Secrets of the divine juice

It reads like Tintin, and may reverse the slow decline of old-world wine sales. It may also help turn a generation of binge-drinking teenagers into wine connoisseurs. It is a Japanese manga series called The Drops of God.

In Japan, Korea, China and France, millions of fans, teenagers and adults, are hooked on the adventures of Shizuku. The son of a brilliant but tyrannical wine expert, Shizuku was trained as a child to decant wine for his father and to recognise the world blindfolded, using just his nose: from rocks to ink and leather. Yet Shizuku is a rebel. He has never tasted the stuff and, rankling with the wine master, works in a brewery. His dying father's answer is to adopt a gifted young Japanese wine taster as a second son. He then pits his two sons against one another. They have to find 12 mysterious wines called the 12 apostles, and one last, the best of them all, the Drops of God. Shizuku, with a formidable instinct but no formal knowledge, will have to learn fast, with the help of a budding sommelière, the sweet Miyabi.

Not only do the authors manage to make wine tasting cool, the writers, a brother and sister duo, have also achieved the incredible in making French wine's intricate 1855 classification easy to understand. In addition, they show in a simple and entertaining way everything wine stands for: culture, terroir, family, conviviality, gaiety and history - all this through a plot that has you turning the pages faster than a manga monster.

In France, volumes one to three are in continuous reprint; in South Korea, the import of Burgundy wine has rocketed by 30% since the launch of the series. The owners of Château Mont Perat 2001, mentioned in the first volume, deluged with requests from Asian wine importers, had to unplug the phone. Italy is next on the list of forthcoming translations but, surprisingly, there is no clear sign of an English version in the pipeline.

In the manga series, authors address the question of the real value of wine: like the rest of us, Miyabi judges wine in terms of price tags, while Shizuku only considers flavour, which unleashes his imagination. A mere sip unlocks visions of a Freddie Mercury concert or a painting by Jean-François Millet.

The Drops of God goes back to basics, reinventing a world where good wine doesn't have to cost more than £4 a bottle. For the authors praise both grand and small wines, such as Italian Colli di Conegliano, a red table wine to be enjoyed every day by the family. We are far away from the world of bankers buying historical vintages at auctions to lock them up alongside paintings of absinthe drinkers by Toulouse-Lautrec.

When translated into English, The Drops of God could do for British teenagers and their parents what it's doing for the French: opening their eyes to the real value of wine, reappropriating it as a gift to share, rather than a financial investment for the rich.

When, at an auction in 2006, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë sold the entire contents of the town's cellar, giving the proceeds to charity, he followed the same trend that put wine in a lonely place next to impressionist paintings. Parisians were enraged: their mayor had made a profound political mistake. By selling off magnificently ripe bottles to rich collectors, he had missed the essential nature of wine - fraternity.

Had Delanoë read The Drops of God then, he would surely have chosen to raise money through a €1-a-ticket lottery, offering winners the chance to share the divine juice with friends.

Anti-alcohol campaigners shouldn't see in this manga series the spearhead of a new wave of world debauchery, but rather they should thank the Japanese for a fantastic educational tool, one that can help teach the joy of wine to teenagers and adults alike, for there is no joy in drinking to throw up.

Agnès Poirier