May 13th is Fairtrade Day. We sampled seven great Fairtrade wines at a tasting at the Richard Jefferies Museum in Swindon to see which got the thumbs up, and learn more about what Fairtrade actually means and where the money goes.
Wine One - "Arniston Bay" - Colombard Chenin Blanc, South Africa
Available from the Co-op, £4.79
Arniston Bay is the 4th largest wine brand in South Africa, and the country's largest producer of Fairtrade wines. Arniston Bay represents a project that benefits 122 workers and 68 families from a premium on the wines that is paid to a "farmworker trust."
In the past the trust has provided funding for a pre-primary school, transport to the school, breakfast clubs at the school (all to free up the parents to earn a living on the farms). There has also bee the construction of 3 community halls for adult leisure activities, a bursary to fund a place at tertiary education for older children and many farm vehicles.
Future plans include a health clinic. You can read more about Arniston Bay here.
As for the wine, Colombard is a principal grape that originates from France, but is largely used for 'jug wine' in the USA. It is widely grown in South Africa, but has been blended here with Chenin Blanc (which represents 18% of all vine planting in South Africa, making it the most widely planted). Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, used in sparkling wine (especially cremant) and sweeter dessert wines. Here it lends acidity to the wine.
VERDICT: Our tasters liked the wine, and thought it would be a refreshing summer wine with a bar-b-que, especially grilled prawns. They felt the wine reflects the outdoor nature of the Western Cape, just inland off the coast, and was enjoyable for the price.
Wine Two - "Days of summer" - Muscat, Chile
Available from the Majestic wine and the co-op £7.99
This wine does not carry the recognisable "Fairtrade' label, but is part of the "Fair for Life" certification programme. The orange sticker appears on the label, but sometimes the logo appears on the neck of the bottle. M&S carry a few "Fair for Life" wines.
The vision of the Fair for life programme has a slightly different emphasis, and looks more at the whole supply chain and wider sustainability and ethics. It's vision is "A world where trade, through ethical, fair and respectful partnerships, is a driving force for positive and sustainable change benefiting people and their environment." You can read the full visionand mission on their website.
This wine is made from the muscat grape, which surprised the tasters, who thought muscat was all sweet. It is a grape used a lot in dessert wines, and also made into raisins as well as being a table grape and wine grape. The producer Miguel Torres is a big player in Spain, but has recently been pioneering good wines in Chile. It's obviously working, as this wine won the gold award for "Best dry aromatic" in the 2016 Decanter awards and a double gold medal in the Australian 6-nation wine challenge.
VERDICT : Our tasters thought the wine was aptly named, as it was very summery, and they preferred it to the previous Arniston Bay wine. They agreed there were gentle tropical aromas, and a juicy finish.
Wine Three - "Co-op Fairtrade torrontés" - Argentina
Available from the co-op £5.59
The Co-op is unique in the supermarket sector in its structure that supports a cooperative approach and its customers are part of the operation. It was founded 170 years ago on the need to eliminate exploitation of workers and customers. From these beginnings the worldwide co-operative movement was born. The co-op introduced Fairtrade bananas to the UK, and are the only supermarket with its own range of Fairtrade products. They provide co-op to co-op support, as we see with this wine.
Produced in Argentina by the La Riojana cooperative, the area has become Argentina's largest producer of the torrontés wine. The co-op supermarket also offer a torrontés-chardonnay blend.
La riojana provides the perfect climate, nestled in the foothills of the Andes in NorthWest Argentina. Further north you can find Torrontés being made in Salta (the highest vineyards in the world) where the conditions produce a very dry and zesty wine. Further south in Mendoza, the torrontés can be peachy and sweeter, whilst this offering falls in between the two.
You can follow La Riojana Cooperative on Twitter, and also read more about the co-op wines on their website.
VERDICT : Our tasters thought the wine was was very summery and would be great with a bar-b-que. "It would be nice made into an ice lolly," commented Sally. Overall they preferred it to the first Arniston Bay wine, but it wasn't quite as enjoyable as the Days of Summer.
Wine Four - "Six hats" - Rosé pinotage, South Africa
Available from the M&S £8
Another wine from the Western Cape in South Africa, Six hats have been producing Fairtrade wines since 2009 in a range of single varietals including sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, chardonnay, pilotage, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. The Six hats brand is built around a concept that seeks to highlight the various roles and responsibilities that are attached to all parties involved in equitable wine farming. The Six hat principals are partnership, change, potential, equity, dignity and sustainability.
Pinotage is an interesting grape. It was created by a South African scientist who wanted a wine like pinot noir, but South Africa's warm climate is too hostile to the pinot noir grape. So pinot noir was crossed with a bolder, heat resistant grape, Cinsault, and Pinotage was born.
This was the only one of the seven wines that was labelled as "Vegan". Three of the wines were vegetarian, whilst the other three had no information on their label to suggest they were free of animal products. We discussed reasons that wines may not be suitable for vegans :
1) Additives Many wines have added sugar and pure white processed sugar contains bone char for its colour.
2) Filtration processes
Many animal by-products can find their way into wine during the filtration process (to thicken / combine etc) including milk, gelatine, egg white and catalase (bovine liver)
Animal based gelatine glues can be used in packaging, along with colouring on the labels.
4) Vineyard practices
Animals can be used in the vineyard - horses to till the soil for example, and animal compost may be used in the soil.
A full list of vegan wines (and there are a lot worldwide!) can be found on the Barnivore website.
VERDICT: Our tasters liked the wine "for a rosé", although many wouldn't consider buying a rosé wine. They felt it had a clean taste, and appreciated the juicy red fruit taste.
Wine Five - "Fish Hoek" pinotage, South Africa
Available from the Waitrose and Morrisons, £5.50
Like Six Hats, Fish Hoek produce 7 varietals - shiraz, merlot, pinotage, malbec, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and the rosé.
Fairtrade to the Fish Hoek means;
1. Growing without the help of harmful chemicals. Fairtrade encourages sustainable production, initiating a long-term approach to environmental protection.
2. Labour standards. Fairtrade certification makes sure that farms comply with the highest labour standards (e.g. freedom of association, no forced or child labour).
3. Handled and traded fairly - Fairtrade audits farms and traders annually in order to ensure that the whole supply chain complies with the standards.
4. Fair price. Fairtrade guarantees that producers are getting a fair price that reflects the costs of sustainable production.
5. Giving back to communities. For every Fairtrade sale, small farmers and farm workers receive a Fairtrade Premium that they can invest in projects benefitting the greater community.
As we have already met the pinotage grape in the rosé, it was good to try it as a full red. The wine was medium bodied with ripe red berries.
VERDICT: The tasters appreciated the red berry taste, but prefer a fuller bodied red. It paired well with the mature cheddar cheese and tasted a better quality than the price tag suggests.
Wine Six- Sainsbury's "Taste the difference" carménère, Chile
Available from the Sainsburys, £8
Carménère originates from Bordeaux and would have become extinct had it not been mistaken for merlot and planted in Chile. It was only as recently as 1994 that DNA testing discovered its true identity. The French barely bother with it now and is has been adopted by Chile's Central Valley as their signature grape.
It's a tricky grape to grow. If there is too much rain between winter and harvest time, the yield can produce wine that tastes heavily of green pepper. However, it doesn't like too much heat either. If the grapes over-ripen in the sun, the sugars (and thus alcohol levels) rise and destroy the delicate balance of the wine.
Sainsbury's have a decent range of "Taste the difference" wines that are Fairtrade, and work with family owned and co-operative wineries with both large and small in their Fairtrade projects.
VERDICT: The tasters agreed the carménère had quite a different taste to the pinotage. The black fruit and slight jammy taste was evident, but there were smoky notes that made the wine a little more complex. "It's very distinctive," they said. "The tannin is high, but that's a good thing."
Wine Seven - Co-op "Truly Irresistable" Malbec, Argentina
Available from the Co-op, £8.99
This was the most expensive wine of the evening, but has been rated as one of the Telegraph’s 15 best Malbecs. The newspaper say: “You can
drink this splendid, Fairtrade-certified malbec without a guilty conscience as it’s part of a unique project that, among other things, helped to build a new secondary school in Tilimuqui, in north-western Argentina. Its great intentions are mirrored by its great, dark fruit flavours and full-bodied appeal. And at this price it’s, well, irresistible.”
Argentina produces 75% od the world's Malbec, and one of Argentina's most respected winemakers, Rodolfo Griguol produced this 100% Malbec from high altitude vineyards growing in the remote, picturesque Famatina Valley in North West Argentina. The co-op report that the aforementioned secondary school now has 400 pupils.
VERDICT: The guests loved this full bodied wine is bursting with plum, cherry and jam aromas, and would be happy to buy it again. Comparing the carménère and the malbec in the glass, the colouring was almost identical, and their body was similar. However the tastes were different, and there was no overall winner as our tasters liked them both for different reasons.
*** Enjoy drinking these great wines with a clear conscience, and look out for good deals during Fairtrade Fortnight (end February until the middle of March each year) when the co-op have 25% off Fairtrade wines. ***