What's in a name: English wine, British wine or UK wine? - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

britishwinebacklabelBritish wine is made from imported grape juice while English wine is made from grapes grown in England - simple or is it? What used to be an easy to understand distinction has become confused as the term British wine is being increasingly used by wine retailers (Laithwaites and Corney & Barrow are prominent) and wine promoters such as Wines of Great Britain (also known as Wine GB) to reflect the new found emphasis on all things British and made in Great Britain.

But not so fast. 'This sceptred isle' (as Will Shakespeare put it) is in fact made up of the islands of Great Britain plus Northern Ireland to form the union of the United Kingdom. So using the term 'British wine' seems unnecessarily exclusionary particularly when the sensitive historical date of May 2021 marks the hundreth anniversary of the formation of Northern Ireland (and its counterpart the Republic of Ireland marks its hundredth in 2022) and its part in the creation of the UK.

Unfortunately the term 'UK wine' is already considered historical. The United Kingdom Vineyards Association disappeared in a name change in 2017 to become Wines of Great Britain (WineGB) - "the right name to move forward with" as the national association of the English and Welsh wine industry puts it. They do acknowledge however that although there are currently no vineyards in Northern Ireland although there could well be one day "but we’ll obviously look to incorporate NI in to the title when that occasion arises".

The term British, Great British, of Great Britain or made in Britain seems to be winning the labelling battle, particularly with overseas markets where the Union flag and Britain have greater brand recognition than the term UK (there is the exception of Eurovision's use of Royaume-uni). But it isn't without its contraversy. DEFRA's (the government Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 'Food is Great' campaign, designed to boost trade in British food and drink, is 'failing to promote the profiles of the UK's devolved nations'.

But there is some life left in the term 'UK' as the new logo (launched December 2020) on the geographical indication (GI) scheme uses the term 'UK Protected' within its ten-sided shield for Designated Origin, Geographic Origin and Traditional Speciality categories used to protect registered names of food and drink products replacing the similar European Union schemes.

Only the terms Designated Origin (PDO) and Geographic Origin (PGI) can be used for wine however. Both categories are designed to protect the name of a wine and show to the consumer that the product is made within a specified geographical area. The difference comes in the detail.

PDO wines must be made with grapes from the named area (England or Wales) but can be made (fermenting the grape juice into wine) in a country of 'immediate proximity to' the specified region - so Welsh grapes can be vinified in England and English grapes in Wales. Which isn't such an unusual occurance as there are only a few vineyards large enough to have the full fermenting facilities and bottling lines.

PGI wines on the other hand must be made in the specified area but can source up to15% of the grapes from outside this zone but within the same country.

Just to confuse matters even further the UK GI scheme only applies to products sold in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland). If you want to protect your wine's name when it's sold in Northern Ireland you need to apply to the NI or EU schemes.

So UK means GB when it comes to wine then.

However much the term British wine is being used there is still the shadow of those original wines made with imported grape juice. Although in theory these wines ought to taste as fresh and fruity as their home-grown counterparts, often they don't but their popularity comes from the fact they are cheap.

Brands Three Mills and Willow and Stone are the main producers of British wines. But while Willow and Stone still claim to be a British wine, Three Mills is more circumspect and now labels their wines as 'Crafted in our Norfolk winery'.

While few wine consumers understand, or care, that British wine has had a poor reputation for much of its life the English wine industry, in the form of its producers, do. Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire, one of the main players in English wine, is adamant that British wine is certainly not English wine and is "not very nice or romantic".

English wine however is going from strength to strength. The £6m of government investment (announced December 2020), the French champagne makers investing in Kent vineyards plus the annual jamboree of English Wine Week (19th to 27th June 2021) is doing a great job at raising awareness of English wine.

But when WineGB urges us to 'Buy British Wine' on their English Wine Week webpage then you have to wonder whether just to give in and drink British.

Great, and not so great, British and English wines

Willow and Stone British White wine

£4 Co-op

two stars


Tinned peach flavours.


Bethnal Bubbles Renegade Urban Winery

£25 Renegade Urban Winery

Herefordshire Seyval Blanc grapes plus beer hops combine to make a wine that thinks it's a beer. Packaged in cans and bottles. Not classed as an English wine because of the non-grape additions.


The Wine Society's English White 2020

the societys english white£8.50 The Wine Society

five stars


The pineapple, melon and apple fruitiness and the whole mix is a delight.


Bolney Bubbly Brut NV

£23.99 Virgin Wines

three stars


Sherbet flavours that are also have a light apple edge and the wine is a nice sip.


Blackbook The Mix-up 2018 English wine

£14.50 The Wine Society, £17.50 Blackbook direct

two stars


Flavours of home-made elderflower wine come to mind when tasting this brave attempt at a funky English wine but there’s still something missing from the flavour – the most likely culprits are tartaric acid and tannin. If the aromas of gooseberry, elderflower and white bread crusts could be moved across to the flavour then all would be well.

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