I am always looking for ways to bond with my two daughters. For a time, Erika, the younger one, was into graphic novels, which her fuddy-duddy dad calls comic books. This was great! I love comic books, er, graphic novels. I read and enjoyed her Babymouse books, the series by Jennifer Holm.
The attractive aspect of graphic novels, for me at least, is that they are easy to digest. Complicated situations that take countless pages to describe can be boiled down to a couple panels and a snippet of dialogue. That and it’s fun to look at the artwork.
So when I was hunting around looking for books to recommend for holiday gift giving for the wine lover in your life, The Drops of God (Vertical, $14.95) by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto stopped me in my tracks. The Drops of God tells the story Shizuku Kanzaki, the son of a revered wine critic. Kanzaki stands to inherit his recently deceased father’s wine collection, valued at nearly $20 million, if in a year’s time he can discover the 13 wines considered divine and described the father’s will—the drops of God. The drama is heightened when we discover that just prior to his death, the elder Kansaki legally adopted “the next great wine critic” Issei Tomine, a cocky expert who possesses unparalleled tasting skills and wine knowledge. If Tomine comes up with the list first, he gets the collection.
I don’t mean to be a spoiler here, but it won’t take the reader long to find out that, gasp, The Drops of God is actually a textbook. As Kansaki and his female companion, Miyabi Shinohara, begin their rapid wine education, the reader learns about all facets of wine. This is genius—fundamental wine knowledge hiding in a comic book for adults. Rather than intimidating, wine education could never be more inviting.
Here are just a few topics intertwined into the storyline: the grand cru system of Burgundy, terroir, corked wine, decanting, Le Nez du Vin, the passion and lunacy surrounding wine collecting. My favorite lesson repeated throughout the story is wine’s amazing ability to transport you, whether it’s to a memory of times spent with friends, a vineyard once visited or to an imaginary meadow of strawberries and flowers.
The first 18 chapters, which originally appeared as a series in a Japanese magazine, have been translated into English. The second volume was due out Dec. 13 and the third collection will follow in early 2012.
From a textbook hidden in a fictional story, we go to a historical account too strange to be fiction. After four years of research, Todd Kliman takes readers on the fascinating history of a grape in The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine (Broadway, $15). But this is not just any grape. We’re talking about the norton grape, once the darling of winemakers from Maryland to Missouri. Norton’s story has connections to Thomas Jefferson, who dearly wanted to grow European-style grapes in his home state of Virginia in the early part of the 19th century, and Prohibition-era bootleggers, who kept it alive when the vine was being ripped up by temperance advocates.
If norton’s pre-history wasn’t surprising enough, more recent prove even more astonishing. Kliman tells the tale of Jenni McCloud, a software entrepreneur who made millions during the dot.com boom. A chance sip of norton wine decided the eccentric McCloud’s new mission in life: restore norton’s prominence on the American wine landscape and give proper credit to the grape’s creator, Dr. Daniel Norton. With no history of winemaking, McCloud’s story might be intriguing enough, but as Kliman delicately explains, McCloud, the owner of Chrysalis Vineyards, is the former Michael Marsh, a transsexual who left his wife and six kids to connect with the spirit of Dr. Norton.
Did you ever want to take a trip to wine country with an expert who could not only give you background on what you were tasting and how it was made, but also is also loads of fun and not afraid to tip back a few glasses of wine with you? Well, Natalie MacLean isn’t giving any tours, but in her book, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines (Perigee, $24), you get to see many of the world’s great wine region’s through her thoroughly mischievous eyes.
Unquenchable is the follow-up to Red, White and Drunk All Over, which chronicled her jaunts to some of the more prestigious addresses in Burgundy and Champagne. This time MacClean helps readers discover places, like Portugal, Argentina, South Africa and her home country of Canada, which may be a little off the beaten track, but make world-class wines at prices we all can afford. Picking up where she left off in Red, White and Drunk All Over, MacClean recalls her often comical wine country travels. In this book, she also gives a concise listing of wines to seek out, travel tips, suggested food pairings (for the cheapskate and the gourmand) and suggested readings (some wine related and some not even remotely wine related).
If you do consider going to any of the seven regions covered in MacClean’s book, you would be foolish to leave home without her. In the meantime, you can keep track of MacClean in real-time in her popular e-newsletter. You can sign up for it at www.nataliemaclean.com.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a wine consultant for Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.