Korean dishes are notoriously tricky to pair up with wines. Due to aggressive scents and a medley of intense flavors present in typical Korean meal, pairing them with wine is not as straightforward as it does with Western dishes.
The typical Korean meal’s intricate flavors make it almost impossible to make a “perfect” pairing. However, you can try partnering them with wines that will avoid conflict and provide harmony for flavors.
The strong mix of spicy, sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami often found in Korean dishes complement well with wines that are not overly sweet or dense, dry to off-dry, and not too tannic. Further, the wines need to show ripeness, boldness, and body without being too heavy or cloying and must be well-balanced.
A Korean meal fare shouldn’t be limited to beer and soju pairings. That being said, here are the suggested pairing of a variety of wines and traditional Korean dishes.
Korean Meals With Spicy Main Dishes
A crisp Sauvignon Blanc or dry, light Riesling is the best wine option for Korean meals that are heavy on spices like jjambbong, onnuriye donkatsu (pork cutlet), maeundae galbijjim (braised short-rib stew), to name a few.
These savory and spice-loaded dishes are best enjoyed with wines that are not too fruity, sweet, or complex. However, they don’t work well with red wine.
Galbi and Bulgogi are sweet, smoky, and full of flavor Korean barbecues that work perfectly with a bright, simple red wine.
Chianti or an American Zinfandel, a Chilean or Australian Shiraz, or a Malbec wine are your best bets. But avoid anything too heavy, earthy, and complex that will go against the explosion of flavors in Korean barbecue meals.
Korean Seafood Dishes
Koreans love seaweed, fish, shellfish, and just about any seafood there is. If you’re going to eat broiled fish or a lot of seafood in a meal, try a dry white wine like a Pouilly-Fumé or a chilled rosé.
Know it that the rule of thumb for pairing Korean food with wine is to avoid anything too tannic or bold.
Rice and Bulgogi Combination and Variety Of Side Dishes
The combination of Korean rice, Bulgogi, and side dishes intensifies the wild mix of flavors that are typically found in Korean meals. Also, their meat dishes are rich in flavor because they’re marinated in sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. Dry Rosés from Bandol would be good options to enjoy these meals.
You can also go for red wines with intense fruit flavors, low to medium tannins, medium body, moderate alcohol, and bright acidities such as a young Cru Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.
Kimchi (Fermented Vegetables)
Kimchi is a popular Korean side dish that’s made from fermented cabbage, cucumber, radish, and scallion. It’s also infused with a gochujang or red chili pepper paste which is the primary source of heat and spice. It gives kimchi the spicy, acrid, and tangy taste that it’s known for.
The first thing to keep in mind is personal preference when finding the wine that goes with kimchi. If you like crisp wines, then an herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc will be the right choice. It has a distinct tang, enough spirit, and body that will cleave through the peppery aroma and grass-like cleanness of kimchi.
This side dish is also best paired with other whites with sufficient astringency and light sweetness to neutralize its pungent taste. Think of Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Alsatian Gewürztraminer.
As for red wine, full-bodied and dark reds won’t work. Only those with a balanced body, fruity notes, lively causticity, and low tannins could. A young Pinot Noir and Cru Beaujolais should are both excellent options.
Japchae is often served during special occasions or at Korean parties as a main or side dish. It’s a stir-fried dish that’s made out of white sweet potato and sweet vermicelli noodles, various vegetables and thinly slices of beef.
It’s usually prepared with green onions, carrots, spinach, green peppers, and shiitake mushrooms. Adding beef is also optional, but it’s left out if served as a vegetarian dish.
With such qualities to consider, fragrant white wines that show the purity of fruit and with a bit of weight goes well with Japchae. You can try a Kerner or Vouvray.
Haemul Pajeon or Pajeon
This dish is a Korean pancake-style appetizer served with scallions and seafood. White wines with good depth, texture, and acidity along with hints of stone fruits and herbs work well with pajeon. A Gruner Veltliner also makes for a lovely companion.
Looking for wines that go well with Korean cuisine can be a bit trying. But there’s no need to leave your wine cellar favorites as there are ways to make it work.
The key here is to find a wine that can enhance or complement the flavor profile of each dish without overpowering them. Take your cue from the suggested wine and Korean dish pairings above.