The UK government wants to water down wine in an effort to make consumers’ lives easier and favour the post-Brexit UK wine industry.
The relaxed rules proposed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are due to come into effect on 1 January 2024 after being approved in parliament later this month.
The changes won’t be compulsory, but they aim to ease the current rules and help the UK take advantage of post-Brexit life, as the country still has many EU regulations in place from its time as a member of the bloc.
For instance, the mention of “importer” or “imported by” won’t be mandatory on imported wine bottles anymore, as it is the case in EU countries.
Boosting the UK wine industry
Many forms of wine transformation will be made legal, such as sweetening and carbonating the beverage (making the wine bubbly) once it reaches the UK.
The current restrictions mean imported wine must already be bottled, which “adds to the costs and increases carbon emissions,” authorities claim.
Blending wine varieties will also be made legal without restrictions in the UK, unlike in the EU, with authorities insisting it improves the “marketability of wine”.
Piquette, currently illegal across the EU and UK, uses wine pomace (what is left of the grapes after the juice is extracted), with water added during the fermentation process. It is derived from the French language, where it’s a term used to describe low-quality wine.
UK authorities say legalising piquette “will allow wine producers to monetise what would otherwise be a waste of product”.
The rules around the shapes of wine bottles and their corks will also be eased: no more compulsory mushroom-shaped stoppers covered in foil sheath for sparkling wine, nor long-necked thin bottles reserved for Alsace wines.
The UK's wine industry does not only refer to importers and sellers of wine, as growing wine is a flourishing industry in the country –in part due to warmer weather linked to climate change.
According to Wines of Great Britain, the UK wine body, the country’s vineyards are very young, as 59% of today’s vine hectarage was planted in the 2010s.
English and Wales-grown wine sales have jumped by 70% since 2020, and the overall sector should grow by 50% by 2025, according to Wines of Great Britain's latest report.
Alcohol-free drinks to be labelled as wine
A grape juice-based alcohol can currently be called “wine” as long as the drink was transformed using a specifically-defined process, and contains between 8.5% and 15% alcohol. A few exemptions are made for protected geographical labels.
Under the new regulations, the word “wine” can be used for beverages containing less than 8.5% alcohol, including no alcohol at all.
Marketing “alcohol-free wine” would be allowed under the new rules. Although largely used in common language, officially labelling it on a wine bottle is currently prohibited.
UK authorities say authorising alcohol-free beverages such as alcohol-free wine and beer to be labelled as such would generally not confuse customers.
Although it’s worth noting that the government takes the opposing stance when it comes to its proposed crackdown on vegan drinks and food products, as reported by Unearthed earlier this year.
The UK still follows the 1987 EU regulation that forbids plant-based products from being labelled as milk, such as “almond milk”.
The UK could go further and forbid the words “yoghurt” or “cheese” from being used for plant-based products too, according to Unearthed, adopting the dairy industry views that marketing plant-based products as such confuses consumers.