Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wine, In Korea

I traveled to Busan, Korea last week for a conference. After fulfilling my formal obligations early in the trip, I did take a moment to look around for a nice glass of wine. There was some Korean Cabernet Sauvignon available at a reception for the conference one evening. It was a light, drinkable wine with a slightly rustic sweaty saddle aroma. Nothing special, but decent enough and not spoofulated. Later that night I sought out dinner, hoping to find a place with a decent wine list. I ended up, somewhat accidentally, at a sort of luxury buffet that had a variety of immaculately plated international foods in addition to Korean cuisine. However, only a house wine was available by the glass. This one turned out to be rather oaky and hollow with a bland nose. I’m guessing it was something cheap from Chile or maybe Australia.

So it seems the international style has its name for a good reason. In fact, judging by the price of wine at the hotel where the conference was held, European-style wine is treated as a luxury good. Perhaps it was a function of location, but most bottles were at least double the price I’d pay in the US. Many ordinary Mondavi wines I’d find in a supermarket were extremely expensive, for example. I suppose this serves as first-hand anecdotal evidence as to why well-known regions are so highly priced. These wines, like those from Burgundy and Bordeaux, are luxury goods from Europe all the way to Asia. Not surprisingly a variety of luxury brands from Europe like Dior and Vuitton (probably owned by LVMH, the conglomerate that controls Dom Perignon Champagne and d’Yquem) were also fairly prominent.

Something else I realized drinking a Starbucks espresso drink—yes, coffee it seems has an international style as well—is that these sorts of drinks are remarkably similar to heavily oaked, highly extracted wines. There’s creamy sweetness on the mid-palate, viscous texture and extremely concentrated bitterness that’s offset by sugar and dairy additions. The typical local coffee was much less concentrated, leading me to think the ultra-dark, high concentration coffee drink is largely an invention of the American palate. In fact, this sort of high-octane coffee was labeled as “Coffee Americano.” It makes me wonder about the coffee drinking habits of American wine producers and drinkers.

The epilogue here was rather predictable: some Vin de Pays Merlot named Les Terroirs on my flight back across the Pacific. If anything, this wine suggested the effect of multiple terroirs is multiplicative instead of additive. Just as a blend can be more than the sum of its parts, it seems it can also be far less as well. Mathematically, if terroir is less than 1, then the product of many of these terroirs is much less than 1. And there you have it: quality = (terroir)^n, where n is the number of terroirs and terroir > 0. Or you could just say airline wine is plonk.


Jeff said...

Dude...I'm jealous that you got to go to Korea. Sounds a lot more fun than my job last week. Nothing like a good boondoggle to make work more interesting.

I used to buy coffee for a rather large retailer, and there most definitely is the "Starbucks" palate/American palate for coffee. Most of it has to do with over-roasting it's sort of similar to over-oaking a wine, because you cover up all the really interesting elements with a lot of charred flavors. Anyways, the thing that always fascinated me about it was that I always preferred the lighter to more medium roasts, which had more acidity, snap and terroir driven elements to them. You can taste the beans...whereas with the French Roasts and stuff, it's just French Roast. Sure some are better than others, but they have a lot in common with every other French Roast...but the thing about French Roast flavor profile is that it sells. People like the "roasty" flavors. So French Roast is the Mondavi of the coffee world...The difference between coffee and wine is that the price difference isn't as extreme though. You can get awesome, amazing, crazy coffee for a very small price per cup. DRC, you might pay several hundred dollars a glass...the best coffees can be had for less than a buck.

CabFrancoPhile said...

I hadn't really though much about coffee until recently trying a lighter roast. It just has so much more flavor and aroma. Since it's generally a wake up in the morning thing for me, I'm not usually too picky about it, other than I like it to be freshly ground. But since there's little if any cost difference once you are buying freshly roasted, unground beans, I'll definitely be looking for lighter roasts.

Jeff said...

Yeah, that's all French Roast is--basically burned coffee beans. Coffee is more technical in some ways than wine, so there are different levels of roast...I generally prefer what is called a full city roast, which is more of a medium-ish roast. So it's kind of the best of both worlds. But anyways, French Roast is generally something that you can use lower quality beans in, since you're just basically burning/caramelizing them. Real coffee nerds have their own roasters and will experiment with different degrees of roast. And since you don't have to wait for it to age, you can do it all in real time...