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Wine Column: Wet! Wet! Wet!

Neil Sowerby salutes a stream of wine-related worthy causes, but the red nose is all his own creation...

Written by . Published on February 28th 2011.


Wine Column: Wet! Wet! Wet!

DON’T let any sane person’s horror at the thought of Red Nose Day and the mirth-free zone that inflicts (let’s call it Lenny Henry Syndrome) put you off wine-supported good causes such as Wine Relief and Fairtrade Fortnight. My own self-inflicted ruby hooter is another matter altogether.

Both events are upon us once again and, fortunately for your reviewer, many of the bottles raising cash are worth recommending this year. But first a less frontline beneficiary – the world’s wetlands.

Chilean winemakers Vina Ventisquero produce a range of environmentally friendly wines (special lightweight bottles, ClimateCare programme to offset CO2 emissions in transportation), named after that country’s Yali wetlands.

For every bottle of Yali sold in the UK, a donation is given to leading conservation charity the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (wwt.org.uk). Across the water BirdWatch Ireland benefits.

If that sounds a mite worthy, the good news is their latest release, Yali National Reserva Cabernet Franc 2009 from the Colchagua Valley, is a velvety, plummy treat. Same grape as Chinon and Bourgeuil in the Loire but quite different in taste. It’s on special offer at Morrisons at £5.99 instead of £8.19, which is a snip.

Fairtrade Fortnight lasts until March 13 and, as always, our own dear Co-op are leading the way with a string of special offers on their Fairtrade range. Here are a representative four: The Co-operative Fairtrade Chilean Merlot Rosé 2010 (£4.49 normally £5.49) offers punnets of strawberry and raspberry fruit but with refreshing acidity.

The Co-operative Fairtrade Organic Argentine Malbec Reserve 2009, consistently one of the Co-op’s best Fairtrade performers, is down from £6.99 to £5.99. It is made from organic Malbec grapes, 60 per cent of which have been aged in either American or French oak. Hence the hints of vanilla and tobacco cloaking the surprisingly complex raspberry fruit.

Like Malbec, Carmenère is an historical French varietal, which has found a home for itself in Chile as the signature red grape. The Co-operative Fairtrade Chilean Carmenère 2010 is deeply coloured with a damson nose and a beguiling mintiness on the soft palate. Down from £5.99 to £4.99).

Chardonnay is universal, of course, and often dismissed nowadays, but at the same promotional price as the Carmenère, the Co-operative Fairtrade Cape Chardonnay 2010 is an uncomplicated, fresh quaffer. Citrussy on the nose, there’s a subdued vanilla creaminess and roundedness on the palate, due to 30 per cent of the blend being fermented on oak staves.

Nice flavours and, of course, the cause is good.

The Fairtrade Foundation aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged producers in the developing world by helping them to sell their goods at a fair price. More than seven million people across 58 developing countries benefit from the international Fairtrade system. To find out more visit www.fairtrade.org.uk.

Wine Relief, in contrast, is a subsidiary of Comic Relief with leading retailers selecting wines from their range as Wine Relief Bottles with 10 per cent of sales in the run-up to Comic Relief Day on March 18 going straight to Comic Relief.

Marks and Spencer have really made an effort this year, contributing wines from their entire 27-strong South African range. These range from their basic Cape Quarter blends at £5.40 to the acclaimed Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2008 Elgin at £16.99.

I hope my last Confidential column celebrating Portuguese wines boosted sales, but I think I was merely confirming a trend among drinkers prepared to pay a little bit more to go beyond bland international varietals.

Latest figures from the National Statistics Institute of Portugal (up to the end of November 2010) show wine exports to the UK are up 99.1 per cent by value and 22.5 per cent by volume.

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