LIZ SAGUES: Delicious wines that are fairly traded
So much for suffering in the the pursuit of good intentions: you can now drink Fairtrade wine and enjoy it. Of course, that s far too superficial a statement. Decent Fairtrade wine has been around for ages, but you had to pick and choose. You still do, bu
So much for suffering in the the pursuit of good intentions: you can now drink Fairtrade wine and enjoy it. Of course, that's far too superficial a statement. Decent Fairtrade wine has been around for ages, but you had to pick and choose. You still do, but the better choices are now so much more appealing.
With Fairtrade Fortnight looming - it starts on Monday - it's time to put them to the test. At the latest press tasting of wines whose sale gives back something special to the community which grows the grapes, I found one I'd recommend without hesitation to anyone who enjoys fine sauvignon blanc. I had just tasted Six Hats 2009 and was writing a very flattering note when the announcement came that the wine had carried off the UK trophy for the Best Overall Fairtrade White Wine.
As yet, you can buy it only in the north west, at Booths supermarkets (�7), but wait for spring and it should be in Asda.
Six Hats is one of several Fairtrade ranges from Citrusdal Cellars, owned by respected South African winemaker Charles Back, but as almost always with South African wines I preferred the whites to the reds. Other tempting Citrusdal wines are Hope's Garden sauvignon blanc, already in Asda (�6.25), and Sainsbury's appealing Fairtrade chenin blanc-viognier blend (�5).
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Generally, Fairtrade wine remains remarkably low-priced and often very good value, even though a premium from each case is guaranteed to go to the growers. That indicates, perhaps, just how poor the growing communities are: a little money goes a long way there. For example, in South Africa, Chile and Argentina, the three Fairtrade wine countries, the premium has helped to provide schools, adult education, creches, cleaner drinking water, clinics, better housing and many more basic improvements.
Talk to those involved, and the enthusiasm is palpable, as is the optimism for the future. Vernon Henn, general manager of Thandi - the name means love - explains how South Africa's first black empowerment farming project is well on the way to full ownership by its 250 shareholder families, a step beyond all the physical improvements. Star wines include Thandi sauvignon blanc 2009 (�6, The Wine Society) and Thandi chardonnay 2007 (�7-�7.40, Tesco, www.ethicalwine.com)
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Over to Stellar Winery's Berty Jones, who has moved up from cellar hand to assistant winemaker at another of the South African projects: he points out that the ducks which feature on his business card are not mere decoration but essential pest-controllers, munching every snail on what is now a fully organic farm.
Even more innovative is Stellar's brave decision to make several wines without sulphur - the cabernet sauvignon, vibrant with juicy fruit, is �6.75 at Vintage Roots (www.vintageroots.co.uk). There's also a delectable sweet wine, Heaven on Earth (�7.50-�8.90 a half-bottle, www.winedirect.co.uk, www.ethicalwine.com, www.vintageroots.co.uk).
But for years the leader in promoting the Fairtrade ethos has been the Co-op, and its wine selection remains the largest. There are special offers (to March 9) to mark the fortnight, including the very attractive Cape sparkling rose down to �6, fresh, aromatic Argentine pinot grigio �4.50 and the serious, oak-aged Argentine organic malbec reserve a bargain at �5 rather than �6.50.
To date, the total Co-op contribution to Fairtrade wine projects is an impressive �588,500. In terms of quality of life for those who have benefited, the value is far higher.
A footnote: most Fairtrade wines remain fairly far down in the price table, but at that last tasting there was a growing move towards premium bottles - quite posh malbec, for example, pushing into the �10 bracket. Fine and Fairtrade are looking to become a tempting partnership.