote du Py” Cru
Beaujolais 2014 ($39)
• Guy Breton Regnie
Beaujolais 2014 ($28)
• Weingut Josef Spreitzer
101 Riesling, Rheingau,
Germany 2016 ($17)

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