ANYTHING DECENT IN THE FAIRTRADE WINE LIST?

By Rose Murray Brown MW    Published in The Scotsman 5 March 2016

Last year I did not write about Fairtrade wines for a reason.  The wine quality was not good, although the Fairtrade scheme itself is admirable and rewarding: providing better pay, upgraded working conditions and improved standard of living for its workers and families.

We are now in Fairtrade Fortnight once again (it runs until 13 March 2016 with wine offers in supermarkets and high street retailers) and I am delighted to see things are starting to improve – a little.  This year we see established Cape wine brands like Fish Hoek and Namaqua join the scheme, vowing to protect workers’ rights, pay a fair price for grapes and use the Fairtrade premium to invest in local education or housing projects.

There is no doubt that the Fairtrade project has come a long way since the first wine, a Carmenere from Chile, was listed by The Co-op in the UK back in 2004.  Today three main countries are involved: Chile, Argentina and South Africa – with the latter making up two thirds of Fairtrade wines produced.  Yet in all three countries, there is still a fundamental problem: the quality of the grapes they use to make the Fairtrade wines.

The producers are limited to using these grapes and as those with so little in life generally do not have the best land, so it is hardly surprising that the grape quality is not the best.  Some projects like Piekenierskloof, set up by Charles Back of Fairview estate (in association with Citrusdal Cellars) and Bosman Family Estate (with Adama Workers Trust) are trying to address this issue.

I have re-assessed twelve Fairtrade wines on the shelf to help you choose and raise a glass to Fairtrade’s success:

 

FAIRTRADE WHITE WINES

Breede River, South Africa: CAPE ORIGINAL CHENIN BLANC/GRENACHE BLANC WHITE 2015  ***STAR VALUE BUY***
(£5 reduced from £6 at Tesco until 22 March & from 13 April – 3 May)

This zesty creamy blend of Chenin Blanc & Grenache Blanc stole the show amongst the Fairtrade white wine line-up.   Tropical fruit, citric undertones with a leesy palate in this unoaked aperitif.  Good knockdown price. 
Alc 12.5%  

                                  
Wellington & Walker Bay, South Africa: ADAMA WHITE 2015   ***STAR BUY ***
(£10.99 Waitrose)

Characterful Cape blend with Chenin Blanc dominant (and seven other grapes including Viognier and Chardonnay).  Very fleshy juicy pure lemony fruit with a creamy palate and enough zippy acid and minerality to keep it fresh – and a distinctive long finish.  Quite pricey compared to the usual Fairtrade wines, but really worth it.
Alc 14%


Wellington, South Africa: DE BOS CHENIN BLANC SUR LIE 2013
(£8.99 bt for non-members or £7.99 for members Rude Wines www.rudewines.co.uk)

Two years bottle age should have given this Chenin Blanc more honeyed character, but it just tasted unbalance, although there is a little underlying pineapple and pear fruits.  I have had better Cape Chenins at this price.
Alc 13.5% 


Citrusdal, South Africa: SIX HATS SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015 
(£8 Marks & Spencer)

Starts well with a hint of green fruit, more tropical fruit on palate, but the acid seems unbalanced – just too tart rather than crisp and minerally – with a bitter finish.
Alc 13.5%


Famatina Valley, Argentina: THE CO-OPERATIVE FAIRTRADE PINOT GRIGIO 2015
(£5.99 reduced from £6.99 at The Co-op until 15 March)

The hot dry Famatina Valley is not the most obvious place to try to make a crisp clean white, so it is hardly surprising that this is only acceptable rather than good.  It ticks the crisp dry quaffable box, but that is about it.  Nothing special even at its knockdown price – sorry.
Alc 12.5%

 

FAIRTRADE RED WINES

Western Cape, South Africa: ADAMA RED 2015
(£9.99 Majestic Wine Scotland; £11.99 Majestic Wine England)

Shiraz dominant blend (with six other grapes: Cinsault, Grenache, Nero d’Avola, Mourvedre, Primitivo and white Viognier) made Corlea Fourie, winemaker for the Bosman family and Adama Workers Trust joint venture.  Baked red fruit notes, very spicy peppery well rounded palate – a high scorer in our tasting.  Alc 14.5%


Wellington, South Africa: BOSMAN CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011  ***STAR BUY***
(£16.49 Waitrose)

Intense smoky cedary aromas, dense black fruits, good balance; a well made Cape Cabernet Sauvignon with 18 months in French oak.  Pricey.  Alc 14%


Western Cape, South Africa: CAPE ORIGINAL SHIRAZ/MALBEC RED 2015  ***STAR VALUE BUY***
(currently £6 Tesco; on offer at £5 from 13 April – 3 May in Tesco)

Plenty of black cherry and brambly fruits, peppery undertones with a very dry finish – needs a spicy barbeque sausage to match.  An acceptable blend of Shiraz & Malbec at £5 offer price next month: look out for it. 
Alc 13.5%


Citrusdal, South Africa: SIX HATS SHIRAZ 2015
(£8 Marks & Spencer)

Very smoky nose with pepper and spice on the palate; a hint of vanilla from six months oak – made by winemaker Jaco Brand of Piekenierskloof.  Much better than the Six Hats white wine.
Alc 14.5%
                                                                                                                 

Western Cape, South Africa: FISH HOEK SHIRAZ 2015
(£5.99 reduced from £7.99 at Waitrose & Morrisons until 15 March)

Very acceptable smooth supple fruity Shiraz at its knockdown price; winemaker Bruce Jack has sneaked in a touch of Pinotage in the blend to bolster.  Expect fleshy ripe fruits, soft tannins and a touch of vanilla from American oak.  This is the best of the Fishhoek range.
Alc 14%


Famatina Valley, Argentina: THE CO-OPERATIVE FAIRTRADE MERLOT 2014
(£5.99 reduced from £6.99 The Co-op until 15 March)

A pale imitation of Merlot: not much plummy fruit here and a disappointing limp finish.  The hot dry Famatina valley is not suited to Merlot – it does better with the more robust thicker-skinned Malbec grape (see below). 
Alc 12.5%


Famatina Valley, Argentina: TRULY IRRESISTIBLE FAIRTRADE MALBEC 2013           
(£6.99 reduced from £8.49 The Co-op until 15 March)

Whilst it is hardly ‘irresistible’, it is certainly better than the Co-op’s Fairtrade Merlot – but there are plenty of better Argentinian Malbecs on the market at this price which is such a shame.  Damson aromas, crunchy red fruits, chewy tannins on the finish – so remember to open the wine a good hour before serving. 
Alc 13%


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