Korean Wine Dreams: Gamgyul Wine & Omija Wine

We've about reached the end of my odyssey through various forms of Korean alcohol. Up today is more wine. Not rice wine, not soju, but actual wine, fermented from ... well, I'm not sure exactly. That's the thing with Korea. Sometimes what you're eating and drinking is something of a mystery, and the thrill comes from consuming tons of it while desperately hoping it agrees with you later.

What I do know is that these two wines constituted my most pleasurable drinking experience on the peninsula.

Actually, I was off the peninsula itself when I had these wines - we were visiting the island of Jeju, off the southern coast of Korea. The island is Korea's largest, and it's a popular spot for vacations, honeymoons, and general relaxation. While there, we stayed in a traditional Korean hanok (house), with floor mats. There were also communal showers that we shared with the rest of the little hanok village. Just a big room, with a bunch of shower heads. No, I don't want to talk about it.

We also climbed Mount Hallasan, South Korea's highest peak (and also a volcano). As I mentioned previously, makkoli is the mountain climber's drink of choice. We weren't quite as brave as the Korean ajishis, who share a bottle at the top of the peak before they climb down the extremely steep and slippery rock paths. (Traveling with your mother does put certain restrictions on your questionable and probably stupid more adventurous inclinations.) However, we did all share a bottle upon reaching the base of the mountain (with a plateful of jeon, of course!).

Gastronomically, Jeju is famous for hallabong, an orange-like fruit, and the black pig. The black pig - so named because, well, it's a pig that's black - makes delicious, juicy, succulent Korean barbecue. If you ever find yourself in Jeju, a top priority must be to find and consume this pork (and also to not accidentally rent a hanok which requires you to use a communal shower).

We were feasting on this black pig when we tried one of Jeju's other specialties - Gamgyul (citrus) wine. This is wine made with Jeju's citrus fruit. It's similar to Japanese sake, but it has a much sweeter, refreshing finish. Also, it's cheap.

Prior to that, we had whet our pallets with something called Omija wine. Omija is a Korean berry, whose name means "five." The five represents the five flavors you're supposed to taste in Omija based beverages: sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter. The Koreans use it to make a medicinal tea, and also to press with wine. On the palate it was ... interesting. It had salinity and saltiness reminiscent of sake, but with hints of berries. I can't say I was wild about it, but after days of soju and beer, I thoroughly appreciated sipping something that didn't taste like rubbing alcohol.

Next up - I milk this trip for just a little bit longer and talk about what wines to PAIR with Korean food (or other spicy dishes). Pop back on Thursday for that delicious conversation.