Pairing Korean food with wine can be something of a challenge. The Korean diet is mostly based on various combinations of starch, (like rice or noodles), fresh vegetables, and meat, and are usually served with an array of fermented and/or pickled vegetable sidings called Banchan. Each dish features the unconventional marriage of powerful, and sometimes overwhelming flavors. Spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. The cuisine’s unique way of blending these flavors can make wine selection quite difficult.

Finding wine that goes with East Asian cuisine can be a bit trying but there’s absolutely no need to abandon your wine cellar favorites. Here at Singapore Wine Vault, we believe that Korean fare shouldn’t be limited to soju and beer pairings. The goal is to find wine that can complement or enhance the dish’s flavor profile without overpowering it. Discover which wines will work well with an authentic Korean spread through this SWV wine pairing report.

Kimchi

Kimchi is perhaps one of the better-known Korean dishes. It’s a mainstay for nearly all meals. It accompanies even the simplest of cup noodle snacks. There are countless varieties to this staple. It’s made  from cabbages, radishes, scallions, or cucumbers. It is  often served at mealtime as part of the banchan.  Kimchi has red chili pepper paste, also known as gochujang,  and is  the main source of spice and heat. It gives this fermented essential the tangy, spicy, and acrid taste it’s known for.

When finding the wine that goes with kimchi, the first thing to keep in mind is personal preference. If you prefer your wines crisp, then a herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc should do the trick. Its  distinctive tang has  enough body and spirit to cleave through the piquant fragrance of kimchi.

This should also complement the grass-like cleanness of the pungent dish. It’s also safe to stick with whites. These are lightly sweet with sufficient astringency to balance taste. Think Alsatian Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris.

When it comes to red wine, dark and full-bodied reds won’t work. But red wines with fruity notes, balanced body, low tannins, and lively causticity could.  A  Cru Beaujolais or a young Pinot Noir should prove a desirable match.

Korean Barbecue/Grilled Meat

Galbi is Korean barbecue grilled to smoky, sweet, and savory perfection.  Beef short ribs is usually the protein of choice. It’s  marinated in Korean soy sauce or gochujang-based marinades. Other varieties include pork short ribs, chicken (dak galbi), and meatballs (tteokgalbi). Galbi is usually cooked over charcoal grills mounted on table tops.

This grilled meat is wrapped in leafy greens like lettuce or perilla. Its sprinkled with crushed ginger and/or garlic. Then it’s dipped in sauce made of fermented bean and chili paste (ssamjang).

Like the wines that go with kimchi, the  tipples that complement galbi aren’t very tannic or sharp. They tend toward the rich and redolent, like the grape manna produced from Puglia, Italy.

Plummy Portuguese reds hailing from Alentejo and Douro, and vanilla-tinged Spanish reds from Rioja and Ribera del Duero also do wonders in bringing out the smokiness of Korean-style grilled meats.

You can try  Australian or Chilean Syrahs, fruit-forward American Zinfandels.  One may also try  Oregon or Burgundy Pinot Noir and Italian Barbera.

In the most simplistic of terms, stay away from tipples that are too robust or complex. Tese will clash with the rich flavors of galbi. Even the steak-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon could be too much for the flavorful Korean barbecue. So if you’re a big fan of Cab, go for its mid-bodied and fruitier versions.

For white wine lovers, we highly recommend going for the effervescent offerings of Portugal’s Vinho Verde region or the mildly sweet Sauvignon Blancs from Chile. The acidity of these white wines should help enhance the savory qualities of the meat.

Pajeon is a fried Korean pancake made from a flour-based batter. This ‘pancake’ is usually mixed with an assortment of seafood, scallions or green onions, and sliced chili.  This delectable appetizer has a flavorsome nature. So you’ll need a wine that will enhance both the underlying sweetness and salty qualities of the dish. White wine is always a great accompaniment to this seafood dish. It also has enough zest to match the piquancy of both the pancake and the lemon-soy dipping sauce.

Popular choices include a brisk and complex Riesling and a lip-smacking Pinot Gris. You can also consider a refreshing and peppery Gruner Veltliner. These tipples are  citrusy and herbaceous .  We recommend going for Chardonnay  as well.  It’ll cut through the pajeon’s oil while really bringing out its flavors.

It doesn’t matter whether its sparkling fruit, zippy and dry, or subtly oaked. This vino makes a lovely companion to Korea’s famous seafood-stuffed pancake.

In general, the wines that work best with Korean cuisine are usually on the subtle, zesty, and fruit-forward side of the flavor spectrum.

Leave the tannin-heavy vino at the door, and go for a nice, dry white, sparkling, or light red instead.  Your taste buds will thank you for it.