Straw, once a firebrand of the left, welcomes Chile in from the cold

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Indy Politics

Once it would have been unthinkable for any self-respecting Labour activist. Jack Straw, who cut his political teeth in protests against the Pinochet regime in Chile, is preparing to order wineworth thousands of poundsfrom the nation once demonised by the left.

The Foreign Secretary, who has responsibility for the Government's wine cellar, is amending the rules to allow the purchase of the finest Chilean chardonnays and pinot noirs.

The change also means that the 20th anniversary of the Falklands War could be marked in Whitehall with a toast of Argentinian cabernet sauvignon.

Denis MacShane, the Foreign Office minister, told MPs: "Wine in the government wine cellar is bought on the basis of quality and value from wine-producing democracies in Europe, the Commonwealth and the Americas." He said that since 1997 Government Hospitality, the quango that places wine orders, had only bought wines from France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. But he revealed that the Government had issued an instruction that Latin American wines be included in future orders.

South Africa joined the list mainly at the insistence of the Foreign Office minister and former anti-apartheid protester Peter Hain, who returned from a visit to the country of his youth with a deal to serve its wine at Labour events.

The decision to approve South American wines, which were once boycotted, not only reflects the changing political order but also mirrors the recent surge in popularity of New World wines among British drinkers. In the past six years the combined market share of wines from France, Italy, Spain and Germany slumped from 75 per cent to just over half.

The New World vintages will join a 37,000-bottle wine cellar worth an estimated £1.5m – an average of more than £40 each. It contains a mixture of fine wines, reception or drinking wines, spirits and liqueurs.

The wines, served to VIPs at receptions, are bought and chosen by a panel of four experts. They are stored in rambling vaults beneath the Foreign Office headquarters in Whitehall. They include cases of 1931 vintage port worth £1,000 a bottle and a 1955 Chateau Latour, a claret valued at more than £200.

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