Wine lovers are often keen to discover wines made from rare or long forgotten grapes and are intrigued by their mystery and captivating flavours. Some of the most popular blogs I have written cover these unusual wines and I am really pleased to have discovered an absolute gem which I have brought back to the UK. My search took me inland from Bordeaux east to one of the oldest wine producing regions in France: Gaillac.
The first vines were planted in Gaillac by the Romans long before the birth of Christ. This is one of the earliest centres of wine making in ancient Gaul and the Romans shipped their wines along the River Tarn to Bordeaux and from there on to northern Europe and England. After Rome fell the wines of Gaillac continued to be developed by the Benedictine monks and they have quite a pedigree – King Henry III and Louis XIV both enjoyed Gaillac wines. These wines were not only enjoyed by the French Kings but also by our very own King Henry VIII.
In 1520, King Henry VIII met the King of France, François I, near Calais on the Field of the Cloth of Gold. King François gave him 50 barrels of Gaillac wine as a gift and Henry VIII loved it. As you can imagine this ancient history of wine making has left quite a heritage in Gaillac and there are some very rare grapes grown here that go into making some fabulous wines.
Gouleyant Loin de l’Oeil Sauvignon is one of these little treasures. Loin de l’Oeil is one of the rare grapes of Gaillac, it’s grown nowhere else, and very little is known about its history. Gaillac was famous for its wines long before Bordeaux and it’s thought that Loin d’Oeil was used in Gaillac whites popular in England from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. It’s possible that this traditional grape could be a relic or descendant from Greco-Roman ones once planted there. This grape is a source of pride for the region and is practically unheard of outside France so I am delighted to have tracked down this gorgeous wine.
Loin de l’Oeil means ‘far from the eye’ (as the grape bunches hang on a long stem far from the branch) and it’s known for its wonderful fragrance. An old local tale says that says that the bunches are far from the eye of the harvester, and some of them get left behind – hence its name. Whichever tale is true this grape makes a lovely wine. If you enjoy Viognier, Gouleyant has a similar style; fuller bodied, lush in character, but with a crisp, refreshing edge due to the Sauvignon Blanc in the blend.
The blend in this rare and extraordinarily delicious Gaillac dry white is 80% Loin de l’Oeil and 20% Sauvignon. It’s very fragrant with lovely depth. It has floral aromas of orange blossom and rose water with layered flavours of baked apple, peach and apricot finished with lemon zest and hints of almond.
Gouleyant is a wine to relax with and savour but it pairs beautifully with food. It’s natural pairing is with salt and fresh water fish, bouillabaise, spicy prawns, pasta puttanesca and paella. However it’s also delicious with chicken dishes, pheasant, turkey, warm salads and cheese.
It is a lovely marriage between the two grapes and this original and intriguing blend of Loin de l’Oeil and Sauvignon Blanc is made by Georges Vigouroux and his son Bertrand-Gabriel, who are specialists in wines from south west France. Their award winning wines come from estates dating back to the Medieval times which lie on the limestone foothills of the Massif Central. The climate here is warm and the slopes are swept by the hot Mediterranean wind known as the Autan.
There are dozens of pigeonniers (pigeon houses) dotting the vineyards as up until the 19th century the only fertilizer allowed on the vines was pigeon droppings. Gaillac winemakers have always been strict when it came to maintaining their wines quality and with the backing of the local lords, an early form of quality control was imposed: no wine from elsewhere could be imported into Gaillac so that it would not be adulterated.
Nowadays wines from Gaillac are starting to impress the wine critics once more. The only problem that wine lovers face is that the wines are difficult to get hold of outside France . . . until now! The 2013 vintage is available at £9.49 from Bordeaux-Undiscovered.