Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Drops of God: Wine quest as wine education platform

The Japanese manga series Drops of God performs the extremely difficult task of spinning a yarn which grabs and holds the attention of the general reader while simultaneously imparting learnings that are of interest to both the novice and experienced wine drinker. I explore this fine dance in this post.

The Drops of God is a consolidation and translation of a Japanese manga series ((i) style of cartoon originating in Japan; (ii) often published in magazines or comic books and generally appearing serially in those media -- wise which was created by a brother and sister team (Yuko and Shin Kibiyashi) writing under the pseudonym Tadashi Agi. The series has been published continually from 2004 to today.

The protagonist in the series is Shizuku Kanzaki, a beer company salesman whose father, Yutaka Kanzaki, the Robert Parker of Japan, dies suddenly, leaving his home and a ¥2 billion wine collection in his will. Now for the twist. The estate is not willed directly to Shizuku. Rather, he has to identify 12 wines (The 12 Apostles) and a 13th (The Drops of God) by name and vintage -- based solely on his father's written description -- in order to claim the estate. And this has to be accomplished within a year. To me this is a quest, a journey through 13 wines which has the home and the wine collection as its pot of gold.

But not so fast. He is not the only participant in this level of the quest. His father had adopted a famous young wine critic -- Issei Tomei -- as his legal son one week before his death and this "second son" would also be competing against Skizuku for ownership of the estate. The wines are to be tasted blind. To increase the level of difficulty of Shizuku's quest, the adopted son is an accomplished and well-regarded wine critic while Shizuku has never had a glass of wine in his life.


In order to compete effectively in this top-level quest, Shizuku has to embark on a second quest: to acquire the detailed wine knowledge that would allow him to compete against Issei. For, you see, Shizuku was not totally unequipped for this fight. While he had never drank a glass of wine, his father had given him a lifelong education in aromas and flavors. His quest then was to marry that flavor knowledge to individual wines so that he could identify those wines in the blind tasting competitions he would be having with Issei to determine the winner.

The authors use diversions and distractions from the main quest in order to maintain high drama and keep the plot line fresh and interesting for the general reader. It is the wine-education aspects that are of especial interest to us though and I have attempted to capture the essence in the chart below. Whether on the tortuous path of the main quest or on one of the diversions/divergences, Shizuku is being exposed to new wines. The exposure to those wines, and the stories wrapped around them, keeps the interest of the experienced wine drinker (I for one have drunk specific wines, or vintages of wines, because I first encountered them within these pages). For the relatively inexperienced drinker, the authors use these wines as a jumping-off point to explore some of the more fundamental wine concepts and that, as I see it, improves their understanding and appreciation of wine, and, hopefully, encourages exploration.

It may seem somewhat incongruous that some of these fundamental wine principles are being explored through the lens of some of the most expensive bottles of wine in the world but it becomes less so when one considers that the wine collection that is being pursued will be populated with these types of wines. And these are the wines that Shizuku has to become familiar with in order to be competitive.

No. I am not going to tell you how it ends because I don't know.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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