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Wine Guy Explains Wine Things: Love for the Grotesquely Beautiful, aka the Willem Dafoe Wines

Lou Amdur returns to the Squid Ink lineup this week with some grotesquely beautiful thoughts.

SQUID INK: Recently, you described a wine on your list at Lou: A Wine Bar as "grotesquely beautiful." What does that even mean?

LOU: Think of an actor with extreme features. Think of Willem Dafoe, who is kind of grotesquely beautiful. Some wines are just funky-ass wines: They're made from weird old medieval grape varieties that only a handful of crotchety old fools are still making -- they're traditionalists. And you know what? Those are the people we need to support. They are promoting biodiversity grape types. The difference is like going to the supermarket and buying a cucumber and going to the Farmer's Market and saying, "Wow, there's ten kinds of cucumbers!" And you taste them all and love them. It's important to maintain our biodiversity.

France and Italy have just tons of weird, old varieties that maybe they went out of fashion because they were hard to grow -- or maybe they went out of fashion because they didn't perform to our modern ideals of what a wine needs to taste like.

I am sold. Give me an example of a nice, funky Willem Dafoe wine. Preferably Shadow of the Vampire vintage not Green Goblin from the Spiderman movies.

One grotesquely beautiful wine is from a grape called Pineau D'aunis. It makes red wines from a weird old medieval grape variety and it smells like wet slate. From the Loire (which is where Pineau D'aunis is from) there are other grapes like Fie Gris, a white wine that's a genetic ancestor of Sauvignon Blanc. Also, there's a grape called Menu Pineau that makes grotesquely beautiful white wines.

Okay, so I'm looking for a nice wine made with Menu Pineau grapes. What do I look for on the shelf?

Do you know the original meaning of grotesque?

I assume it's Latin. Everything seems to come from the Latin.

It comes from the Latin word for "grotto." You know the old Roman grotto thing, these fantasias the Romans built? Like very expensive versions of the modern suburban "water feature"? Well the Romans would make these fanciful grottos with frescoed walls and such, and you'd walk through or I think some had little boats and there'd be statues and stuff, all sort of arranged in artful ways in dark niches. You get the idea.

So how did something that came from "grotto," which suggests something idyllic (except for the one at the Playboy mansion, which conjures up the image of spilt baby oil and old bodily fluids) end up as "grotesque," which denotes something sort of twisted?

The aesthetic was one in which there were nooks and crannys in dark places where there'd be exaggerated stuff. So by grotesquely beautiful I meant that some wines you taste and say, "Gee, I have never had a wine like this before."

Then how do I evaluate it? How do I know whether I will like it or not?

You have no reference points. Think: like some old vegetable or fruit in a jar, non-hybridized ...

I'd feel very ripped off if I bought a bottle of wine and it tasted like old vegetable in a jar

Imagine if you'd only ever eaten cultivated supermarket strawberries and then tasted a wild strawberry for the first time -- or better, a wild raspberry.

Well that's a very good explanation. Still "old vegetable in a jar"? I'd like to avoid those wines.

[Lou sighs.] Let's compare a supermarket tomato to an heirloom, then. That's the analogy between modern grapes and these old varieties. They haven't had all their kinks ironed out, which means that they're not for everyone perhaps. In Italy, there's a grape grown called Oseleta. [Pause.] Actually, that's not a weird variety.

Well, lets stick with that, then. I'd like to think that I'd start with not weird and work up to weird

What is the question again?

What are a couple of nice grotesquely beautiful wines that an average wine drinker such as myself would love and be excited by. So not too weird, just obscure.

I am going to suggest two wines, one red and one white to try. For red, I will suggest Domaine Belliviere Rouge Gorge (AOC Touraine, 100 percent Pineau d'Aunis). You want to serve this cool-ish. The '05 is super graphite-y, dry, good acidity. I think '06 is the current vintage? Anyway, the '06 was less graphite-y.

For whites?

I think some super-dry Sauvignon Blancs are grotesquely beautiful -- they are like sucking on a Halls Mentholyptus, so much eucalyptus. Some people call this "cat pee," it's a word that some people use to describe the aromas of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, or a Quincy. But as a cat owner I can attest that this is a wrong descriptor.