The central theme of La Sommelière is that wines are capable of carrying special meanings for people from all walks of life, with very different levels of experience with wine. Volume 3 exemplifies this theme even more than in previous volumes. In this volume, the wine-tasting men are separated from the boys, L’espoir gets a new chef, old men get a new lease on life, and apprentice Sommelière Itsuki Cana learns that her father Itsuki Kouchi, whom she’s never met, was once infamously known among Japanese wine enthusiasts as the “Swindler.”
When the assistant of Japan’s #1 wine critic Minoshima Ryouichi visits L’espoir with revenge in mind, he instead is tricked into believing a bottle of Lieu-Dit Clos de Mont-Rachet is a real Montrachet. Shocked that he could fail despite all his time spent with Minoshima, Minoshima explains that the key to the deception was that the wine was served late. Chardonnay, more than even other white wines, is influenced heavily by small changes in temperature, and the increased dryness that resulted from a slightly warmer bottle of Clos de Mont-Rachet was able to fool his inexperienced taste buds. Minoshima then fires the assistant and kicks him out of the car. For Minoshima, fine wine is like fine art, and to be strung into a petty squabble over wine diminishes everyone involved.
In one instance, Cana comes across a self-proclaimed “genius chef” named Mizushima Kazuki who laments that not only is all wine terrible but that the people of Japan are unable to appreciate his cooking. Cana reprimands him, and gives him a glass of vintage 2000 Domaine Carneros Le Rêve, a California wine which won the title of “Best Sparkling Wine in America.” The flavor of apples, lychee, and carneros, a unique combination indicative of the diversity of America, shows Mizushima that perhaps the fault lie not with his patrons being unable to appreciate his cuisine, but rather with Mizushima being unable to understand the tastes of his customers. Grateful, Mizushima ends up being L’espoir’s new chef when their old one quits.
In another instance, Cana serves two decades-long business partners a 2004 Müller-Thurgau, a Japanese white wine from Hokkaido. The two men are shocked that a Japanese wine could be so delicious. Cana goes on to explain that the history of the wine was similar to their history as business partners. The Müller-Thurgau vineyard began in 1975 with the goal of creating a respectable Japanese white wine. However, Hokkaido’s climate is unsuitable for making wine, and a general trend at the time towards red wine and away from white made it even more difficult. Despite these disadvantages, the Müller-Thurgau persevered and found success, much like them.
Finally, in the case of Cana’s father, an old friend of his named Saeki (a rich, wide-eyed, elderly man introduced in Volume 1) explains to Cana that the reason he was known as the “Swindler” was because Kouichi was notorious for passing off cheap wines as valuable ones. To reinforce his point, Saeki shows Cana the wines that her father left behind as a legacy, all of them inexpensive French wines such as Chateau Tour Des Gendres Bergerac Rouge. However, Cana immediately realizes that her father wasn’t trying to deceive people, he was trying leave behind the message that all wines have their place in the world. This point is made stronger by the fact that despite Saeki’s own extensive collection, these simple wines are nowhere present except in Kouichi’s box.
Wine plays a very significant role in La Sommelière. It dictates the pacing of the narrative, and educates while simultaneously enhancing the story and drama. The story now has two underlying plots: Cana’s pursuit of the mysterious benefactor John Smith, and the history of her father Itsuki Kouichi. The artwork continues to be very appropriate given the subject matter, and the conventional panel layouts lead the viewer’s eyes well. Everything works together to just make it a pleasant reading experience. Whether you read just one chapter or all of them, La Sommelière is the kind of story that lets you take in as much as you want.