Wind the clock back ten or fifteen years and Fairtrade products were a rarity and consisted mostly of bananas, chocolate bars and funny-coloured tea bags. The wine was just as scarce, with two or three bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile or South African Pinotage lurking towards the back of the shelf in the local corner shop.
I remember running a Fairtrade stall at university in St Andrews and receiving lots of puzzled looks from fellow students as they tried the products for the first time. As you’d expect, plenty of arguments ensued about “free trade” versus Fairtrade.
Fast forward to 2015 and Fairtrade is now big business. Britons buy nearly £1.7 billion-worth of fairly traded products each year, with everything from Dairy Milk and Mars Bars through to roses and even footballs now carrying the Fairtrade mark, which guarantees that producers in developing countries have been paid a fair price for their produce, allowing them to invest in clean drinking water, health clinics and schools.
Now some 78% of the public have heard of Fairtrade products, which number more than 5,000 items, supporting over 1.5 million farmers in 74 developing nations.
The range of Fairtrade wines available on the market has also soared over the past decade, with grape varieties like Malbec, Torrontés and even Pinot Gris turning up amongst the more familiar Chenin Blanc, Merlot and Shiraz. More than 50 producers and growers now make wines that carry the mark, with in excess of 11 million litres of their tipples being consumed in the UK each year.
To mark the start today of Fairtrade Fortnight, which runs until 8 March, here are twelve of the best Fairtrade wines.
Peacock Tail Sauvignon Blanc 2014, £8.50 (Marks & Spencer)
Sauvignon Blanc – whether from Chile or South Africa – is a reliable favourite in the Fairtrade stable and this offering from the Western Cape doesn’t disappoint. It’s the fruiter style of Sauvignon Blanc, with the gooseberry and tropical flavours winning out over the more subtle asparagus and cut grass notes.
De Bos Sauvignon Blanc 2013, £9.75 (Oddbins)
In the drier style of Sauvignon Blanc, this South African white has aromas of asparagus and green pepper on the nose, matched by the same flavours on the palate. It’s crisp and dry and very refreshing, making it a good standalone wine or a fine match for fish dishes.
Tilimuqui Single Vineyard Torrontés, £7.99 (Waitrose)
With output coming from only a limited number of suppliers in a very limited number of countries, the range of Fairtrade wines can often lack breadth. That’s why it’s exciting to see this white wine from Argentina, made using the Torrontés grape variety. On the nose it’s full of fruity peach and floral honeysuckle aromas. In the mouth, it’s fresh and fruity, with such a punch from the peach that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was sweet. Torrontés is delicious on its own, but has enough acidity to cut through food too, so try it with fish or even a Thai curry.
Santa Florentina Selección Reservada Pinot Gris 2013, £8.75 (Corney & Barrow)
Another exciting grape variety to see making its way into the Fairtrade stable is Pinot Gris, better known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and pretty much any high street wine bar. All of the familiar green apple and pear aromas and flavours can be found in this example from Argentina, but it’s the floral aromas that make this wine really stand out from the crowd. This packs in a lot of flavour for the price.
Santa Florentina Organic Chardonnay 2014, £8.75 (Corney & Barrow)
Corney & Barrow continues to show that it’s not just the supermarkets that can deliver good quality and affordable Fairtrade wines but that the wine merchants can get in on the act too. There’s a great balance here between the refreshing acidity and the fruity pineapple and apricot flavours in this dry, unoaked white.
Fairtrade Malbec Rosé, £4.99 (Co-operative and Scotmid)
Regular readers will know that I’m not a huge fan of supermarket rosé, but this offering from the Co-op could win me over. It has none of the cloying strawberry jam flavours that you find in many grocers’ offerings, but instead is clean and crisp, with flavours of fresh strawberries and red cherries. At this price, who can argue?
Six Hats Shiraz 2014, £8 (Marks & Spencer)
Light and fruity, this South African red from the Western Cape offers aromas and flavours of strawberries and red cherries. But it’s the spicy notes that really stood out for me, with hints of hot white pepper and more subtly black pepper warmth. A good winter wine that manages to offer enough structure to stand up to foods like lasagne and sausage casserole, thanks to spending six months ageing in oak barrels, without being too heavy. Made by Citrusdal Wines, which sources its grapes from 100% certified Fairtrade vineyards.
Taste the Difference Morador Mendoza Fairtrade Malbec 2013, £7 (Sainsbury’s)
Malbec is all the rage at the moment and has really put Argentina on the map, especially when it comes to red wines to go with juicy steaks. Many cheaper Malbecs can be harsh and too dry, but this example from Sainsbury’s is rich and fruity, with aromas and flavours of blackcurrants and brambles.
Truly Irresistible Fairtrade Malbec 2013, £8.49 (Co-operative and Scotmid)
The Co-op describes this Argentinian wine as its flagship Fairtrade Malbec and it’s easy to see why. It’s rich and fruity, with plenty of blackcurrant and black cherry flavours, along with sweeter cinnamon notes. It’s full bodied but, at only 13% alcohol by volume, slightly easier going than many of its rivals. Not just a delicious Fairtrade Malbec but a delicious Malbec full stop.
De Bos Merlot 2013, £10.75 (Oddbins)
Everything you could want in a glass of Merlot, with fruity plum and cherry flavours plus a rich depth from the chocolate and cinnamon notes. Very moreish and a wine worth savouring on its own without food. If only all South African Merlot could be this good.
Fairtrade Merlot, £6.99 (Waitrose)
All the classic plum and damson aromas are present and correct on the nose of this South African Merlot, which is soft and fruity on the palate. The fruit gives way to more developed vegetal and spicy notes, which remind me more of easy-drinking French vin de pays than harsher New World reds. Good value.
Finca Monteflores Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, £63.11 for six (Exel Wines)
A deep and intense dry red wine from the Mendoza region in Argentina. The complex nose that features blackberry, cassis and mint gives way to blackcurrant, coffee and hot white pepper spices on the palate. Complex and delicious, and a good match for red meats.