A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Len de l'El (Loin de l'Oeil) - Côtes de Tarn & Gaillac, France
So today's grape is, obviously, Len de l'El, though both bottles that I tried spelled the name of the grape Loin de l'Oeil, and some sources refer to the grape as Len de l'Elh. Loin de l'Oeil is the "proper" French spelling, while Len de l'El(h) is the spelling in the local Occitan dialect. No matter which spelling you prefer, the grape's name translates into English as "far from the eye." In his Grapes and Wines, Oz Clarke says that the grape is so named because "the clusters have long stalks, and so are a long way (well, relatively) from the eye, or bud, from which they sprang." Pretty much every source I've consulted seems to buy this explanation, so that's good enough for me.
The grape is thought to be native to the Gaillac region of France, which we visited when we took a look at the Fer Servadou grape. It was at one time a major component of the white wines from Gaillac, but, like so many other grapes, its prevalence and prominence fell drastically after the phylloxera epidemic. It is prone to a host of grape diseases and tends to yield less prolifically than its frequent blending partner Mauzac so many growers elected to plant more Mauzac following the phylloxera outbreak. In order to preserve Len de l'El in the vineyards of Gaillac, growers in the area decided to make a small percentage of Len de l'El compulsory in the area's wines when the AOC was established for the region in 1938. At the time, a minimum of 15% Len de l'El was required in all Gaillac Blanc wines. This undoubtedly helped to save the grape from extinction, and it has rebounded nicely since then, with plantings increasing five-fold over the past 50 years to a total of just under 2,000 acres as of the year 2000. In 2007, the AOC regulations for white Gaillac wines changed so that winemakers can now use either Len de l'El or Sauvignon Blanc for that 15% that had previously been reserved solely for Len de l'El. It's difficult to say whether this change will have a negative effect on plantings of Len de l'El in the long run, but given the respect for tradition in Southwest France, it seems unlikely that Len de l'El will slip into oblivion anytime soon.