As you know, I try to choose wines of the week with as wide a geographical distribution around the world as possible, but every now and then I discover a wine worth bringing to your attention even though it's available in only one or two countries. This is one of those.
Last week I went to the First Annual Fairtrade Wine Tasting in London.Fairtrade is a thoroughly admirable organisation dedicated to ensuring a better deal for growers and small-scale producers in developing countries, people who, because of their scale and location, have tended to be taken advantage of. The Fairtrade Foundation was established in 1992 by CAFOD, Christian Aid, New Consumer, Oxfam, Traidcraft and the World Development Movement but it's part of a much larger international organization. The Foundation is the UK member of Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO), which unites 20 national initiatives across Europe, Japan, North America, Mexico and Australia/New Zealand. The organization requires that all Fairtrade producers meet a set of standards that demonstrate that growers and suppliers are getting a fair deal in all related commercial transactions. The Rwandan coffee which Nick helped set up is a Fairtrade product, for instance, and Fairtrade work closely with Comic Relief. (Look out for a bigger, better Wine Relief 2007 in the period leading up to Red Nose Day on March 16 next year.)
It's an unusual approach to wine supply with a demanding set of requirements, so for the moment the number of Fairtrade producers, to judge from this inaugural tasting, is relatively limited. There may have been 13 stands showing wines but a burrow along the supply chain of each revealed that many were in fact supplied by a handful of producers, notably the Thandi black empowerment project, the organic Stellar winery and the Du Toitskloof and Citrusdal co-operatives in South Africa, the COVICA and Los Robles co-ops in Chile and La Riojana co-op in Argentina. But the movement is growing and there is now Source Wines which buys South African wine from the worker welfare-based African Terroir and the Mendoza Vineyards project in Argentina in conjunction with Viñas de Medrano, which offers the promising Mendoza Vineyards Malbec 2006 Mendoza at £4.99 via www.originwines.co.uk.
The big UK retailer the Co-op for instance, offers the biggest range of Fairtrade wines, 13 in all, all with a Co-op label but sourced from Los Robles, Du Toitskloof and La Riojana. Their South African Fairtade wines have apparently been a big hit and have doubled sales over the last year. I have to confess that I found many of the wines pretty humdrum but I was very impressed by the value offered by two wines from La Riojana. Co-op Fairtrade Argentine Torrontés-Chardonnay 2006 La Rioja is £3.99 and excellent value – fresh and lively with some of Torrontés' grapey perfume but without the heaviness of some varietal examples. Co-op Fairtrade Argentine Bonarda-Shiraz 2006 La Rioja is also £3.99, round, full of fuit and balanced by sufficient acidity. I have tasted hundreds of £4.99 wines worse than this pair (faint praise, I admit). They are available only in Co-op stores in the UK, I'm afraid – as far as I know.
But the wine I really want to draw to your attention is in even more limited distribution, I'm afraid, though you can buy it easily online from Friarwood (
www.friarwood.com) at just £4.99 a bottle. Friarwood is an independent wine importer, wholesaler and retailer in London SW6 on the border of those smart arrondissements Fulham and Chelsea. Unusually for such a relatively small company, they decided they should be in Fairtrade and have developed the Ormer Bay range of South African wines particularly but not exclusively for their restaurant clients. Quite a number of the staff are French and they all thoroughly approve of the unusually Loire-like Ormer Bay Chenin Blanc 2005 Western Cape which is their selection from the Citrusdal co-op where high altitude vineyards benefit from cooling breezes. It is full, dense and tingly with lots of body but fine, refreshing acidity too and a flavour suggests lime blossom honey. This is serious wine. It's by no means the only good South African Chenin Blanc at £4.99 but it satisfyingly combines being delicious while being unusually rewarding for those who produced it and who particularly need help. This wine can be bought online here for £4.99 and is also available elsewhere.