Forgive my misogynistic title. I just couldn’t resist.
Araki Joe is a man who Knows Alcohol. Readers may know Araki from the anime adaptation of his manga Bartender, which tells the story about a man whose mixed drinks brighten the lives of his patrons. He’s also responsible for Sommelier, which tells the story about a man whose wine-serving abilities bri- well you get the idea. Don’t confuse Sommelier with La Sommelière, though, as there’s a world of difference between the two.
And by world of difference I mean the fact that the main character is a woman.
Itsuki Kana is a young woman with a passion for wine. Having studied the art of winery in college, Kana lives on a vineyard with a kind old lady and a group of orphans and spends her days growing grapes and making wine. When a slick city folk kind of hombre (omubure) appears with a message from a mysterious benefactor, “John Smith,” Kana sets off to Tokyo to find Mr. Smith, her only souvenir from home being a bottle of white wine produced by Kana and the orphans, a wine which she proudly labels as the “World’s Best.” Kana begins work at an upscale restaurant as a Sommelière, or Wine Waitress. Her love and comprehensive knowledge concerning wine allows Kana to (say it with me) brighten the lives of her patrons, but also learns a thing or two about wine herself.
The artwork in La Sommelière is incredibly clean, with sophisticated character designs, elegant if traditional panel layouts, and an emphasis on the beauty and versatility of wine. The most detailed drawings are always wine-related, and when it comes to tasting the wine, the characters are drawn with facial expressions that can be summed up as “a very sophisticated and high-class Yakitate Japan.” As for Kana herself, her devotion to wine, enthusiasm, and pleasant demeanor make for an incredibly endearing and attractive heroine.
At the end of every story is a detailed explanation on a wine featured in that chapter. I personally have very little experience with wine (or most alcoholic beverages for that matter), so I cannot verify the accuracy of the information given. It really doesn’t matter, though.
Going into this manga, I was worried that the emphasis on wine would be reliant on certain universal factors dictating which wines are better than others, but I’m glad to say that isn’t the case. There’s one universal truth in the world of La Sommelière, the truth that context is queen. The context in which the wine is made, the context in which the wine is served, the frame of mind of the drinker, everything contributes to the idea that any wine can potentially be the “best ever,” even a white wine produced by an intrepid Sommelière and a group of orphans.
La Sommelière is not out in English, and as a seinen title it’s not the easiest read for people beginning their Japanese studies. Even if you are fluent, French words are being thrown around constantly and it can become daunting to decipher the mysterious world of wine. Still, even though I hardly know the first thing about wine, I can recommend La Sommelière simply for its pleasant atmosphere and strong, elegant art style.