Vinarte is the enterprising outfit to be found in the Seoul Arts Centre. An independent wine shop quite out of the ordinary in Korea, a country otherwise not especially associated with wine. We don't mean to be patronizing; there are decent wine shops in Seoul with a limited but not uninteresting selections as might be expected in this advanced and sophisticated society. Wine is drunk as much as anywhere else and if there is a somewhat elevated bias towards brands, that is perhaps only to be expected where there is no tradition and comparatively recent interest. We looked in vain for Vin Naturel or anything much off the beaten track although the odd out of the way and interesting producer such as Cusumano were quite broadly represented which is a good and unexpected thing.
Vinarte is another matter. A wine bar as well as a wine shop, we found a surprising amount of Romanian wine on offer. This we were told was due to a (Romanian?) partner with a special interest in Romania. We tried a glass of Vampire Merlot. We are familiar with and most appreciative of Romanian Pinot Noir and are aware they produce Cabernet Sauvignon, but had never come across a Merlot from that country. The glass we tasted in Vinarte, Seoul was very respectable despite the corny name.
Of note in many Korean wine shops was the full representation of sweet and semi-sweet wines, both Red and White. We draw no conclusions from this other than Koreans must like these wines. Nothing wrong in that. Indeed, there was an interesting selection at Vinarte.
Although relatively small, Vinarte has a temperature-controlled room for fine wines and a selection of spirits inculding Stravinsky's favourite whisky, Ballantine's 30 Year Old.
The hefty price of 845,000 South Korean Won translates into nearly £480, three times the cost in the UK. One would have to be a very big Stravinsky fan to pay that amount but judging by the enthusiasm of Korean audiences for Western classical music, there might be the odd aficionado willing to pay that amount. Having a beautiful Arts Centre attached to your wineshop would certainly help.