Badass Beverage: LES GOUTTES DE DIEU
Real quick, for 20 points, what’s the most important wine publication today? What’s the publication that, as soon as it mentions a particular wine, directly and significantly affects that wine’s sales?
Wine writing is…weird. It’s kind of like talking cars, I think. You can tell me all of the technical aspects of the Fiat 500, explain how it is practical and cool and how you’re getting so much for your money that it’s clearly the best car on the market right now. But what if I think it looks stupid, too stupid to even consider*? Or I can tell you that because of its incredibly firm suspension, the Subaru Impreza has the worst ride quality in the world, and you should avoid it all costs unless you have a crush on your chiropractor. But what if you think the noise it makes, and the performance you get out of it, makes it worthwhile?
What if I told you that you’re wrong?
You could counter that the experience is purely subjective, and we evaluate our cars based on what’s most important to us. You like a car that is both practical and fun, that’s reliable and that gets good mileage. I like something that doesn’t look stupid, and doesn’t make my teeth rattle. We would consider and discuss our cars subjectively, based on our experiences with them.
Now pretend we’re talking cars over a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco, which I insist is amazing because it captures the pure essence of the Nebbiolo grape, the elegance and power, and even that soft pale color is exactly what Barbaresco should look like. I maintain that this wine is spectacular, and you should love it, based on irrefutable proof in the form of a breakdown of its merits.
But what if you plain dislike a wine that smells like roses and tar?
In a roundabout way, this is my fundamental problem with wine ratings and the publications that espouse them. It’s the promise of an objective assessment of something that we experience subjectively. And it’s bullshit.
It appears I’m not alone in thinking this way. Do you want to know what the most important wine publication is right now? The one that affects wine sales and trends on a larger scale than any other?
Holy shit how did this happen? How did we get to the point where a goddamn comic book is the most important word on our precious wine? What Bizarro world is this and how can I get back to snooty men in white gloves rolling their eyes at the wine I’ve picked out for dinner?
I cannot express the sheer, delightful, manic glee that I feel knowing that I have to (have to!) read comics in order to keep abreast of what is going on in my chosen profession.
Okay, so, this little book has been published since 2004, and since then it’s been making huge waves in the international wine game. In South Korea alone, for example, wine sales have grown from 35% to something like 70% of all alcohol sold in the country.
That’s not just huge, that’s mind-boggling. And South Korea is by no means the only market that has been impacted. Japan and China have seen growth in wine sales**. Younger people in continental Europe are discovering wine for the first time thanks to the increase of manga in popular culture, and the same is true here in the States.
The Weird Weekend When I Discovered the Impact of Drops of God.
It was a lazy Friday afternoon last summer, and a friend of mine came to me looking for a bottle of Etude Pinot Noir from California, which he’d found in the latest volume of his favorite comic.
I told him I didn’t remember Deadpool being a wino (thought it makes a certain kind of sense), and he handed me a copy of Drops of God.
Anyway, I got him the Etude and he invited me over for dinner and it was delicious (the wine, anyway…memory serves, we burnt the steaks).
The next day, I got a phone call. A gentleman was looking to impress some visiting clients with a few bottles of Domaine Romanée-Conti. This is one of, if not the, finest Burgundy in the world. It’s also a unicorn. Seriously, there’s like one. So I informed him that I didn’t have any, but I could get him an excellent Grand Cru Burgundy that would do nicely. He said no, it had to be the DRC, because it’s the one his clients had mentioned having read about in a manga.
So I figured it was best to read the damn thing.
You Guys! It’s A Really Good Comic!
I am all for anything that gets people into wine, and the brother and sister writing team of Shin and Yuko Kibayashi (under the penname Tadashi Agi) do an admirable job of making wine incredibly attractive, while staying informative and entertaining. That Shu Okimoto does beautiful work illustrating it certainly doesn’t hurt.
But the book itself is excellent, even if you’re not into wine. As reverential as Okimoto is in capturing the wines in minute, photographic detail, it is his ability to clearly show emotion on his characters’ faces that is most impressive. I feel like I could read this untranslated, just because of how clear every beat feels.
The writers also have crafted a compelling story. It’s essentially the classic hero’s journey, as protagonist Kanzaki Shizuku learns to follow in his father’s footsteps after initially refusing his quest to find the meaning of the “Twelve Apostles,” the legendary wines that will determine his inheritance. But it’s the characterization that the Kibayashi siblings bring that makes the book such a delight. Every character is well rounded and interesting, with even the villains of the piece slowly revealing a core humanity.
And, yes, the book is incredibly melodramatic. It is not even a little bit subtle. But it also doesn’t need to be. The thing I love best about the book is that it clearly and directly reflects the personal taste of Yuko and Shin Kibayashi. I don’t agree with everything they have to say, but I absolutely respect that when the characters describe wine, as purple as the descriptions may become, they do so the same way I try to.
The pleasure in drinking wine does not come from pouring an ounce into a glass and holding it up to a light, sniffing it and pinpointing different types of berries and determining if there is any oak influence, and swirling it around in your mouth so you can assign a numerical score based on how the different elements combine and react with each other. This is a useful exercise, and I find it can be both challenging and fun, but it is not how we drink wine.
Good wine should elevate the occasion in which it is being enjoyed. Whether that’s paired with the right meal, or that third bottle you know you’ll regret but you haven’t seen your friends in a long time so fuck it, or just a slow glass late at night while reading a good book, good wine should make things better.
Drops of God gets that. More of this, please.
*I don’t. I honestly think it is the coolest looking car. I’m talking '70s Michael Caine cool.
**And okay, yes, a lot of that has to do with China becoming an economic powerhouse, with lots of new money to spend, and sometimes spend extravagantly (there’s a million dollar solid gold Bugatti Veyron sold just for them!). The Chinese market is the primary reason for the monumental increase in the price of high-end Bordeaux. New people discovering great wine? More power to them.