Wine: Fairtrade wines now compete with rivals

AMAZINGLY, it is now ten years since the Co-operative started its current Fairtrade wine range – and total sales figures for that period now top the 35-million-bottle mark. The company are the indisputable leaders in the field, retailing more Fairtrade wine than all the other UK participants in the scheme put together.
Tesco Trivento Reserve MalbecTesco Trivento Reserve Malbec
Tesco Trivento Reserve Malbec

Although Fairtrade lacks a universally accepted definition, the direction of travel is clear enough. Ethical procedures, avoiding exploitative trading conditions and profits re-invested in social projects figure prominently. For example, Co-operative Fairtrade activity has helped to fund a secondary school in Argentina and a crèche and medical centre at the Du Toitskloof wine co-operative in South Africa.

In all honesty, early Fairtrade wines often did more for your conscience than they did for your palate. Nowadays, though, quality is very much higher and many such wines successfully compete with rival products in their own right. To make buying them even more attractive during Fairtrade Fortnight, Co-operative stores have reduced the price of several of those wines by up to 20 per cent until 11 March.

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Here are some of the highlights from the wines on promotion. The range is stronger on red wines than white and a good starting point would be 2012 South African Shiraz (£4.79 instead of £5.99 during this Co-op promotion). It is quite light in texture but with a good mouth-feel and smooth cherry and blackcurrant fruit freshened up by some raspberry acidity. There are touches of vanilla on the finish that integrate well into the discernible, but still relatively soft tannins.

An even more impressive example is 2012 Co-operative Fairtrade Malbec (£6.79 – down from £8.49). This comes from the Famatina Valley in Argentina and is often considered the flagship wine of the range. It brings dense, smooth black cherry and bramble fruit right to the foreground and gives it a burst of invigorating acidity before allowing it all to merge nicely into a polished vanilla, chocolate and spicy finish. Pleasingly, too, the tannin takes a supporting role, giving the wine’s forceful fruitiness a clear run at your taste buds.

Among the whites, I enjoyed 2013 Fairtrade Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (£5.59 – reduced from £6.99) – produced in Chile’s Curico Valley. The 2013 Chilean vintage is providing increasingly interesting sauvignon and, here, there is an unusual fruit component to sit with the customary sauvignon, clean and fresh grapefruit acidity.

Rather than the conventional lemon or gooseberry flavours, the main fruit element seems to be pear with, for all the wine’s overall gentleness, suggestions of sweeter spices – Jamaican pepper perhaps. As perhaps a little respite from the intensity Marlborough so often showcases, here is sauvignon with restraint and subtlety.

Of course, the Co-operative is not the only high street store with Fairtrade wines and I was equally impressed by the South African 2013 Taste the Difference Fairtrade Pinotage (£5.99 until Tuesday at Sainsbury’s). This grape variety does not enjoy a good press at the moment and there is indeed just a suggestion of burnt cork on the nose but the palate is as clear as a bell. Instead, there are attractive, ripe, red plum flavours wrapped around with just the right level of tannin and spiced up with a hint or two of clove. Better still, there is some cherry-centred acidity to give imbibers freshness as well as smoothness.