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Drink of the week

Two Sainsbury’s Fairtrade wines to try

Two Sainsbury’s Fairtrade wines to try

Every Fairtrade Fortnight I seem to end up bleating about the quality of Fairtrade wines so I thought this year I would give it a break. And then I found - too late for my Guardian column - a couple of better than average examples in Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range.

I wouldn’t get over excited - they won’t blow you away - but they’re decent, more than fairly priced and some at least of the proceeds will go towards Fairtade projects.

The first is the Taste the Difference 2014 Wild Valley Fairtrade Chenin Blanc (13.5%) a smooth dry white from the Wellington region of South Africa that would make a useful after-work white and a good partner for light chicken dishes and creamy pasta sauces. And it’s only 98 calories per 125ml glass (Sainsbury’s now usefully putting calorie content on their own brand wines).

And the second Sainsbury’s TTD Fairtrade Carmenère 2013 (14%) from Chile which is typically lush, ripe and fruity - a little soft for my taste but I might well be in a minority on that. A good red to drink with a lamb curry or other spicy lamb dish. Or with sausages.

Both are £6 until March 25th which I think you’ll agree is a bit of a steal. I’d have willingly paid the full £8 for them.

The Co-op also has a large selection of Fairtrade wines of which I’ve most enjoyed the Argentinian wines in the past. The vintages are different but here are my recommendations from last year.

Domaine Labet Fleur de Savagnin ‘en chalasse’ Cotes du Jura 2012

Domaine Labet Fleur de Savagnin ‘en chalasse’ Cotes du Jura 2012

I’ve tasted this wine before but was reminded how absolutely delicious it is when we had a bottle at lunch at Bell’s Diner in Bristol this week. (No I don’t spend my *entire* life there despite this article in the Guardian.)

It’s a blend of different types of savagnin - the Jura’s indigenous white grape which wine writer Wink Lorch, who has written an excellent book on the region, describes as tasting like a “fresh Meyer lemon”.

Given it had a couple of years maturation it wasn’t that tart but had just the right verve and attack to sail through an eclectic selection of small plates (its salinity made it particularly good with some salt cod croquetas (below) and a salad of salt cod, avocado and blood oranges). I was surprised to find it was nearly 14% (13.8%).

The estate is run organically and adheres to most of the tenets of natural winemaking - no fining or filtering and very little, if any sulphur. But the wine is beautifully clean and pure.

Infuriatingly I can’t find a retail stockist but it is imported into the UK by the excellent Vine Trail which supplies many other good restaurants including The Quality Chophouse and Texture in London so with luck you’ll run across it at some point. It costs £17.08 a bottle ex VAT

You can read Wink’s typically insightful piece about the Labet family on her website.

The Garage Project's Chateau Aro

The Garage Project's Chateau Aro

How on earth can I pick a single wine of the week from my two week trip to New Zealand? The answer is I can’t so I’m chickening out and going for a beer

That’s not such as cop-out as it might sound as a) New Zealand has an incredible craft beer scene and b) the beer - Wellington-based Garage Project’s Chateau Aro - also has a wine connection.

It’s a lager brewed with the juice and skins from Larry McKenna’s 2014 Escarpment pinot noir so not surprisingly it’s deeply vinous but there’s also a rich dark lager character. If you come across it (and I suspect that’s only likely to be in New Zealand*) watch out - it’s strong at 8.5% ABV - a bit reminiscent of a barley wine only drier (think a pumped up Rodenbach).

It was very good on its own when I drank it with Larry and his winemaker Huw at the end of our tasting but I reckon I’d enjoy it with venison or pigeon - or a cheeseboard. It would be spot on with Stilton.

(Incidentally if you find yourself in Wellington check out Hashigo Sake, an amazing underground beer bar with over 300 beers. Perversely I ended up drinking a beer from San Francisco - the Almanac Dolores Saison.)

* If you fancy a similar beer closer to home try the Wild Beer Co’s Modus Operandi though it’s not quite as winey.

Le Chiassaie 2013 vino spumante

Le Chiassaie 2013 vino spumante

You have to feel sympathy for Italian sparkling wine producers who don’t happen to make prosecco (except possibly those from Franciacorta who manage to charge much the same as champagne).

It must be hard trying to get the average punter to try something from another region. But here is one from Tuscany - and biodynamic and organic to boot - from the charming family-owned Fattoria La Vialla.

I visited them 8 or so years ago (you see the article I wrote here) and they never fail to keep in touch sending samples of new additions to their range they’re excited about (most recently this wine and some gorgeous grassy olive oil*). Fine for you, you might say, you’re a journalist but you get the impression from their delightful hand-written brochures they try to give all their customers the same level of individual attention. They sell direct so they need to but you feel they want to too.

This is a really quite unusual wine - a blend of pinot nero (pinot noir), chardonnay and verdicchio - not funky I hasn’t to assure those who are unconvinced by organic - but quite full, rich and savoury - unusually for a sparkling wine it’s 13%. It was fantastic with a fennel salami that came in the same parcel - something you wouldn’t expect of prosecco (parma ham is a better pairing). I reckon it would be good with many pasta dishes too.

You can order it by the 6 bottle case* direct from the estate for £56.70 or £9.45 a bottle which isn’t quite in prosecco territory price-wise but it's a great deal nicer than most sub £10 prosecco. It’s a wine I’d happily serve at a party or a summer wedding.

* which has unfortunately already nearly sold out.

PS The only slightly irritating thing is that you have to order a catalogue before you can place an order which is a bit of a faff. But be patient. It’s worth it.

Shepherd Neame & Sigtuna 2014 Collector’s Edition Barley Wine

Shepherd Neame & Sigtuna 2014 Collector’s Edition Barley Wine

After the excesses of the Christmas period I always reckon January drinking should be about quality rather than quantity with a small sip of something strong and flavourful being infinitely preferable to several glasses of something weak and bland.

Even though it’s generally considered a session drink I think that applies to beer too, hence my choice of this barley wine which I found when I was going through my beer stores and which I’m not even sure is still available.

For those who are not familiar with the style it’s a strong beer of at least 10%, designed for keeping - similar in style to a fortified wine like a madeira or tawny port

This limited edition bottle which was brewed in collaboration with Sigtuna brygghus in Sweden and aged in bourbon barrels is just luscious, deep amber-coloured, rich malty and slightly sweet - I’m sure I can detect some honey in there. It would be - as any barley wine would - a terrific match with cheese especially a strong cheddar or blue like Stilton or with a piece of old fashioned fruit cake like a Dundee - or as a nightcap though it's so intense I wouldn’t want much more than a third of the 33cl bottle. The 'drink by' date is not until February 2016.

Limited edition bottlings seem to be getting more popular - as they are with whisky ‘expressions’ - so you generally need to get in quick when they’re released. Apologies if you can’t get hold this one but it was so delicious I couldn’t resist flagging it up. Other barley wines would hit that late night spot too.

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