Pairing the Right Wines with Korean Food

Korean food is famed for its banchan, or side dishes, which, in their own right, are a culinary art of finding the right combination of food that will complement the main course. Anthony Velasquez has done the same thing, only this time, with wine.

While there’s no question that more and more Koreans are imbibing the fruit of the vine, the common Western practice of bringing your own bottle of wine to a restaurant that doesn’t serve the vintage you prefer is still as foreign as wearing shoes indoors. So once you’ve decided to do it, what’s the right wine to do it with?

No matter the cuisine, the same principles to pairing food and wine still apply. Consider the texture of the protein balanced by the wine’s body. Or, in some cases, the flavors of the sauce and the flavors of the wine may be even more important than the meat itself. An ideal pairing could be to match the main profile of the plate with the profile in the glass (think lobster and drawn butter with a rich, buttery chardonnay).

In contrast, there’s the color wheel approach: take the opposite for its mate. Pair a spicy or salty dish with a touch of sweet or ripe fruit flavor to sing in perfect pitch.

A bit confused? Don’t be. With quality-to-price ratio and availability in mind, here’s a primer to think outside the soju that’ll impress your date, your in-laws or your boss at your next staff dinner.Salud!

(Raw Fish) and Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio

These light, crisp, citrusy whites pair with raw fish and their peach/passionfruit contrast the soy, wasabi and gochujang on the side.


  • 2013 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio, Trentino, Italy (E-mart, 9,900 won)
  • 2014 Sileni Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (Shinsegae, 25,000 won)

조개구이 (Grilled Shellfish) and Chardonnay

A good chardonnay balances citrus to tropical fruit along with oak, acid and minerality that loves grilled clams, mussels and scallops.


  • 2012 Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay, Maipo Valley, Chile (E-mart, 14,900 won)
  • 2012 Alfaro Lindsay Paige Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Cruz, California (E-mart, 39,000 won)

오리구이 (Grilled Duck) and Pinot Noir

Duck is often served in France with a fruit sauce, but keep the red berries in the glass with a medium-bodied, earthy Pinot to complement the game flavor.


  • 2011 Kings Ridge Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon (E-mart, 19,900 won)
  • 2013 Tohu Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand (Shinsegae, 34,000 won)

김치찜 (Pork Roast With Kimchi) and Chianti

The acid and spiciness of kimchi meets the inherent acid and spices of sangiovese with bright cherry for an ideal quaff with this dish.


  • 2013 Piccini Chianti, Tuscany, Italy (Shinsegae, 10,000 won)
  • 2011 Ruffino Reserva Ducale, Chianti Classico, Italy (E-mart, 28,000 won)

돼지갈비 (Pork Ribs) and Rhone Blend

Grenache brings the smooth red fruit, syrah offers the feral black fruit and body, and mourvedre adds the funk and bite to enhance meatier, marinated grilled pork.


  • 2011 Tesco Plan de Dieu Cotes du Rhone Villages, France
    (Homeplus, 16,000 won)
  • 2012 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, France (E-mart, 29,000 won)

Korean food and wine
Photo by Mike Dixon

갈비찜 (Braised/Marinated Beef Ribs) and Tempranillo

This middleweight champion and Spain’s main grape delivers dusty cherry, tobacco, spice and oak to pair this savory classic.


  • 2004 Anciano “Años 10 Years” Tempranillo, Valdepeñas, Spain (Costco, 11,000 won)
  • 2010 Sierra Cantabria Tempranillo Crianza, Rioja, Spain (E-mart, 23,000 won)

삼겹살 (Pork Belly) and Australian Shiraz

A great shiraz has notes of smoky bacon, but a good one at least offers ripe, sturdy, flavorful reds with enough tannin to cut the belly fat.


  • 2012 Kilikanoon The Lackey Shiraz, South Australia (Homeplus, 19,900 won)
  • 2010 Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz, South Australia (E-mart, 44,000 won)

불고기 (Marinated Beef) and Zinfandel

With bulgogi’s marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar, scallions and pepper, zin’s ripe brambly blackberry and capsicum is the call.


  • 2011 Kirkland Signature Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel, California (Costco, 17,000 won)
  • 2012 Gnarly Head Old VIne Zinfandel, Lodi, California (E-mart, 23,000 won)

한우고기 (Korean Beef) and Malbec

Argentina’s flagship with plum, black/blueberry, anise, menthol, heft and grace for premium indigenous beef.


  • 2012 Alta Vista Classic Argentina Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (Shinsegae, 16,000 won)