South Korean wine culture has been developing since just before the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 when the Korean government opened the gates to the international wine industry. Prior to that, only 11 importers and distributors had a license to deal with wines and less than US $20,000 worth of wine was imported into Korea. Today around 250 wine importers are active in South Korea, bringing in US $237 million worth.

South Korea is a red wine dominant market and like other wine drinking countries, (and thanks to the movie Sideways) Koreans love pinot noir. The only problem is that pinot noir is too seductive and expensive to drink as often as we wish!

Korean cuisine has very complex flavours and a particularly distinctive umami. Pinot noir has softer tannins than cabernet sauvignon (which is the most popular red grape in Korea) making it easier for neophytes to drink. In autumn, when forests give us full-flavored wild mushrooms such as pine mushrooms and shiitake, there’s nothing better than drinking pinot noir – especially when the mushrooms have been grilled with Korean beef. We love to eat grilled pork belly and chicken, and also eat various spicy and hot foods to release daily stress. All these foods pair well with pinot noir. It gives us eternal joy with its complex flavours developed with age.

Koreans who love pinot noir drink it from all over the world – France, Germany, Austria, USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and so on. However, the favourite for most is Burgundy – from village to cru. The power of Gevrey-Chambertin and the elegance of Chambolle-Musigny are hard to resist. There is a Korean wine grower who makes Lou Dumont wines in Burgundy and the wines sell well here. There are a few Burgundy-focused importers and distributors in Korea too, who, because of price rises, are also looking for lesser known villages and districts such as Dijon.

Pinot noir from the USA represents great value and many labels are best sellers as everyday wine. There are also many New Zealand pinot noir wines which are very popular, including Clos Henri, Sileni, Seresin, Felton Road, Cloudy Bay, Ata Rangi, Dog Point and Saint Clair. Australian pinot noir, especially from Western Australia and Tasmania, is growing in popularity too. Chilean pinot noir has become more precise and sophisticated than before.

Serious Korean wine lovers also indulge in premium pinot noir from Austria, Germany and South Africa. Natural wines are also becoming more widely consumed.

Korean nature is itself a little spicy! We love to eat and drink together, and typical Korean cuisine requires a refreshing and versatile wine like pinot noir. That’s why pinot noir wines have become so loved in South Korea.

WORDS: Suzie Chung,