Korean feast: impossible food-wine pairing?!?

Tomorrow night I will be selecting the wine pairings for a Korean feast, getting in on the lunar new year action a few days late. Here’s a list of some items on the menu, from the hostess:

Fried dumplings
Chicken yakitori [japanese inspiration]
Beef skewers (do you know bulgoki?)
Squid/spicy sauce
A variety of “jun” (pictured, right) which is something like potato pancakes but with fish, beef, vegetables, or seafood
California roll or ”kimbap” which is rolled “maki” with veggies/beef
Side vegetables – pickled, salad-like

Apparently it is impossible to pair Korean food with wine! And I’m not just saying that. Consider this comment from sommelier-to-the-max, Rajat Parr (from What to Drink with What you Eat): “I love Korean food, but it’s hard to have any kind of wine with it unless you have a Vinho Verde or something that’s really high in acid…the acidity in kimchee just kills wine and it’s all over.”

What do you think: do you buy the high acidity suggestion? Or do you prefer something aromatic and off-dry? How about bubbles? Or something slightly oxidative? Do reds work? Or is pairing Korean food with wine impossible!?!

Related: “Kimchi: impossible food-wine pairing?

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22 Responses to “Korean feast: impossible food-wine pairing?!?”

  1. Funny you should ask that… my answer for a recent Korean Lunar New Year feast was a muscadet, Dom. de la Pepiere Clos des Briords, and it worked well with Korean red pepper sauce… for more, see it as I chronicled at: http://bit.ly/YCq0j

  2. By the way, to answer more specifically in relation to your menu: most reds will go fine with the bulgogi (anything you’d normally pair with bbq beef, a la syrah or zin, though I like malbecs and cabs too), the yakitori should be fairly easy to pair as well – the sauce is somewhat like teriyaki sauce. The pancakes may be a bit tricky because the sauce tends to have some vinegar in it; anytime you have kimchi with these dishes it will get tough too – I’ve had more success with whites than reds but nothing works spectacularly, to be honest. Something like the muscadet I went with may work with your spicy squid the way it went with our spiced oyster dish. Good luck and looking forward to hearing the results!

  3. Ask for Baek(White) Kimchi. It’s not spicy and very mild.

  4. As much as I love it, wine in the western sense may not be the best choice for this meal. Especially if you’re going to have jeon, you might want to track down some makgeolli…certainly authentic and surprisingly delicious with food. Grapes may be hard to pair with Korean food, but a rice beverage can display finesse as well.

  5. Champagne conquers all. A medium-sized Gruner (Tegernseerhof “Bergdistel,” for example). And absolutely, positively, Camillo Donati Malvasia dell’ Emilia Frizzante IGT. No, really. It’s almost beer. A true vinous kimchee-killer.

  6. Yes, right, kimchi-killer.

  7. i find that an australian shiraz goes well with korean bbq (spareribs).

  8. Reisling, off-dry, good acid. Nothing too fancy, because the focus won’t (and shouldn’t) be on the wine. The Pac Rim would work.

  9. i recent had Champagne with a big Korean dinner. we had Galbi, Jahpche, Kimchi Jun (looks like the thing up there but made from kimchi) and Kimchi Stew. i find that most Koreans do not share the same ideas of food and wine pairing. where the western world would choose a wine that compliments the food and helps the flavors of each reach their full potential, most Koreans expect the beverage to wipe the palette clean of all flavors. sort of a “refreshing” of the taste buds for whatever is to be eating next. being Korean and having spent most my life in USA… sometimes i get confused as to which concept, my palette agrees with more… but so far all my friends have liked a good bottle of off-dry Riesling, but none so far have like it with Korean food. the pairing of sweet wine and spicy Asian food is a western and foreign concept…. at least it seems so to me…so far..

  10. if you want to do like us koreans, stick to soju, which is rice wine. i prefer jinro chamisul fresh soju. it has slightly less alcohol content than the main soju. it has a cleaner taste and doesn’t compete with the numerous flavors of korean food. it’s almost like a palate cleanser each time you sip.

    another one i really like is bek se ju, which means “one hundred year wine”. it is also a rice wine, but the main difference is that this has a strong ginseng taste. many people do not like this one b/c it taste medicinal due to the strong ginseng flavor. i love it!

  11. To match the acidic foods you might consider a Vin de Savoie Apremont (Jacquere grape) from France/Switzerland which is quite lemony (citrus) but not as tart (malic) as a Vinho Verde.

    Also, although a somewhat unusual pairing, you might consider a Moscato De Asti with its spicyness to match a spicy dish that you are serving as an appetizer.

    A Carmenere such as a Montes Purple Angel Carmenere 2005 has a spiciness and slight herbal finish that I imagine might go with Korean spices although I would probably want to do a tasting agains the actual dish.

  12. I did wine with a Korean feast last year. Our food was more beef-centered — bulgogi, but without spicy sauce — there were also dumplings, kimchee and pancake (pa jun). A crisp young South African Chenin Blanc went very nicely with the kimchee, dumplings and pancake. A young Ribera del Duero (credit to http://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/articles/20070517 for inspiring that pairing) was perfect with the bulgogi.

  13. Korean food is a pairing challenge but think about sake next time you want to creat the most exciting experience. Banzai Beverage brings in highly rated, artisenal sakes that have never been let out of Japan. I can’t get enough. they have a few sakes that are amazing with the full range of Korean food, including the BBQ and the spicy, garlicy dishes. Try Euphoria or Wild Stallion for bold dry flavors that will knock you out

  14. Thanks for the link, Matt. I enjoyed reading .

    Mark Millon

  15. I like an off dry sparkler or less sweet sparkling shiraz

  16. I second the recommendation for makgeolli. Its a Korean rice wine thats more similar to beer in taste. On average its about 6% alcohol making it more appropriate to drink with a meal in a nice setting rather than soju which is often drunk during more casual outings.

    Fresh makgeolli can be found in the refrigerated sections of Korean markets. There is a shelf stable version, but its generally not as good.

    Makgeolli works great with all Korean food (traditionally eaten with jeon) due to a very subtle sweetness and the neutrality of the rice, and recent studies claim it has similar bacteria as those found in yogurt. The drink is becoming rapidly popular at the moment in Korea. There’s even Makgeolli diets where women drink a lot of Makgeolli in order to improve their skin.

  17. I’m not a beer drinker, so I’ve experimented over the years and have found some wines do complement many Korean meals. I also just received a release this morning about the book “Asian Palate”- first comp work to match Asian food with wine. I’m interested to see some of the pairings there.

  18. […] Vino wonders if Korean food is impossible to pair with wine and then is surprised. Obviously hasn’t read much Josh […]

  19. Jeon goes well with wines with acid backbone and fruit. Reislings work best in my experience. Arneis works with Haengjeongsal (BBQ back of the neck pork)and jeon as both are oily. If the jeon is spicy with lots of gotchu (chili)then a fruity syrah would work too. Kimchi is a challenge. If the jeon has lots of kimchi

    Jeannie Cho Lee MW and Ed Soon both published books late last year on pairing Asian food and wine and include sections on Korean pairing. both books are worth reading. Jeannie cho Lee was here in Jan and hosted a dinner at the Hyatt to launch her book. It was a great event with 9 wines. See: http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/NEWKHSITE/data/html_dir/2010/02/24/201002240064.asp

    And I Had rose with Koegi mandu last week. It was a great match, too. There are so many good wine pairings with korean food. It’s certainly not impossible!

  20. […] Vino wonders if Korean food is impossible to pair with wine and then is surprised. Obviously hasn’t read much Josh […]

  21. Fascinating discussion! I appreciated hearing about the Korean taste for refreshing beers and soju, neither of which have acidity (at least compared to a crisp white wine). If I wanted to follow that lead but try to select a wine to pair with food that contains appreciable vinegar, I wonder if a contrarian approach would be to try a wine that’s low-ish in acidity, such as an oxidative white wine from Slovenia. That way the food seasons the wine rather than the reverse. As I write this I wonder if our received wisdom about pairing off-dry wines with Korean food stems from trying to balance acid with sugar (rather than any intrinsic affinity between reisling and the Korean palate).

  22. Here is a piece published in Time Out Singapore.



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