Friday, April 6, 2012

The Drops of God: Volume 3-The First Apostle

The first score in the epic vinous battle between Shizuku Kanzaki and Issei Tomine finally occurs. Who successfully determined the identity of the First Apostle, taking an initial lead in the competition to win a vast wine collection valued at more than $20 million dollars?

I previously raved about the first two volumes of The Drops of God and you can read my prior reviews of The Drops of God: Volume 1 and The Drops of God: Volume 2. I was excited to read Volume 3, which was recently published, knowing that one of the Apostle wines would be finally identified. At the heart of the grand wine contest, the two competitors, Shizuku and Issei, must identify 12 Apostles and one final wine, The Drops of God. In Japan, the Drops of God manga continues to be published and 8 Apostles have already been identified. The English translations need to catch up, though that is still going to take several years.

The Drops of God, Volume 3 ($14.95) is a trade paperback, about the size of a usual paperback manga, of 402 pages, which is about 8 pages less than the second volume. 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. It contains 20 issues of the original manga, the same as the second volume. The first three volumes basically cover the first year of issues of the Japanese weekly manga.

This volume picks up where the last volume ended, as the two contestants, Shizuku and Issei, try to identify the first Apostle wine. The Apostle was described with a scene of nature, including woods, a spring, and butterflies, an intriguing way to describe a wine. The competitors had only three weeks to identify the wine and as in the other volumes, there are always various detours on the path to the conclusion of the primary contest.

Shizuku encounters an artist who has created a painting that seems to closely resemble the description of the first Apostle, and which was inspired by a specific wine. But, the problem is that the artist has amnesia and cannot remember the name of the wine. Shizuku wants to help her regain her memory, for her own sake, but also so she can potentially help him identify the Apostle. To do so, he has the artist drink a number of different wines, hoping one will spark a flood of memories. While Shizuku tastes various wines with the artist, Issei opts for a very different road to identifying the Apostle. He visits a temple and undergoes a tasting of three glasses of spring water. How will that help him decide on the Apostle?

Burgundy takes center stage through much of this volume, and there is educational information about some regions and chateaus. Shizuku eventually makes his own decision as to which wine is the first Apostle. Interestingly, he does not taste the wine he believes to be correct, rather choosing to rely on his own conviction. When Issei hears about that, he too decides not to taste the wine that he has chosen as the Apostle. For one of them, that will turn out to be a significant mistake. They finally confront each other, reveal their selections and the winner is determined, though I won't spoil that decision.

Once again, this volume continues to "review" wines in more unique ways, describing the feelings, images and memories the wines invoke. One Burgundy is compared to "a marble statue, meticulously chiseled with a sharply honed blade."  Two other Burgundies, differing only by their vintage, are described in contrast, one as a "perfect movie" and the other as a "well-crafted mystery novel." A white Bordeaux is described as like a "bride's beautiful, diaphanous white veil."  Such evocative imagery, this provides such a fuller picture instead of a dry recitation of fruit and floral flavors and smells.

The manga also presents some thought provoking quotes, comments to ponder over, such as:
--"Just as the finest wines are only born from the harmony of Heaven, Earth, and Man."
--"Some people are saved by wine, while others are led astray because of it."
--"With wine, you taste and think for yourself."
--"A wine's appeal and its price are different things."
--"You're a woman of business. I'm just a drunkard. I have no interest in some critic's scores."
--".., wine is no mere alcohol but a masterwork as of literature or art."

An important lesson from this volume centers on vintages, and their impact on wine. There are at least a couple times when characters taste the same wines, but of different vintages, and the lessons learned make a significant difference in the manga. They should also serve as a thought experiment for the reader. One of the main lessons is that wine from all vintages should be cherished and not just the great vintages. "Great vintages are all well and good, but harsh vintages are wines too."

In fact, the book seems to take a position that the lesser vintages may actually possess an advantage over great ones. "The chosen few grapes that survive such harsh years have a vitality hidden deep within that the grapes of great vintages lack." Though such a wine may not be "perfect" it still possesses special characteristics. "A mediocre vintage can still be augmented by an 'individuality' unique to humans and produce a wine that may be imperfect but charming, like people themselves." Do you tend to neglect lesser vintages? Do you feel only great vintages make worthy wines?

Once again, this volume of The Drops of God addresses the matter of wine scores, pushing the idea that scores shouldn't matter much and that wine lovers should first depend on their own tastes. It is stated that Yutaka Kanzaki, the famed wine critic whose will is at the center of the plot, never gave points to wine. "He always used his superb imagination to bring wines to life in fine descriptions." This is something for wine critics to carefully consider.

After the first Apostle contest is decided, we move onto another diversionary test. Shizuku's company gets a huge order for wine, to stock a chain of supermarkets. But, the customer, Takasugi, only wants wine from the top five chateaux of Bordeaux, their top rivals, and DRC for Burgundy. The wines will include all vintages from 1970 to most recent. But Shizuku and his co-worker Miyabi, who is a former school mate of Takasugi, think he would be better served by choosing other wines. So they propose a blind taste test to Takasugi, pitting wines of their wine choices against the top Bordeaux and DRC. Takasugi consents but if he wins, then Miyabi must come to work for him.

Shizuku then undergoes a tasting of the five First Growths, all from 2002, and the manga goes into an explanation of these wines, including unique wine "reviews" from Shizuku. After this tasting though, Shizuku is feeling very insecure about the upcoming contest so he visits his rival, Issei, seeking his advice. This is certainly an intriguing twist. Issei will only help him if Shizuku can pass a test, comparing a 1970 and 1978 Chateau Margaux and explaining the reason for the difference between the two wines.

Once again, this volume impressed me and I continue to highly recommend the entire series to all wine lovers. It is a compelling and fun story, while also educating people about wine. Some wine lovers might consider a portion of the information to be very basic, but they will still find value in the books, various aspects that will make them think about wine in different ways. At different points during this volume, I had to put the book down while I thought about some idea I had found. Bring on the next volume!

You can look forward to Volume 4 being published on June 12 and Volume 5 on September 11. I suspect they might also publish Volume 6 in December.

1 comment:

1winedude said...

Man, I gotta read this comic!