We’re used to spotting the distinctive Fairtrade logo on coffee, bananas and even cotton t-shirts, but it’s a less familiar sight in the supermarket’s wine aisle.
Yet buying Fairtrade is an easy swap to make in our weekly shop to improve the pay, working conditions and rights of those who produce our wine in developing countries.
“As well as the Fairtrade minimum price, which kicks in when crops fail or market prices crash, farmers and workers also receive an additional premium to help their community invest in essential services such as education, sanitation and health care,” says Anna Barker, Head of Commercial Partnerships at the Fairtrade Foundation.
South Africa is now, by far, the world’s largest producer of Fairtrade wine – although it is also made in Argentina, Chile and Lebanon.
The wines first appeared on UK shelves in 2004, but have remained a rarity, with only a few bottles in the major supermarkets certified as Fairtrade.
Availability and quality have since improved and Co-op alone have sold over 50 million bottles of Fairtrade wine. Drinkers with a conscience can now take their pick from excellent examples of carmenere, pinotage, chardonnay and more.
“There’s an unfortunate misconception that Fairtrade certified wine is overpriced and the taste not up to scratch – this is simply not the case!” Barker continues. “Fairtrade wines frequently win awards and have never been more popular – Fairtrade wine sales grew 10 per cent in 2019, and we are forecasting continued growth in this area.”
The wines we tested were all certified Fairtrade but deserved their place on our list purely for taste and we’d happily drink all of these again. It’s an added bonus that you will make a real difference with every drink too.
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Scarlet pimpernel merlot malbec 2020, 14%, 75cl
A match made in red meat heaven, this blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and cinsault is a joy to drink. The wine is produced by the Mt Rozier Estate in South Africa’s Western Cape, where the slopes are cooled by sea breezes and there is an emphasis on minimal interference. Grapes are hand-harvested for quality control and fermented separately before the four varieties are blended.
The result is dark purple in colour and explodes with red berry fruit flavours and a succulent richness. It’s soft on the palate with a little sweetness, but has an oaky spiciness to finish and decent structured tannins which means it holds its own with food. It would be a dream with a juicy steak or game, but is a versatile all-rounder that is excellent value for money.
Vinos Lautaro pico a pico merlot carménère, 12.5%, 75cl
Created by specialist boutique winemaker Paula Araya, this smooth, full-bodied red is produced by Vinos Lautaro in Chile’s Lontué Valley. The company was founded in 1997 when 17 small-scale producers, more used to the cultivation of crops such as corn and wheat, joined together to make Fairtrade wine.
Carménère was first used in the Bordeaux region of France before it was wiped out by a plague. In the mid-90s, it was unexpectedly discovered in Chile, thought to have been brought to the country in around 1850, and is now one of Chile’s most popular grapes. Known for its vivid crimson colour, it’s blended here with merlot to produce a sumptuous, silken wine that’s velvety on the palate and chock-full of spicy red fruit. Serve this with a plate of strong cheese for a dinner party winner.
M&S Classics pinotage case of 6, 13.5%, 75cl
South Africa’s signature pinotage was first cultivated in the 1920’s when the country’s hot sun got the better of the pinot noir grape. This was crossed with cinsault to create pinotage which has since gone on to become the country’s most popular variety.
This Swartland wine is made by winemaker Ben Jordaan especially for M&S’ reliable classics range and is a great example of the grape, with a light oak complexity cutting through the intense wild berry, blackcurrant and plum flavours. There’s a touch of velvety smoke to follow, making this a full-bodied delight that complements roast lamb and pasta dishes perfectly.
Tesco Finest South African shiraz, 13.5%, 75cl
It may not be as famous as Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, but South Africa’s Breede River Valley is home to nearly 40 per cent of the total vines planted in the country. Surrounded on three sides by mountains, this vast region has diverse soils and a hot and dry climate, producing reasonably priced, high quality wine. France’s Rhône Valley is traditionally renowned for its syrah but the grape has now become one of South Africa’s favourites, known for its distinctive peppery flavours and more commonly referred to as shiraz.
This fresh, medium-bodied red from Tesco’s own range is well-balanced and not at all heavy, with juicy flavours of dark cherry and blackberries and a smooth, spicy finish. With its generous 13.5 per cent ABV, we recommend a large glass (or two) with barbecued sausages or Italian classics like spaghetti and meatballs.
Winemaker’s selection fairtrade paarl chenin blanc, 13%, 75cl
Neatly disproving the myth that decent Fairtrade wines cost more, this bright, understated white wine is the ideal mid-week drink, especially in the summer months. It pairs well with a mild chicken curry, fishcakes or garlic prawns, but we’d happily drink it on its own to enjoy its light citrus and honey flavours.
Originally from France’s Loire Valley, chenin blanc has become one of the most widely planted varieties in South Africa’s Western Cape, known for its golden colour, notes of citrus and bright, acidic finish. At this price, it would be rude not to try it.
Adama fairtrade white blend 2020, Bosman Family Vineyards, 13.5%, 75cl
Chenin blancs often get a bad rap as bland and forgettable but this crisp golden blend of chenin blanc and grenache blanc packs a flavourful punch. It’s produced by the Bosman family, who have made wine in South Africa’s Wellington for eight generations since 1810. The chenin blanc in this blend comes from an organic vineyard, while the grenache blanc comes from higher elevations on decomposed granite soil and adds distinct brightness.
The surprising, fruity wine zings with stone fruit and marzipan flavours and has a lively finish. It’s recommended to be enjoyed between three to seven years after the vintage, but if you can wait that long to open this top-notch bottle, you have more self-restraint than us.
Co-op fairtrade irresistible organic malbec, 13%, 75cl
A smooth fruity malbec, this full-bodied red comes from Rodolfo Griguol, one of Argentina’s most respected winemakers. It’s produced using 100 per cent malbec grapes sourced from high-altitude vineyards in the remote Famatina Valley in North West Argentina, typically 1000 to 1400 metres above sea level.
Here, dry sunny days and cold nights give wine robust fruit flavours and a vibrant red colour and are excellent conditions for organic cultivation. Bursting with plum and cherry flavours, this wine has a hint of jam on the nose and would be a great companion to steaks, roasted meats or a slow-cooked beef casserole.
M&S Journey’s End winemaker’s reserve stellenbosch chardonnay 2020, 13.5%, 75cl
If you’re still swerving chardonnay, this could be the one to change your mind. It’s produced close to the ocean on the picturesque south-facing slopes of South Africa’s Stellenbosch by Leon Esterhuizen at boutique winery Journey’s End. With a rock-solid reputation for top-quality, handcrafted wines, Journey’s End are also renowned for their sustainable farming practices and local community work supporting the nearby school and creche.
Their latest chardonnay is an elegant, complex wine aged for eight months in French oak. Rich but rounded, it has an almost tropical tang, with peach and citrus notes, a creamy hit of vanilla and refreshing acidity. It’s best served within three years of purchase, but open it now for an instant treat.
The verdict: Fairtrade wines
The Scarlet Pimpernel Merlot Malbec 2020 is our winning red for its fruity versatility and great price.
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