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Expert says restaurants should be creative with drinks menu

Nov 28,2016
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Jeannie Cho Lee [JW MARRIOTT HOTEL DONGDAEMUN SQUARE]
There may be many big name professionals and critics at wine businesses based in Asia, but not many have enjoyed as much attention as wine critic and expert Jeannie Cho Lee has, the first Asian to be recognized as a wine master by the dignified Institute of Masters of Wine based in the United Kingdom.

Lee, after she received the honor of becoming a Master of Wine in 2008, has been building up her name as wine critic, professor, television host, consultant and many others, to encourage others in Asia to step up and get their feet into the industry while showing the wine-making regions how important the Asian market is for them for the future.

“The Asian market for fine wine maybe is more important [for winemakers] than the North American market, and we are exactly one third of the world market,” said Jeannie Cho Lee during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily two weeks ago during her visit to Seoul, adding that the Asian market plays a crucial role in making the wine business a sustainable one for many producers. She came to Seoul to hold a dinner event pairing dishes with wines of her choice at the JW Marriott Hotel Dongdaemun Square in central Seoul.

For her, making that idea seen by the people in wine-producing regions has been important, partly because she wanted to add on to the wine language that’s heavily based on the items or terminology widely prevailed in the European culture. As a professor teaching wine at the Polytechnic University’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management, she strives to use terms that can be easily understood by students raised in Asia and exposed to fruits and vegetables that are local here.

“[Asian students] don’t understand what gooseberry or passion fruit is because they never had it before,” said Lee pointing out that a lot of words using to describe the taste of wine relies heavily what’s commonly available in wine producing countries but not in Asia. In her lecture and books, she uses dates or seaweed to explain the sweet, matured taste, or mineral.

Lee, who moved to the United States from Korea when she was six, spoke in both English and Korean fluently during the interview when she suggests the direction the Korean wine industry should head. She pointed out that restaurants in Korea should find ways to increase revenues from wine sales, and that requires a special wine selection to draw consumers.

“[Wines at restaurants] don’t have to be rare,” said Lee explaining that only some portion of the selected wines needs to be something “unique.”

“Just like food at a restaurant needs to be up to date and fresh not to have their returning guests become bored of the same food, the same logic applies to wine.”

She added that it takes patience and time until the effort put in a wine list shows its charm, saying that it takes about one or two years before you can see sales revenue starting to go up. She said many have said that such model wouldn’t work in Korea, but no one knows unless they try with a targeted goal to reach.

She also pointed out that systemic support from the government can also help the wine industry grow further, citing that Hong Kong became the wine central of Asia after it decided to remove all duties imposed on wine in 2008, and that opened up the chance for a wider range of people to enjoy wine at a different price range. “Unless wine becomes [enjoyed by the] middle class, it doesn’t really become much of a market.”

If a right opportunity comes, she will also consider doing more business within Korea, such as consulting restaurants or food and beverage companies on how to set up their wine list. She has already worked to pair wine to Korean food, and been contacted by local restaurants, although nothing is confirmed for the near future.

“Pairing wine with Korean food is challenging because a lot of Korean food is tang (soup), but Piedmont wine made with barbera (a type of grapes) or wine made with syrah in the cooler climate in Chile or Australia can go very well with Korean food.”

Lee added that she also enjoys having German wine made with riesling paired with the Korean food she cooks at home after work.

BY LEE SUN-MIN
[summerlee@joongang.co.kr]