Friday, November 2, 2012

The Drops of God: New World

The epic and fascinating vinous battle between Shizuku Kanzaki and Issei Tomine continues. At stake is a vast wine collection valued at more than $20 million dollars. Who shall emerge victorious in this great contest? How will this competition change the two contestants?

I previously raved about the prior volumes of The Drops of God and have strongly encouraged all wine lovers to check out this compelling series. The fifth volume has recently been released. The Drops of God: New World ($14.95) is a trade paperback, about the size of a usual paperback manga, of 366 pages. Like a traditional manga, the book is read from back to front, which is a minor adjustment if you are not a regular manga reader and used to this format. This volume contains 18 issues of the original manga.

The series centers on an intriguing wine contest where the two competitors must identify 12 "Apostle" wines and one final wine, "The Drops of God." In Japan, the Drops of God manga is hugely popular and the series continues to be published. So far, 8 Apostles have been identified though in the first four English translations, only the first two have been made known. This fifth volume jumps ahead in the timeline, depicting the efforts to identify the seventh Apostle wine.

This disruption to the chronology of story line can be a bit jarring. The rationale behind it though was to publish a volume that would be more appealing to American readers by showcasing a contest which involved New World wines, including many California ones. By setting some of the story in California, it was hoped the book would find a greater American audience. Let us hope that turns out to be the case.

One of the new characters presented in this volume is Issei's mother, who also is a wine expert and seems to be even more knowledgeable than Issei. She is present when the description of the Seventh Apostle is read, and it is thought that her presence might actually be a distraction to Issei. Over the course of 11 pages, the Seventh Apostle is described, in words and pictures, including a lion and Sagrada Familia (Gaudi's unfinished church in Barcelona). The competitors have only three weeks to identify the wine and as in the other volumes, there are always various obstacles on the path to the conclusion of the primary contest.

New World wines take center stage in this contest and there is some initial discussion as to a definition of that term. In the end, they tend to feel that New World refers to those regions that lack a wine making tradition, though it might be more accurate to state they have a much shorter wine making tradition than other countries like France and Italy. More differences are presented throughout the book, such as stating that New World wines are "enjoyable even before they peak." There is no need to wait until their mature before they can be savored. Maybe the greatest, and potentially most controversial, difference presented is that New World wines are more the products of man rather than terroir.

It is pointed out that New World wines rely more on "Man over the blessing of Heaven or Earth" and emphasize "the miracle of human effort, of manpower and the homage to life embodied therein."  To Issei, he feels that for many regions in the New World, the terroir is not yet distinct so the nature of the wines change dependent on who produces it. He later states that, "Napa's wines require a lot of hands-on skill that obscures characteristics of the terroir..." And while he searches for a wine that is a "masterpiece of manpower," he is told that "excellent Napa wines are all 'works' birthed in such a way."

What are your thoughts on that issue? Are California wines more a product of the wine maker than terroir? Does that wine making obscure terroir?

The two contestants take different paths on their journeys to select the Seventh Apostle. Issei, taking his mother with him, decides to start his search in Napa Valley upon the Napa Valley Wine Train. On the train, they taste a number of famous California wines such as the 2007 Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard Chardonnay, 2000 Etude Pinot Noir, 2004 Stag's Leap Cask 23, 2004 Opus One, and 2000 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. To Issei, he feels that the Oakville AVA is probably the most ideal winemaking region in California. His exploration of California vineyards eventually takes an involuntary detour, when he is threatened by criminals who want Issei to help them perpetuate a fraud during a wine auction.

Later, as has apparently become his trademark, Issei takes an unorthodox route to discerning the Apostle, this time watching a film, about the wines of Napa Valley, for ten days straight. In the end, he selects a California wine as his guess for the identity of the Seventh Apostle.

On the other hand, Shizuku begins his search by tasting a variety of New World wines, from regions such as New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Argentina. Based on his thoughts about the tastings, he decides to travel to Australia to seek the Apostle. Once there, he runs into his own distraction, a man who hates the Japanese because he feels they are destroying Australia's forests. There is a diversion, a discussion on how much of the lumber, from the limited forest land of Australia, is sent to Japan for paper products. Once past this obstacle, Shizuku learns that his father had visited Australia and he learn a bit more about him. In the end, he selects an Australian wine as his choice for the identity of the Seventh Apostle.

Once again, this volume continues to review wines in more unique ways, describing the feelings, images and memories the wines invoke. Anyone who writes wine reviews, like wine bloggers, should pay special attention to how this is done, how they use evocative imagery and language to go beyond a mere recitation of flavors and smell. A 1983 Leoville-Las Cases is described as "chivalrous, elegant, almost like a falcon wheeling through the open skies."  In comparison, the 1994 Dominus is also described as a falcon, except this time it is "a realist painting" and "a work of art." The 2000 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon is compared to Vermeer's "The Milkmaid," being "Dignified, yet layered with the familiarity of workaday life." The 1999 Beringer Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is described as a "stately buffalo." A 2001 Napier Red Medallion, from South Africa, is described as "an elegant, all-female choir signing a cappella."

In addition, the manga presents some thought provoking quotes, comments to ponder over, such as:
--"We all enjoy wine in unique ways."
--"I feel like I'm finally remembering that wine is meant to be shared and discussed like this."
--"An excellent wine can cross vast distances or turn back time and show you visions."
--"To this vintner, grapes are like paints to a painter or clay to a potter."

This fifth volume is a worthy successor to the previous four, presenting a story that is compelling, educational, thought provoking and fun. Wine lovers of all knowledge levels will enjoy this series. It might help you think of wine in new and different ways. Unfortunately, the publisher may not issue any further volumes in English because it has not sold well enough. Plenty of people purchased the first volume, but far less people bought subsequent volumes. So if we hope to read the entire series in English, we need to encourage more people to buy and read the entire series. Keep Drops of God alive!

No comments: