Anthony Rose: 'I have visited Chile and seen the contribution Fairtrade wines make towards workers’ conditions'
Saturday 05 March 2011
If your conscience hasn't yet been pricked, you might like to be reminded that we're bang in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight, which runs until Sunday 13 March, with Red Nose Day snapping at its heels on Friday 18 March. I'm wary of talking about worthy initiatives because the cynic in me worries that their do-goodability can detract from the central issue, namely: does the wine stack up value-wise?
I don't think we need to ask those questions any more with Fairtrade chocolate, coffee or bananas. They have all shown that it's not about accepting a lesser product in exchange for brownie points. Wine for some reason is different. For a start it represents only 0.6 per cent of the wholesale value of all Fairtrade goods in the UK, so it's still small beer, as it were, and it still has to prove itself.
The "wine that not only tastes good but does good" mantra is all well and fine, but unless there's a solid basis for such a claim in quality and value, it's just empty posturing. Torres' rose petal-infused 2010 Torres Santa Digna Gewürztraminer, with its grapefruity zing, justifies the claims; around £7.99, Charles Steevenson (01822 616272), Sandhams Wine (01472 852118 ), Partridges of Sloane Square.
I have visited Chile's Los Robles Co-operative in Curicó and seen at first hand the importance of the contribution Fairtrade wines make towards workers' conditions and community projects, especially those for children. Its 2010 Co-operative Fairtrade Chilean Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, £5.49, down from £6.75, stacks up well as an aromatic, gooseberryish, citrusy dry white, as does its 2010 Canelo Sauvignon Blanc, £4.99, down from £6.99, Marks & Spencer, with its elderflower aromatics and tongue-tingling zestiness.
In South Africa too, where the gulf between rich and poor is even greater, such initiatives make a difference. M&S has devoted its entire selection for Wine Relief to South Africa and it includes such excellent wines as Flagstone's 2009 Knock on Wood Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, £9.49, an aromatically herbal Cape take on Bordeaux' Graves style with underlying notes of green pepper, and the fragrant, fresh wild dark berryish, succulent 2008 Newton Johnson Pinot Noir, Elgin, £16.99.
Wine Relief raises money for Comic Relief's work with those who most need help in Africa and the UK and the major retailers involved – including Waitrose, M&S, Majestic, Wine Rack, Laithwaites, Virgin and Booths – set aside 10 per cent of the retail price of selected wines sold during the weeks leading up to Red Nose Day itself. In the 2007 El Coto Rioja Crianza, £8.49, Booths has a delightful modern Rioja with smoky vanilla notes behind the smooth, mellow strawberryish fruitiness.
According to Jancis Robinson, who started Wine Relief in 1999, "the range of wines chosen is better than ever, with many of them of real interest to the serious wine lover". Among those I would include the 2009 Morgon Château de Pizay, £8.99, Majestic, traditional beaujolais at its best with a vibrant cherryish richness and firm backbone that cries out for sausage or roast pork; a smoky and juicy 2009 Giesta Dão, £7.49, Laithwaites (laithwaites.co.uk) from Portugal, and the fresh pear opulence and refreshing spritz of the 2008 Alsace Pinot Gris, Cave de Turckheim, £8.99, Majestic. Don't expect these wines to make you a better person, but they will, at least, make you feel good.
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