Angela Mount's Top 10 Fairtrade Wines
Because They're Worth It
We’re coming to the end of Fairtrade Fortnight, and I’ve been trying out a wide range of Fairtrade approved wines. Some are great; some aren’t. Fairtrade wine is a fabulous concept and initiative – every Fairtrade approved winery, in South Africa, Chile and Argentina is contributing back to the community where it is based – supporting the farm and winery workers and their families - by ensuring that the workers get a decent living wage, Childcare, education, youth projects, housing, fresh water, you name it, they are probably doing it. For every bottle of Fairtrade wine sold a percentage goes to support the workers and their families in impoverished areas.
But there’s been a question mark over whether the wines sold under the Fairtrade labels are worth the money, or whether wine drinkers are paying over the odds for a bottle of Fairtrade wines. I’ve scoured the shelves to check what’s good and what’s not. Here are my top 10 – I’m delighted they are Fairtrade wines – but I’d recommend them even if they weren’t. Testament to the focus on quality that the main Fairtrade approved producers are putting into their wine production.
Yet again, Waitrose have scurried around to find the very best Fairtrade wines, and this is a classic example. Winner of a gold medal in last year’s Decanter World Wine Awards, this superb red, which has to be one of the best value Fairtrade wines on the block, is from Argentina, produced by La Riojana, the largest Fairtrade producer in South America, who are supporting the families of workers in some of the poorest and most underdeveloped wine regions in the country. It’s soft, inviting and simply delicious, with a delightful velvetiness of style, as a result of very clever blending of the rich, full- bodied, mint and blackcurrant flavoured Cabernet Sauvignon and the silky, perfumed, violet and mocha scented Bonarda. Bonarda is a very underrated grape, yet produces some top blends in Argentina. Medium-bodied, and silky try this with peppered steak, roast lamb, and mildly spiced Indian and Mexican dishes.
Another award-winner from Waitrose - it’s fantastic that it’s a Fairtrade wine, but you should try it regardless of that. Torrontes is Argentina’s native white grape, grown in very few other countries. Be prepared for a blast of perfume, and decadently aromatic fruit; it’s not subtle, it’s not delicate; it’s a voluptuous, sassy, Latino temptress, yet one who teases, with a little edge of spiky, citrus tang. Torrontes is an incredibly aromatic grape, and the wine smells of rose petals, lychees, and rich, apricot fruit. Don’t be put off, it’s not sweet, it’s bold and lively, with a combination of ripe, scented richness, and a fresh, citrusy tang. It’s off dry, with a waft of incredible aromas and flavours, which make it one of the only white wines to have enough character and richness to cope with the hottest of curries, sweet and sour Chinese dishes, and fruity, Ras-al-hanout spice infused Moroccan tagines.
Morrisons have come up trumps with this carefully selected South African wine, from Fairhills, one the of the biggest Fairtrade wineries in the world. It’s a bold, tongue-tingling, lively dry white, full of ripe, fruity flavours; bright, fresh, and lively, I was really impressed by its character and style – it manages to combine the zesty, citrus and herb-spiked character of South African Sauvignon blanc, with the ripe, smooth guava and pineapple flavours of the popular Colombard grape. It works perfectly. Try this with citrusy roast chicken, pork loin with apples, and Middle Eastern fish and seafood tagines.
This latest Fairtrade South African offering from Morrisons is from the new 2013 vintage, which hit the shelves only a couple of months ago. It’s a bold, spicy blend of two favourite grape varieties, and delivers a rich, very fruity, full red, with a superbly smooth, soft edge. It’s silky, the tannins are soft, and it’s very moreish – think blackberries and damsons with a hint of dark coffee, and a twist of black pepper – with a lovely, smooth, velvety finish. A great one for all weathers - delicious with lamb curry, and sizzling Thai beef stir fries, but also great with chargrilled steaks, lamb kebabs and rich pasta dishes.
Let’s throw a pink wine into the mix here, as rose wines aren’t just for summer, but are great food wines. There’s a double whammy of environmental and social benefits here – the wine’s not just Fairtrade accredited, it’s organic as well. With it’s memorable, Running Duck Label, Stellar Organics produce a range of wines high up in the hills and mountains that rise beyond the location of most South African wineries, in the hot, dry, region of Olifants’ Rivier, on the road to Namibia. It’s hot, but cold at night and they manage to produce this delightfully fresh, juicy dry rose, which is full of freshly crushed raspberry and strawberry fruit aromas and flavours. Spring is on its way, and this would be delicious with seared tuna salad, and chargrilled prawns, but it works all year round with lots of fish dishes, and especially Thai –spiced salmon.
This is another Pinotage, which is soft, approachable and very easy to drink. Grown and produced up in the arid hills and granite mountains, on the road between Cape Town and Namibia, it’s soft and gentle, yet with a richness of fruit – very aromatic, it has aromas of freshly-crushed cardamom pods, sage, and black cherries. It’s rich and full, but combines this with a herby, savoury edge, ripe, lively, and not too intense, it’s a great match with lasagna, bangers and mash and spicy fajitas.
Produced by one of the most famous winemakers in the world, the man behind the Torres brand, this find at Majestic, is an exuberant, intensely fruity white produced in the deep south of Chile, in the Itata region. Here the climate is cool, freezing cold in winter, and hot, with cool nights in the summer – perfect for aromatic grapes. This is made from the intensely grapey Muscat, off dry, but with a lively, citrus kick. Aromas of honeysuckle, and freshly crushed sweet grapes; ripe, bold, yet zingy flavours of tropical fruits, with a twist of passion fruit acidity. This is the perfect white to match up to hot spicy curries, be it Thai, Indian, or simply anything with a hint of chili. Also great with fruity salads.
Pinotage is a ‘marmite’ wine – people either love it or hate it; if you’re in the former camp, I don’t need to convince you; if you think you don’t like Pinotage, I urge you to give this one a try. The team at Asda have done a great job in finding this juicy, smooth, fruity blend, which is bursting with ripe, exuberant dark fruit. It’s rich and fruity, but with none of the harsh, ‘burnt’, green edges that are often seen in Pinotages under the £10 mark. It’s made by Fairhills, the team behind South Africa’s largest Fairtrade project, and is an absolute delight – full-flavoured, yet soft, with bold blackberry fruit, an edge of oak, a hint of smoke and a touch of licorice and star anise. This would be great with rich beef stews, lamb shanks, and spicy stir-fried red meat dishes. I’d also think it would work with meatballs in a tangy, spicy tomato-based sauce.
Asda have come up trumps with a superb value South African dry white, which has bags of character and style. It’s delicious – ripe, round and bright, with a lovely intensity of fruit, and a rounded, smooth character. From the Breedekloof Valley, which is nestled between two mountain ranges, inland from the ocean, and further east than many of the vineyards, it’s bursting with rich, sunny fruit – baked apples, quinces, succulent pears, mingled with a touch of honey, and a lovely, lemony edge. Delightfully smooth, with lovely texture, it’s a great food wine – perfect with roast pork with apples, crispy duck, Moroccan fruity chicken tagines, and chili-spiked, pan-fried fish.
Fairhills seem to have a bit of a monopoly on South African Fairtrade wines, judging from this list, but all credit to them for developing such a wide range of wines and styles. I was lucky enough to visit the Fairhills project in Rawsonville, South Africa a few years ago, and the work they are doing on educational and community projects for the farm workers and their families is extraordinary. The great thing is that the wines stack up in terms of quality and flavour, as well as helping to provide this much needed support. This vibrant, intense red is a blend of grape varieties that are typically used for Claret – so it’s soft, but not overpowering – ripe, full and fruity, yet with an elegant structure, rich, blackcurrant and mint flavours, lovely fresh aromas of herbs, spice and very ripe currants. Tesco have found a good red to enjoy with braised lamb, steak pie, beef tacos, and cheese dishes.
*This article is showing the prices and stock available on 06/03/2014.