Busan’s Best Restaurants for Wine
While well-known Merciel deserves all of the honors for its award-winning list and its cuisine nonpareil, here are three often overlooked places for some great vino.
Just as no varietal or vintage is equal, so it goes with restaurant wine lists. Case in point: there’s Dalmaji’s Merciel, where sea meets sky and haute cuisine meets Haut-Médoc. Last year it was the only recipient of a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in Busan, among only six such awards in Korea.
While Merciel has garnered the most media attention and accolades, here are three of the best off-the-radar restaurants for the wine cognoscenti or wine curious.
VINAfo Wine Bar & Bistro (Kyungsung)
There may be a dozen or so wine bars around Busan, but none can offer the selection and service that CEO/Sommelier Seung-Hoon Lee’s expertise brings to the table. Mr. Lee, certified by the most prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers, is an International Bordeaux Wine Educator and was awarded Best Sommelier of Korea in 2011 and 2012.
Besides offering 450 wines, specializing in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne, there’s a small but tasty menu of appetizers, salads and pastas. While the reserve list includes the five classified first-growths of Bordeaux, topping with the 1986 Lafite Rothschild at 2.5 million won, there are five bottles of whites and 22 reds from Italy, Spain, France, South Africa, the US, Australia and Chile for 50,000 won and under. For something special that won’t break the bank, try the elegant, mature Bordeaux 2000 Chateau de Sainte Gemme Cru Bourgeois from the Haut-Médoc for 65,000 won, while it’s still available.
Directions: VINAfo, 051-627-3484. Walk straight out of KSU subway exit 5. Make the first left and head four blocks until the intersection comes to a T. Then you’ll see VINAfo on the second floor to the right.
Sommelier Yoon-Kyoung Suk owns this cozy Italian restaurant a couple blocks down from Judies Taehwa in Seomyeon. Ms. Suk graduated from the Master Course at the Bordeaux Institute in Seoul and installed her custom-made wine cellar, stocked with nearly 250 different bottles, to anchor her intimate enoteca. Bottles range in price from the humble, yet quality, 2012 Guntrum Riesling from Rheinhessen, Germany for 35,000 won to the 2000 Mouton Rothschild for 4 million won. Ms. Suk let me dig through her collection, where I found a d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache from McLaren Vale, Australia for 68,000 won. Let this one decant for a little while to let the black fruit, spice and French oak flavors really come together for a savory balance. For food, Gavi serves an extensive menu of classic appetizers, salads, pastas, pizzas, calzones and entrees. Favorites include the mozzarella di bufala, olive tapenade pasta and perfectly grilled steaks, including Korean sirloin, Australian veal T-bones and duck imported from France.
Directions: Gavi, 051-808-1655. Walk straight out of Seomyeon subway, exit 2. Go four blocks, then make a left. Gavi is another block-and-a-half walk, on the right side of the street, on the second floor.
Spain Club (Haeundae)
This restaurant, which also has five outposts in Seoul, seems popular for its sangria and paella, but the main reason I frequent this bodega is its great wine list and well-executed small plates. Spain Club features over 50 Spanish bottles to choose from, spanning the entire country, ranging in price from 39,000 to 180,000 won. Another big plus for the enophile is that they offer wines by the glass for 7,000 won, including a cava (Champagne-style Spanish sparkling wine), a crisp El Coto blanco, and a red crianza (aged two years with at least six months in oak) made from tempranillo (Spain’s main wine grape) also by El Coto in Rioja. As for the tapas, my guest and I were quite pleased with the pisto manchego, traditional stewed vegetables topped with fried eggs; calamari a la plancha, grilled whole squid; champiñones a la segoviana, mushrooms, diced onion and ham in olive oil; and albondigas con salsa chorizo, Andalucian meatballs – all from 11,000 to 15,000 won. Salud!
Directions: Spain Club, 051-746-1164. On the first floor of the Pale de CZ, overlooking Haeundae Beach.