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Local bar wins Wine Spectator award

Vin.ga receives second highest honor from prominent American wine magazine


Seoul-based wine bar “vin.ga” made history this month, becoming the sole Korean establishment to win the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Wine List Awards.

The famous American wine magazine handed out the second-tier honor (the Grand Award is the highest) to only 833 restaurants this year.

Last year, Vin.ga walked away with the Award of Excellence, which is the lowest out of the three honors. 
Japanese architect Takao Kawasaki designed the interior of the award-winning wine bar “vin.ga,” which conjures up the rustic charm of a wine cave with its weathered brick and “hanok” wood interior. Three wine cellars house the establishment’s extensive inventory of around 4,000 bottles of approximately 700 vintages (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Japanese architect Takao Kawasaki designed the interior of the award-winning wine bar “vin.ga,” which conjures up the rustic charm of a wine cave with its weathered brick and “hanok” wood interior. Three wine cellars house the establishment’s extensive inventory of around 4,000 bottles of approximately 700 vintages (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

That means a year ago the restaurant had the basic breadth and scope of vintages needed to receive a nod of recognition from Wine Spectator, whose awards are based on wine, not food.

Vin.ga wine director Kim Hyuck, 48, believes this helped them nab the coveted award.

Already in possession of a strong wine list, Vin.ga prepared for the next round. They studied the guidelines and bolstered their wine list, adding vintages from new Italian and Spanish regions.

“We didn’t make drastic changes to the line-up,” said Kim. “We just gave it depth.”

Depth translates directly to an inventory of around 4,000 bottles which feature a selection of around 700 vintages. No small feat.

To diversify and round out the wine list, Kim and team contacted wine importers, looked at what was available, tasted and selected.

“Creating a wine list requires time and an awareness of trends,” he explained.

It also helps that the man behind Vin.ga is Woonsan Group chairman Lee Hi-sang.

Lee not only created wine cultural center Podo Plaza, which houses the wine bar on its basement floor, he also created Napa Valley winery Dana Estates.

The winery’s 2007 Lotus Cabernet was given a perfect score of 100 points from esteemed wine critic Robert Parker. A year later, two of their wines, Onda d’Oro and Vaso, were served at the G-20 Seoul Summit in 2010, scoring a double success for the winery in a short span of time.

Lee not only boasts considerable prowess in the business side of wine. According to Kim, the well-travelled chairman has also visited the world’s top wine bars and restaurants, giving him an insider’s view of the dining side of the wine experience.

All of that is reflected in Vin.ga.

Sporting an Italian menu infused with Asian sensibilities, the wine bar, which opened in 2005, serves up standard tapas-style fare like jamon and melon alongside more delightful surprises like a salad of crunchy green beans slathered in a creamy caper sauce.

Bits of bacon enliven a side of corn next to some crisp sea bass. Roast chicken, which some might find slightly bland, tops a bed of smooth, buttery mashed potatoes. Pesto gets worked into an elegant if somewhat muted pasta.

In short, the food holds up fine against the wine, but it is clear that Vin.ga’s true heart lies in its vast array of vintages, which are carefully stored in not one, but three wine cellars. The wine is then done full justice by being served in either Spiegelau or Riedel glasses.

Designed by Japanese architect Takao Kawasaki, the interior recreates the cool, rustic ambiance of an old wine cave. Weathered brick and wood sourced from traditional Korean houses adds to the chic vibe of the restaurant.

Live music (solo piano at 7:30 p.m. and jazz at 9:30 p.m.) takes the drinking experience up a notch.

● Details

Vin.ga is open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily and is closed Sundays.

Wine by the bottle ranges from around 42,000 won to 8,500,000 won; by the glass from 15,000 won to 35,000 won. On Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Lucky Hour Sets featuring steak and a bottle of wine or salad, pasta and a bottle of wine for two cost 70,000 won.

Every second Saturday of the month, special-themed live music is played.

To get there go to Apgujeong Subway Station Line 3, Exit 2 and walk towards Galleria Department Store. Cross the first major intersection and turn right. Walk several blocks. Turn left at Jacadi. Vin.ga is located on the basement floor of Podo Plaza on the right.

For more information call (02) 516-1761 or visit www.vinga.co.kr.

By Jean Oh (oh_jean@heraldcorp.com)
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