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Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Co-operative Fairtrade Wine Tasting, London

Earlier this week, I went to a tasting of Co-op Fairtrade wines - whilst The Co-op has not particularly been on my radar, but two recent wines, a kiwi Pinot Grigio and an award-winning Argentinian red impressed me enough to go along, and my personal view of Fairtrade, perhaps like most people, is that it's a nice to have rather than a reason of itself to buy something - if a wine is good and happens to be Fairtrade, then that's merely a plus.

And I found a similar view amongst most of the people at the event; both Co-op representatives or the winery agents, all agreed the wines need to stand up on their own merits and cannot rely on Fairtrade status alone for sales. In fact, if anything, they probably have to outperform against the non-Fairtrade competition in order to establish themselves as decent wines in their own right.

As The Co-op's buyer, Maria Elener, explained, the Fairtrade premium is relatively modest, around 50p per case, so it makes sense to pitch Fairtrade wines at the lower end of the market where volumes are greatest in order to achieve the biggest impact.

Now representing 60% of the UK's Fairtrade wine sales and with £1.7m returned to workers from the Fairtrade premium since 2004, The Co-op is now relaunching the range with a new label, an increase to seven wineries and a premium range priced at £7.99.

With a starting price for these wines was of £3.99, we are squarely in "value" territory and looking for good quaffers with a focus on easy-drinkers, lots of up-front varietal fruit and personality, New-World ripeness  - perhaps a touch of something more complex and secondary, too - and good overall balance.

And I'm pleased to say that on this count, all the wines delivered - in short, you can buy any Co-op Fairtrade wine and you will find it pleasant and well-made. And if there's nothing here to worry your local independent wine merchant, then that's largely because we are looking at very different price brackets and market segements - if your budget is "around a fiver" and you tend to buy wine at the supermarket, it is definitely worthwhile checking these out.

With a relatively small portfolio of wines, I was able to taste my way through them all fairly quickly and my detailed notes are lower down. If, however, you just want to get straight down to business, my recommended wines are here.

Recommended Red

The Argentinian Fairtrade Bonarda Shiraz from La Riojana for its earthiness, texture and cherry fruit on the palate and interesting secondary notes of peppery mintiness for just £4.99

Recommended White

The Fairtrade Reserva Sauvignon Blanc from Los Robles for its acidic structure, minerality and classic, Old-World food-friendliness for £6.99.


I started with La Riojana's range, grown at altitudes of 800m to 1,200m.

The Pinot Grigio had an an aromatic, floral nose, with rounded but crisp acidity, a touch of toastiness and a savoury finish.

The Torrontes Chardonnay had a typically floral nose with aromas of lychees and a good structure - I'm not personally a fan of floral whites, but this could be the Next Big White Thing after Aussie chardie, kiwi SB and PG.

The Bonarda Shiraz had an interestingly earthy, sour-cherry nose, a smooth, mouthfilling texture and cherry fruit on the palate - there are some more interesting notes of pepperiness, mintiness and a gentle grip on the finish that are a very pleasant and welcome surprise at £4.99.

The Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon had some - for me too much - blackcurranty and vanilla sweetness with some herbaceous notes - balanced on the palate it is quite grippy on the finish.

The Organic Gran Reserva Malbec had an oaky, vanilla nose with black cherry fruit, rounded juicy acidity, a smooth texture and a pleasant amount of grip on the finish.


From Vina Santa Irene, the Rosé showed lots of raspberry fruit on the nose and sweet red berries on the palate - a soft, quaffing rose rather than a food wine and personally I'd have liked a bit less fruit and more structure and minerality.

The Carménère was varietally typical with sour cherry fruit and a somewhat elusive mix of coffee and soy; there is just a hint of interesting mintiness, a soft texture and gentle grip on the finish.

The Cabernet Merlot Shiraz (3l bag-in-box) showed prunes and spice, dark cherries, mint and had a grippy finish.

The Reserva Sauvignon Blanc from Los Robles showed an herbaceous nose of gooseberries and cut grass whilst the palate shows good acidic structure and minerality; a more classic, Loire-style food wine that went particularly well with some goat's cheese afterwards.

South Africa

The Merwida Chardonnay Semillon (3l bag-in-box) is unoaked and with just 12.5% alcohol feels like a light, fresh, versatile, slightly neutral European food wine with a pleasant lemoniness and I can't help feeling the average bag-in-box consumer might be looking for something a bit more showy.

The Du Toitskloof Sparkling Brut was a pleasant enough sparkler from 100% Chardonnay with a restrained nose, a touch of sweetness on the palate and a bit of savoury depth - fine if you need some budget fizz.

The Sparkling Rose adds to this some raspberry fruit on the palate.

The Chenin Blanc Colombard has a refreshing acidity but still feels gentle on the palate - there are some hints of interesting minerality and toastiness.

The Cinsault Shiraz has a funky, sour cherry nose with prune fruit, with more juicy, cherry fruit on the palate, soft tannins and a gentle finish. For the price, £4.99, it's a very interesting wine but more suited to quaffing than with food.

The Chardonnay from Bosman is unoaked with an aromatic nose, apples-and-pears fruit and crisp acidity, but a bit too much mid-palate sweetness to have with food; it should be a crowd-pleasing quaffer.

The Shiraz has a ripe, fruity nose that is typically varietal; the palate is soft, juicy and mouthfilling with prune fruit. With some gentle grip on the finish, it's another good quaffer.

The Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc from Stellenrust is a more ambitious wine, from 25-year-old vines, extended lees contact and some time in oak; the result is a bigger, more mouthfilling wine with a creamy texture that still retains heraceous aromas on the nose and freshness on the palate.


The Co-op (main food and drink website) - http://www.co-operative.coop/food/
Co-op Fairtrade Wines - http://www.co-operative.coop/food/ethics/Ethical-trading/Fairtrade/Our-fairtrade-products/Wine/

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