Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2015
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
- Passion 4 Wine; Grand Hyatt Seoul; Park Hyatt Seoul; Grand Hyatt Seoul; Grand Hyatt Incheon; Novotel Ambassador Gangham, Seoul; The Westin Chosun, Seoul; Certificate, The Wine Academy, Seoul; Certificate, Italian Wine Course, Italian Trade Commission; Certificate, Wine & Spirit Education Trust; Certificate, Bordeaux Wine Master Class, Bordeaux L’Ecole du Vin; Spanish Wine Educator, The Wine Academy of Spain; Certificate, Australian Wine, Australian Government
- Mongtan-Myeon, Korea
- Bachelors Degree in Law, Kwangju University, Korea; Hotel Management, Kyungju Hotel School, Korea
- Korean, English, Japanese
The owners were thinking big when they laid out dining operations at Four Seasons Hotel Seoul. But when it came to creating wine lists for the Hotel’s four restaurants and three lounges, Ian Seo thought small. “I would like this Hotel to be different,” says Seo, who, as Beverage Manager and Sommelier, focuses almost exclusively on small production artisan wines. “My selections are not based on sponsorships, but on quality and value. There are challenges to using small producers that many sommeliers would not accept. But my philosophy is to tough it out so we can offer guests the opportunity to try something new.”
Seo considers many elements when selecting artisan wines for each outlet. There is the dining concept: Cantonese and regional Chinese at Yu Yuan; Japanese and sushi at Kioku; traditional Italian with modern twists at Boccalino; and all over the map at The Market Kitchen. There is also the role of atmosphere at each restaurant, the presentation on the plate, the chef’s personal style and, of course, Seo’s own.
He updates his wine lists frequently – typically once a month – the better to minimise frustration at the table should vintages change or wines sell out. Seo has further created a wine-by-the-glass program that he considers “really unique,” with a different lineup available at each restaurant selected from an outsized base of sparklers (including Champagne), whites and reds. Those lists change frequently, too. “We don’t want to offer same wines by the glass to frequent guests every time they come in.”
With more than 300 labels on hand at the Hotel at any given moment, Seo believes that the by-the-glass program provides a good introduction for training service staff. He is straightforward about his approach wine education: “I don’t want to push our staff to follow my palate. I prefer that they develop their own skills and describe the wines according to their own tastes.”
There is so much more to note about a wine than the score it has received from a wine magazine, he says. Better for servers to relate details of grapes, classification, origin and producer than to presuppose how a wine will go down on a guest’s palate. “Everyone has a favourite wine, so there is no right or wrong answer,” says Seo. “I prefer to respect individual tasting skills and let our servers sell what they like.”
Asked to recall the origin of his oenophilia, Seo demurs. “For me, wine is an endless love. There are so many great wines in the world and I still haven’t tasted them all.” He studies wine every day, often in the company of other sommeliers, “because if I don’t, I’ll quickly be out of date.” He also visits wine-producing regions every year: “I’m happy to use my vacation time in pursuit of more wine knowledge.”
Since 2002, Seo has toured wine regions in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Australia, the US and China, sometimes with fellow wine lovers, other times on his own. Meanwhile, he began his wine education in 2000 at the Wine Academy in Seoul and entered the hotel industry as a server around the same time. He was first hired as a sommelier later that year. He has continued his wine education for more than a decade, earning certificates from the Italian Trade Commission, Bordeaux L’Ecole du Vin, the Wine Academy of Spain and others.
While the wine market in Korea has grown “a lot” over the past decade, Seo notes that wine sales at hotels have declined. “Most people go buy a bottle at the market and then pay a corkage fee to drink it at a hotel,” he says. “By offering distinctive, small production artisan wines, I am very confident that I can change that trend at Four Seasons Hotel Seoul."