I didn’t write about Fairtrade wines last year for a reason. Although the Fairtrade scheme itself is admirable, the quality of the wines on offer wasn’t good.
It’s the middle of this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight (until 13 March) and I am delighted to see things are starting to improve – a little. This year, established Cape wine brands like Fish Hoek and Namaqua joined 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.
Today three main countries are involved: Chile, Argentina and South Africa – with the latter making up two thirds of Fairtrade wines produced. The producers are limited to using certain grapes and as those with so little in life generally do not have the best land, it is hardly surprising grape quality is not the best, though some projects like Piekenierskloof and Bosman Family Estate (with Adama Workers Trust) are trying to address this issue.
Breede River, South Africa: Cape Original Chenin Blanc/Grenache Blanc White 2015 - STAR BUY
This zesty, creamy blend of chenin blanc and grenache blanc stole the show amongst the Fairtrade whites. This unoaked aperitif has tropical fruit, and citric undertones with a leesy palate. Good knockdown price.
£5, reduced from £6, Tesco until 22 March and from 13 April-3 May
Wellington & Walker Bay, South Africa: Adama White 2015 - STAR BUY
A characterful Cape blend with chenin blanc dominant (and seven other grapes including viognier and chardonnay), this has very fleshy, juicy, pure lemony fruit with a creamy palate and enough zippy acid and minerality to keep it fresh – with a distinctive long finish.
Wellington, South Africa: De Bos Chenin Blanc Sur Lie 2013
Two years’ bottle age should have given this chenin blanc more honeyed character, but it tasted unbalanced, although there is a little underlying pineapple and pear fruit.
£8.99 for non-members or £7.99 for members, Rude Wines, www.rudewines.co.uk
Citrusdal, South Africa: Six Hats Sauvignon Blanc 2015
This starts well with a hint of green fruit, and more tropical fruit on palate, but the acid seems unbalanced – it’s more tart than crisp and minerally – with a bitter finish.
£8, Marks & Spencer
Famatina Valley, Argentina: The Co-Operative Fairtrade Pinot Grigio 2015
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.
£5.99, reduced from £6.99,The Co-op until 15 March
Western Cape, South Africa: Adama Red 2015
This shiraz dominant blend (with six other grapes) has baked red fruit notes and a very spicy peppery well rounded palate – it was a high scorer in our tasting.
£9.99, Majestic Wine Scotland; £11.99, Majestic Wine England
Wellington, South Africa: Bosman Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 - STAR BUY
With intense smoky cedary aromas, dense black fruits, and good balance, this is a well made Cape cabernet sauvignon with 18 months in French oak. Pricey.
Western Cape, South Africa: Cape Original Shiraz/Malbec Red 2015
This needs a spicy barbecue sausage to match plenty of black cherry and brambly fruits, peppery undertones with a very dry finish.
Currently £6, Tesco; on offer at £5 from 13 April-3 May
Citrusdal, South Africa: Six Hats Shiraz 2015
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.
£8, Marks & Spencer
Western Cape, South Africa: Fish Hoek Shiraz 2015
Very acceptable smooth, supple, fruity shiraz at its knockdown price. Expect fleshy ripe fruits, soft tannins and a touch of vanilla from American oak.
£5.99, reduced from £7.99, Waitrose and Morrisons until 15 March
Famatina Valley, Argentina: The Co-Operative Fairtrade Merlot 2014
A pale imitation of merlot: not much plummy fruit here and a disappointing limp finish. Famatina valley is not suited to merlot – it does better with the thicker-skinned malbec grape.
£5.99, reduced from £6.99, The Co-op until 15 March
Famatina Valley, Argentina: Truly Irresistible Fairtrade Malbec 2013
Whilst it is hardly ‘irresistible’, it is better than the Co-op’s Fairtrade merlot, with damson aromas, crunchy red fruits and chewy tannins – open a good hour before serving. n
£6.99 reduced from £8.49, The Co-op until 15 March
• Join Rose’s Chocolate & Wine tasting in Edinburgh on Friday, 20 May, £40, www.rosemurraybrown.com