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.