Tuesday, July 10, 2012

30. A Look at Drops of God

30. The Drops of God Tasting
Bursting on the tip,
the wine soaks my tongue, reaches
down and produces visions.

The one thing that most inspired me to write about wine was a manga called Drops of God. This work, written by team writers Tadashi Agi (Shin and Yuko Kibayashi), is a top selling comic that has inspired a wine craze throughout Asia (raising sales of wine in Korea tremendously, as well as reinvigorating the wine industry in the comic's home of origin, Japan). This comic is a bible for new oenophiles like the story's protagonist, Shizuku Kanzaki. The wine lessons are stored within a captivating storyline, bringing readers back again and again. Best of all, the comic suggests a new way to look at wine, one even untrained tasters can enjoy. 

The Characters

Shizuka Kanzaki

Readers enter first through the protagonist. The manga (Japanese comic) explores wine through the discoveries of new wine enthusiast Shizuku Kanzaki. Kanzaki was raised to be a wine taster; his father introduced him to much of the wine growing world and all of the flavors one can find in wine. As a child, Kanzaki was subjected to tasting leather and other odd flavors in hopes that his palate would be diverse and prepared for all of wine's myriad flavors. Being raised by a renowned wine critic didn't help. Kanzaki's father, Yutaka, was a taster and critic on par with Robert Parker (who is regularly mentioned in the comic), and he was Asia's go to wine man. And like many of us, it seemed like his life became all about wine. This led to a growing distance between father and son, which resulted in the son working for a beer company.

Then there are the other characters there to aid Kanzaki on his journey -- the typical hero's journey as seen in works like The Lord of the Rings.  Along the way, Kanzaki has gathered a diverse group of companions to teach him and befriend him along the way.
Miyabi Shinohara
  •  Miyabi Shinohara: This apprentice sommelier is Kanzaki's right-hand gal. She has the wine book smarts he doesn't. Paired with his almost supernatural wine tasting skills, she helps him take on any challenge. And of course, she is the obvious love interest in a subtle romance.
  • Shiro Fujieda: A wine bar owner who does his best to teach the wayward oenophile and provide him opportunities to sample some of the best wine the world has to offer.
Master Robert
  •  Master Robert: A man who seems like no more than a homeless hermit, Master Robert is a wine expert on the same level with Kanzaki's father. Master Robert has forsaken the world, hid his wine, and is enjoying a private retirement when Kanzaki seeks him out for guidance. Master Robert is Kanzaki's Gandalf (to use a Lord of the Rings reference). He guides and aids, but he seeks to make Kanzaki do for himself. He ends up overseeing the competition Kanzaki must face in order to keep things fair.
Chosuke Hanma
  •  Chosuke Hanma: A fellow colleague in the newly formed wine division at Taiyo Beer (Kanzaki's employer), Honma is a classic oenophile who has a great love for Italian wines. At first, he is a bit of a thorn in Kanzaki's side, but he becomes a trusted and helpful ally on Kanzaki's search and journey.
  • The Chief: Kanzaki's boss at Taiyo Beer, he is the friendly older man who quietly aids and directs Kanzaki.

The Story 

The Twelve Apostles (Vol. 1)

With the protagonist and his band of "brothers"gathered, the story unfolds. When the story starts, Kanzaki is finding out about his father's passing, a blow even if they were estranged. As he deals with the sudden passing, he is informed of his father's will. In order to inherit the Kanzaki fortune and wine collection, the biological son must compete against the adopted one, wine guru Issei Tomine. The two begin on a journey to discover Yutaka Kanzaki's Twleve Apostles and the Drops of God, the wines Yutaka took to be the greatest works of wine. Tomine, who studied with the elder Kanzaki, has devoted his life to wine and wants to win. Shizuku Kanzaki feels obligated to win, as if his father was using this competetion to help his son embrace the life he was always meant for. And for Kanzaki, it quickly becomes the path to reconnecting with his late father. So Kanzaki dives in head first into wine, facing off against the wine expert. And so, Kanzaki begins his journey.

The Drops of God

As Kanzaki begins his hero's journey, he will face trials that will challenge him and his place in the world. First, Kanzaki must learn about wine. He has, up until this point, turned away from wine. He has even gone so far as to enter a competing field. Now he must learn everything he has failed to learn in order to face the challenges of the Twelve Apostles. Shinohara is there to fill in the blanks, Master Robert becomes the revered teacher. As he learns about wine, so do we. He learns about types of wine, wine making, and best of all, wine drinking. And as we join him on this ride, we get a chance to learn it to. -- And just to let you know, Kanzaki and Tomine are tied one-to-one.

An amnesiacs vision of wine

Then there are the side quests, which sounds like a video game but is a staple in modern Japanese hero fiction. These side quests provide not just knowledge -- Kanzaki uses these chances to learn more, and often, to drink the wines he can't afford. Mainly, he learns more about wine's role in our lives. Each side quest lets Kanzaki and Shinohara enter into other people's lives. These people's lives are tied to wine, and to overcome what stands in their way -- a failing restaurant, amnesia, an illegitimate child, etc. -- they must come to terms with wine. Kanzaki helps them, learning about wine and life at the same time. These stories tug at Kanzaki's heart, as well as ours.

With all this going on, it is sometime easy to miss the hidden wine lessons. One of the most valuable I have learned so far is one on decanting. Right now, I am going back through to better understand the French system; I am intrigued by the idea of first, second growth, etc. And in the four volumes so far, there is a lot to learn.

The Drops of God Experience

This comic has it all for a person like me. Best of all, it has given me and many others a new insight into wine. Yes, he learn about tasting and the signature flavors of top rated wines; however, one of the most wonderful parts about the book is the wine tastings. Shinohara is on hand to give us the ins-and-outs of the wine, and Kanzaki does tell us about flavors, but there is something more. For every major wine tasted, the character in question, usually Kanzaki or Tomine, experiences it.

During a wine experience, the character is transported somewhere to see the wine's truest essence. The first discovery for Kanzaki is 2001 Chateau Mont-Perat. This Grand Vin from Bordeaux is a Queen. So much so that Kanzaki envisions the British rock group Queen as he drinks it. And it isn't just Queen, it is Queen from the Bohemian Rhapsody video, with Freddy Mercury strutting in all his glory. And that is just the start. Every major wine Kanzaki drinks leads us to a new vision, like a hidden lake with two lovers or, most recently, Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa. This wine experience is one any taster can have. As the character takes in the wine and savors it, memories, visions, ideas bubble forth and overtake the sense of flavors. This follows a theory that scent, along with taste, brings back memories. Often, Kanzaki slips into his past, such as a childhood visit to a vineyard with his mother.
A hidden sanctuary vision with the First Apostle

This Drops of God experience, is one any wine love can partake in. For me, I prefer to enjoy wine on a more personal level (partially because, despite having hyper-sensitive taste buds, I can't really determine the elements that well. What I can do is tell someone what it is like for me. The best way for me to approach that is what I feel and see and experience as I taste the wine -- the Drops of God approach. Of course the poetry I write complements this. Even as I have begun recent forays into writing about events and visits, I have focused on that experience, approaching it in a way similar to the Drops of God tasting.

 In the end, this comic has inspired me. And I can't wait till the next volume. With that said, the book needs more readers. Right now, I have to wait until September until the next volume. And the author has requested that the manga's English release skip ahead to the New World wine -- get ready California. If all goes well, they will print the material between Apostle two and where the series will start off "next season." But in order for that to happen, they need more readers. If you are interested, Drops of God is available through Amazon, at most Barnes and Nobles, and from independent comic retailers (I buy mine at Dragon's Lair in San Antonio). Check out this acclaimed series and enjoy a journey through wine.

1 comment:

  1. Suggestion to the wine industry:
    Stock this book in your gift shops. It will appeal to the wine-drinking Milennials (yes, they're old enough to drink now) and significant portions of Gen X and Gen Y. It will broaden their palettes and increase their knowledge. You may not necessarily get more customers, but you will get better customers.