GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Warm reds, in more ways than one

The red wines I m going to write about today are warm in more ways than one. Equally, the whites are cool – in the appreciative sense used by teens and 20-somethings. They re wines which make a difference to the quality of life of people in some of the le

The red wines I'm going to write about today are warm in more ways than one. Equally, the whites are cool - in the appreciative sense used by teens and 20-somethings. They're wines which make a difference to the quality of life of people in some of the least-privileged parts of the world.

Monday saw the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, the annual celebration of all kinds of eatables, drinkables, textiles, even footballs carrying the distinctive blue, green and black logo. Wine is a big part of it, and sales of Fairtrade wines have soared over the past year or so.

More importantly - and possibly the reason for that sales increase - the quality of the wine on offer has improved hugely. And that's the way to progress - it's all very well encouraging good intentions, but it helps hugely if carrying them out is a pleasure

Alongside the annual Fairtrade tasting late last year a panel of judges (mostly women - and it is widely accepted that women do have particularly discerning palates) chose the best red and white from each of the main Fairtrade wine countries: Argentina, Chile and South Africa. Then they narrowed down those award-winners to the overall best red and white.

Chile carried off both the top titles, with the Co-op's Chilean carmenere 2006 (down to £4 until March 9) and Equality by Las Lomas sauvignon blanc 2007 (Thresher, www.winedirect. co.uk, £6).

Among the judges' comments on the former were: "Fresh, grassy and vibrant, good concentration", "Overall elegance with good sauvignon blanc characters". And for the latter: "Earthy and complex with rich fruit", "zippy, well-made with good volume and length". Encouraging, and an indication that the wines are likely to stand up well to comparison with others in their price categories.

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One question always asked about Fairtrade wine is whether it really does do good. I haven't travelled to see the results, but I've met Miguel Calquim, whose home is now safe from flooding and his family free of the diseases of dampness, thanks to the buyers of Los Robles Fairtrade wine. And I've talked at length to Maria Gallup, the Co-op buyer responsible for the largest high street range of Fairtrade wines, who is a passionate and informed supporter of the benefits they bring.

So buy some bottles, and drink them in the happy knowledge that you're helping those less fortunate. Where to find them?

The Co-op offers a choice of 17, all reduced by 20 per cent until March 9 (prices are after that discount). The award judges voted its Cape sauvignon blanc reserve (£4.80) best South African white, and its torrontes-chardonnay (£3.20) best Argentine white.

Off the high street, Winedirect believes it offers the biggest choice, at 21, online, including all the excellent Equality range - try the International Wine Challenge gold medal winning cabernet sauvignon 2005 (£6). Five wines from South Africa's Thandi, first winery to be Fairtrade accredited, include the impressive 2004 pinot noir (£8).

Minimum purchase is six bottles and Winedirect gives five per cent of revenue from these wines to the Fairtrade Foundation. There's a good online choice, too, at www.traidcraftshop.co.uk.

Back to the supermarkets, and Tesco has the wine judged best Argentine red, Origin Fairhills shiraz-tempranillo, plus its white partner chenin-torrontes (both £5), while at Waitrose there are 20 per cent Fairtrade discounts on until March 11. Los Robles carmenere (down to £4) is a good bet.

There isn't a similar need for Fairtrade help in the old world, but well-run co-operatives can be a good thing for small wine growers. Mount Tauch in Fitou, southern France, is one - and currently offers three lovely reds, two featuring on their labels the growers concerned.

Les Douze 2996 (Majestic, £6.50) is fresh, concentrated and vivid, and Les Quatre 2005 (Waitrose, £9) while full of new oak now will be very stylish with a little more maturity. The growers of L'Exception (Majestic, £10) remain anonymous, but the wine is very fine indeed, complex, balanced and long. All three are perfect winter warmers.

Liz Sagues

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