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Fair Trade wines hit the South Florida market


   Are you one of those people who recycles bottles, carries a canvas bag to the supermarket and drives a gas-sipping hybrid car? Then you're the perfect market for a new line of organic, fair trade wines just arriving in the United States.
   Pretty good wines, too, including a lively, fruity torrontes and a deeply aromatic malbec. In trying them, you can support a growing worldwide organization that's trying to help small producers get a fair shake.
   “They're catching on,'' says distributor Daniel Menendez of Biagio Cru and Estate Wines. “We put little signs on the shelves so people can read about what it does for workers, with a percentage of money going to schools and hospitals in Argentina.''
   In South Florida, the wines are available at Publix, Winn-Dixie and Milams supermarkets.
   Fair trade is a political and social movement with roots in 1960s Europe that aims to help small farmers compete in the world economy. Its members include producers of wine in Argentina, coffee in Mexico and Peru and bananas in Costa Rica. It organizes co-ops, seeks minimum prices and promotes fair labor conditions, direct contact with importers and ecologically sustainable production methods.
   In the U.S., fair trade products are certified by TransFair USA, a private organization that audits prices and practices. The approach has its critics. Some economists say fair trade pricing policies encourage small farmers to overproduce, creating a spiral of
flooded markets and falling prices.
   La Riojana Cooperativa, created in 2006, is an agricultural co-op in northern Argentina with 510 members, mostly small growers with fewer than 15 acres of vines. Its Ecologica line of organic wines donates a small percentage of its proceeds to a fund to build a
water system and high school for the village of Tilimuqui, Argentina.
   In its first U.S. releases, La Riojana is emphasizing the two grapes that are putting Argentina on the map: torrontes, a crisp white wine that may be related to gewurztraminer, and malbec, once a muscular grape added to French Bordeaux wines to give them backbone,
today grown softer and richer on the sunny slopes of the Andes.
   Oh, and they're bottled with screw caps, so you don't have to worry about wines spoiled by bad corks.

   ø‚2008 La Riojana îîSanta Florentina'' Malbec, Famatina Valley, Argentina: deep purple color, with ripe red plum aromas and flavors, ripe tannins; $9.

   ø‚2008 La Riojana îîSanta Florentina'' Torrontes, Famatina Valley, Argentina: intense lychee aromas, flavors of citrus and ripe peaches, crisp and lively: $9.
   ø‚2008 La Riojana “Ecologica'' Torrontes/Chardonnay, La Rioja, Argentina: pineapple and citrus aromas and flavors, rich and fruity; $15.
   ø‚2008 La Riojana “Ecologica'' Syrah/Malbec, La Rioja, Argentina: aromas and flavors of black plums and spice, ripe tannins; $15.



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