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Drops of God is amazing... and not just for oenophiles.
Wine drinkers have it rough when it comes to depictions of their passion in popular culture. Sure there’s Alexander Payne’s masterpiece, Sideways, a truly great film even with its unfair slur on Merlot (and its attendant transformation of everyone into Pinot fans). But after that…it’s slim pickings.
There was Bottle Shock, that notwithstanding the presence of Chris Pine and the great Alan Rickman playing the great Stephen Spurrier, turned a momentous wine event into an overwrought snoozefest. And of course the Somm series, but they’re documentaries. So it was with exceedingly low expectations when I heard that the cult manga Drops of God would be turned into a series for Apple.
Boy, was I wrong. Not only does it capture all that’s great about fermented grape juice, but it’s compelling even if everyday is dry January for you. The show takes some liberties with the source material—the all-Japanese story about a famous wine critic who passes away and pits his daughter against his star pupil to inherit his legendary wine collection is now a Franco-Japanese hybrid. The critic Alexandre Leger lives in Japan and the heavily modified-for-TV test now pits his estranged French daughter Camille, against his star pupil Issei Tomine.
Over the course of eight episodes they are given three tests, and the winner receives Leger’s famed wine 87,000 bottle cellar (with a rather absurd value of $150 million —remember this guy is a writer). They also get his kick-ass modernist Tokyo apartment (which, at $7 million, seems undervalued).
Throughout we’re treated to insight’s into the world of wine. Camille undergoes a crash course in wine knowledge at the fictional Domaine de Chassangre, which is filmed at the legendary Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s Rhone region. Issei dazzles with his ability to identify wine blind with just his nose. But even without all the wine stuff, there, at it’s heart is a compelling story about relationships and familial obligations (Issei is from a very wealthy Japanese diamond family who do not approve of this wine guff) and there’s some romance thrown in as well.
Still the wine nerd in me has some minor issues. The first test involves blind tasting a very famous wine and one of the two can’t decide if it’s 1999 or 2000. But if you could guess the actual wine blind then you’d have an easy time choosing between those very different vintages (1999 was delicate, 2000 a bit of a sledgehammer). There’s also a scene where the proprietor of Domaine de Chassangre waxes about how the purest expression is the single varietal of a grape—a sentiment unlikely to be held by someone who’s supposed to make a legendary Chateauneuf du Pape —a wine whose greatness rests on the blending of numerous varietals.
And there’s a just plain wrong head scratcher where Chateau Cheval Blanc and Vega Sicilia’s Unico are explained to be made of the same grape—they’re not and even a novice wine student would know this about two such famous wines. But these sort of peccadillos are what makes this series so watchable. The blind tasting scenes are overly dramatic, but they do a great job of capturing that ethereal moment when a great wine entices your palate.
One note – it’s way better to watch with subtitles. The show is in French, Japanese and English and it flows way better with the subtitles on.