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

Len de l'El is a grape that I fully expected to only be able to try in a blend.  When I first came across it, it was in a white wine from southwestern France and it made up about 40% of the blend.  I had never heard of it before and for the longest time I didn't see another bottle that contained any Len de l'El in it, so I figured that might be the best I could do.  One day, though, I walked in a local shop that I usually only have average luck finding unusual wines in, and right up by the cash registers was a display featuring wines that were 100% Len de l'El.  I naturally picked a bottle up and began to wonder if perhaps Len de l'El was more common than I thought.  The answer, apparently, is no, as those two bottles are still the only bottles that I've been able to find that use the Len de l'El grape at all.  It's kind of amazing the unusual things you can find in places you might not expect so long as you keep your eyes and your mind open to them.

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.

As mentioned above, I was able to find two different wines that were made at least in part from the Len de l'El grape.  The first wine that I was able to try was the 2009 Genouillac "Burgale Blanc," which is a blended wine from the Vin de Pays du Comte Toloson near the Gaillac region of France.  This wine was 40% Len de l'El, 35% Mauzac and 25% Sauvignon Blanc.  I picked this wine up locally for around $10.  In the glass the wine was a fairly light silvery lemon color.  The nose was reserved with aromas of white pear, green apple, lemon and something just a little cidery.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with high acidity.  The wine was pretty simple with a bit of lemony citrus and green apple and not much else.  There was a kind of prickly sensation on the tip of the tongue while drinking this and I wasn't 100% sure whether it was just really lively acidity or whether there might have been a touch of residual carbon dioxide kicking around in there.  This is a solid, refreshing summertime wine, but that's about it.  It represents a decent value at around $10 but isn't the kind of thing that's going to blow your mind.

The second wine that I tried was the 2010 Domaine de la Chanade "Les Rials," which is a 100% Len de l'El that is barrel fermented and aged for a brief time on its lees (though I can't find any specific information on types of wood or lengths of time in barrel and on the lees).  The wine is from the Côtes de Tarn, which is located just on the western edge of the Gaillac region.  I picked this bottle up locally for about $9.  In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color.  The nose was fairly intense with red apple, baked pear and apricot fruits along with a very distinctive leesy, cheesy kind of character. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity.  It was just off-dry and had flavors of ripe red apple, apricot, pineapple, mango, and grapefruit along with a yeasty, cheesy kind of taste as well.  This wine really started to open up and get more tropical as it approached room temperature, showing best with just a slight chill to it.  I really enjoyed this wine and thought it was an excellent bargain at only $9 a bottle.  It was fruity, friendly and a little sweet, but there was a nice depth to it from the lees contact as well.

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