Michelin Guide Seoul, which publishes its seventh (2023) edition this year, is a strong supporter of chefs who are leading lights of the culinary industry, and sommeliers who passionately provide customers with a high-quality gastronomic experience by studying and combining various drinks that go well with their dishes. The roots of Seoul's dining industry and culture, which show dynamic development every year, are linked to the growth of these professionals representing the hospitality industry.
Recalling the long history of gastronomic partnerships it has made, Maison Mumm RSRV, which sponsors the Michelin Sommelier Award, explains, "The Sommeliers tirelessly researches and curates various beverages to provide customers with a high-quality dining experience; we thank and respect all Sommeliers."
Revealed at the Star Revelation ceremony on 13 October, Mosu’s Sommelier Kim Jin-beom was selected as the first winner of the Michelin Sommelier Award which is newly introduced in Seoul. Kim is indispensable in the rapid growth and development of Mosu’s dining experience, which was promoted from 2 stars to 3 stars this year. Kim adds beverage pairing to provide a guide to enjoy excellent dishes with more dynamic and impactful flavors. We met and talked about the rigors of his job and his introduction to wine.
How did you become a sommelier?
I was originally a college student who majored in machinery. I wanted to be an engineer since I was young. However, I fell into a new path in the army. While I was in the army, I talked to my senior; he said his dream was to become a barista. I didn't even know that barista was a coffee expert at the time. So I said, "That's someone who deals with alcoholic beverages, right?" (laughs) I guessed, it's either a bartender or a sommelier! Since then, as I found out about this job, I became more and more fascinated by it. So, I ordered a book about wine right away in the army and started studying. I dropped out of the mechanical department, and entered a new vocational school where I could learn wine - and we've come all the way here.
What is the charm of being a sommelier?
The biggest attraction is that you can drink, study, and work. It's also the reason I started this job. There is a fascinating story not only in wine but also in many other alcohols in the world. I don't think there's anything more attractive than the role of studying these and talking to people.
What do you think is a misunderstanding about a sommelier?
And people assume that sommeliers only drink expensive wines because we often deal with such customers. Actually, I often drink soju, too. Every drink in the world has a different pleasure. All we have to do is to respect that value, and try not to lose diversity.
At first, I felt a kind of distance from the sommeliers, maybe because there were a lot of seniors who had a unique vibe and character, but when I take a step closer and talk to them, I get close to them very quickly.
What kind of alcohol do you usually enjoy drinking?
I don't drink a lot. Actually, I don't even drink much water. Among alcohols, I like soju – not a special or high-quality soju, but just popular and cheap soju that Koreans commonly drink. It’s $4 per bottle. It's cheap and it's really convenient, right? Instead of eating with special snacks, at home after work I enjoy a glass of soju with Korean banchan (side dishes with rice) or simply fried eggs left by the children.
What is the best food and alcohol pairing that you suggest?
People might say it's a cliche, but I can’t think of a better pairing than samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly) and soju. Soju is not a so-called "well-made liquor", is it? However, when it comes to samgyeopsal, I wonder if there would be a better match. The sizzled greasy samgyeopsal and a clear glass of soju…. The simple taste of alcohol comes with a pleasant cleanliness.
What is a good wine pairing?
The flow is the most important. The spectrum from red to purple, which is the order of rainbow colors, is beautiful in order, but it might look weird if it gets mixed up. So, visual flow, taste flow, scent flow, intensity flow are all important. In a coherent flow, the beauty increases. Just listing the bottles in order or looking straight at the pairing glasses on the table makes you feel good. I consider that a good pairing.
How do you develop the wine list of Mosu?
Considering the current situation in Seoul, it's very tricky. It is difficult to get famous wines that people prefer because the amount of imported wine is quite small. Many restaurants want the same wine. Also, unlike other fine restaurants overseas, there are not enough places to store wine.
Now, we are trying to list a lot of wine that is easy to drink right away. Chef Ahn's dishes are very delicate, so wines from Burgundy, which goes well with them, accounts for a considerable proportion, but we try not to lose the diversity in our wine list. I don't feel too pressured to list up a few bottles of new wine or remove them from the list. As we run a wine pairing menu, we are trying to give our guests a more dynamic and challenging experience here.
If you have a favorite wine-related movie or book, please introduce it to us.
Sideways is a 2004 American comedy-drama road film directed by Alexander Payne. I watched that movie over and over again. As I had never been to a foreign winery, I imagined the atmosphere or the real winery while watching this movie. Even after watching it once, I played the movie at home and drank wine with the aura of the background.
How do you predict restaurant and wine trends in the future?
During the COVID-19 period, more and more consumers enjoyed expensive wine. In Korea, it is a consideration that ultra-high-priced wines are bought by individuals rather than by restaurants; so as a sommelier, I'm thinking about how to service wines that our customers bring to the restaurant. We need to develop the policy and service manuals to treat such wines and serve them with meals.
What is your future goal?
I'm going to study more professionally. The world of wine is wide. Therefore, I would like to prepare international certificates and reorganize my personal experience and knowledge by professional standards.