Wine: Here's to red noses all round

Thanks to Wine Relief, selling in volume is, for once, about more than pure profit

FROM NOW until Red Nose Day, 11 March, the major UK wine retailers are chipping in 10 per cent of the price of selected wines to Wine Relief, part of Comic Relief. Most have got their campaigns under way, while Asda gets under starter's orders next Saturday, and M&S and Morrisons the Monday after.

How much does Wine Relief achieve? The underlying causes of suffering may be too complex to be resolved by money alone, but aid clearly helps. According to Comic Relief, running costs met from government and corporate sources allow all funds raised to go towards alleviating poverty and suffering, through projects such as Send a Cow in Uganda and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

The more they sell, the more they raise, so many of the retailers are concentrating on big brands (allowing them to go halves with the supplier). So, the likes of Kumala, Gallo, Wolf Blass, Mateus Rose and KWV feature heavily. Uninspiring, maybe, but selling in volume has a motive that, for once, goes beyond pure profit.

Other retailers have chosen wines they're proud to promote. They may not sell quite the same quantities, but they are offering the more interesting wines. Arthur Rackham, for instance, is showing two of its suppliers from the Adelaide Hills, one of whom, Longview Vineyards, produces the sumptuous 2002 Adelaide Hills Shiraz, with notes of coffee and tar and a juicy mouthful of peppery, brambly fruit for a reasonably priced pounds 11.99.

Booths too has carefully selected its Red Nose Day wines. All four reds are good value, starting with a bargain-basement 2001 Negroamaro Tenute del Sole, Salento (pounds 3.99), whose smoky, burnt nose and ripe, damson-plum fruitiness reek of Italy's hot south. Equally good value is the 2003 Les Ruffes, La Sauvageonne, Coteaux du Languedoc (pounds 4.99), a meaty southern- French blend stuffed with blackberry fruit and seasoned with spice. From Spain, the 2002 Inurrieta Navarra (pounds 5.99) is spicy and juicy in equal parts with a rich topping of vanilla oakiness in a rioja-esque style. And Jose Mourinho himself would get into Sir Alex's good books with the Portuguese 2003 Grand'Arte Trincadeira (pounds 6.99).

M&S deserves credit for its effort: the 2004 Lost Sheep Chardonnay (pounds 4.99) is a ripe, tropical Aussie chardonnay with restrained white burgundy-like fruit, and the crisp, grassy 2004 Gum Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 9.99) from the Adelaide Hills is a dry, aromatic white redolent of gooseberry and tropical fruit in an opulent Australia-meets-Sancerre style.

Oddbins too has a couple of juicy whites: the herbaceous and gooseberryish Zonnebloem Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 5.99) and the smoky, apricoty 2003 Etoile Filante Viognier (pounds 6.99).

Elsewhere, a handful of own-labels stand out from the big-brand crowd. The 2003 Sainsbury's Classic Selection Western Australian Sauvignon Blanc (pounds 6.99) is a characterful, Graves-like blend from Capel Vale - the sumptuous gooseberry fruit is utterly juicy and appealing. Its 2001 Classic Selection Douro from Quinta do Crasto (pounds 6.99) oozes damson plum richness. And the blackcurrant-sweet fruit of the 2003 Forest Hill Classic Selection Western Australian Cabernet Merlot is well worth pounds 6.99.

Still in Australia, Thresher does a good job of bringing shiraz to life with the 2002 Origin Reserve Barossa Valley Shiraz (pounds 8.99), a smoky, liquorice- spicy affair crammed with blackberry fruit and the surest way to bring out the colour in your cheeks (and nose) on 11 March. E

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