Red or White Wine: Which Has More Sulfites?

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 03/28/2024

Sulfites in wine are a commonly contentious topic of discussion in the health and wellness community.

Learn the truth about sulfites in wine so that you can make the best decisions to support your well-being.

Understanding Sulfites in Wine

Sulfites, known to release sulfur dioxide, are vital in the winemaking process since they occur naturally during fermentation and can be supplemented to act as antioxidants and preservatives.

The Role of Sulfites in Winemaking

In winemaking, sulfur dioxide has been utilized for centuries due to its ability to preserve wine effectively. It curbs bacterial growth, which could otherwise lead to unwanted fermentations post-bottling.

Furthermore, it helps maintain color vibrancy while preventing browning, particularly in white wines.

From a chemical standpoint, sulfite ions interact with oxidizing elements before reacting with the wine, preserving freshness and maintaining flavor profiles over time.

Without this protective shield provided by added sulfites or adding sulfur dioxide into grape juice during processing stages, your favorite bottle might transform into vinegar much sooner than anticipated.

Natural vs. Added Sulfites

All varieties of wines contain some level of natural sulfite produced through fermentation processes, but typically, these levels aren't sufficient enough to ensure stability throughout aging or shipping. Hence, additional supplementation is required post-fermentation.

Certain organic wines may only encompass naturally occurring sulfites, whereas non-organic variants have both natural and synthetic forms present within them.

However, even organic selections aren't necessarily free from supplementary sulfates if their total concentration doesn't exceed 100 parts per million (ppm).

This information becomes vital, especially for consumers who prefer low-sulfate options such as certain red wines or 'natural' ones that generally utilize minimal intervention techniques, including lesser additives like sulfates.

Sensitivity to Sulfites and its Symptoms

Sulfite sensitivity, which can manifest in symptoms from mild discomfort to severe allergic reactions, may be triggered by the sulfites commonly used during winemaking.

This phenomenon presents itself through various symptoms that range from mild discomfort to severe allergic reactions.

Common Signs of Sulfite Sensitivity

The most frequent signs of this sensitivity include skin-related issues such as hives, itchiness, or a red flushing sensation. These usually occur within minutes after consuming foods or drinks containing added sulfites, like wine.

More severe cases may lead to difficulty breathing due to airway constriction.

In addition to these physical manifestations, there have been reports about people feeling dizzy or lightheaded post-consumption of products with added sulfur dioxide - including wines and other types of dried fruit like apricots.

If you consistently experience any similar symptoms following your consumption patterns, then it's crucial to seek medical advice promptly.

Women holding a glass of wine

Determining Your Tolerance Level: How Much Is Too Much?

Gauging one's sulfite tolerance level isn't straightforward because everyone reacts differently.

While some might not show any adverse effects even when regularly consuming high-sulfur wines, others could start showing signs at much lower levels found in organic varieties where no additional preservatives are used during their production process.

  1. Natural wines: Often labeled 'sulfite-free' on labels.

  2. Organic wines: Varieties without added sulfites are often labeled as organic as well.

This approach lets you observe how your body responds over time.

However, don't just rely solely on the trial-and-error method. Instead, consult healthcare professionals who can provide personalized guidance based on individual health history and current conditions.

Decoding Sulfite Content in Red and White Wines

The realm of wine has numerous elements that contribute to the finished product. One factor that often goes unnoticed but plays a significant role in winemaking is sulfites or sulfur dioxide.

Interestingly enough, not all wines have equal amounts of these compounds.

A Closer Look at Different Types of Sulfur Content

Sulfite content varies significantly among different types of wine due to several reasons, including the grape variety used, specific winemaking techniques applied, and whether additional sulfites were added during production.

On average, white wines contain higher levels than red ones.

To put things into perspective, low-sulfite varieties can possess about 10 parts per million (ppm), while some sweet dessert options may exceed 400 ppm. In contrast, dry reds hover around 50-75 ppm, whereas whites typically stand between 100-150 ppm.

Diving Deeper: Why Does White Wine Contain More?

If you're curious why white wine has more sulfite than its crimson counterpart, the answer lies in their respective fermentation processes. The technique employed for crafting white wine involves separating juice from skins before starting fermentation.

This renders it more vulnerable to spoilage bacteria and oxidative damage, requiring more significant quantities of additives like sulfur dioxide.

In comparison, the method adopted when producing red varietals involves fermenting grape juice along with their skins.

This practice imparts them with their distinctive coloration while also introducing natural antioxidants present within grape skin—these beneficial components aid in defending against harmful microbes, reducing dependence on extra preservatives.

Tannins - Another Component in Red Wine

While sulfites often take center stage when discussing wine components, tannins also play a crucial role. These naturally occurring compounds significantly influence the taste and body of red wines.

Tannin's Impact on Taste and Body

The winemaking process involves pressing grapes, which release these tannins into grape juice. They are responsible for giving red wines their characteristic structure and complexity.

A balance between acidity, sweetness from alcohol content, and the presence of tannins can lead to full-bodied wines with more pronounced levels, while lower concentrations result in lighter styles.

Man with a headache

The Correlation Between Tannins And Headaches

  1. Misconceptions: Many attribute "red wine headaches" solely to sulfites, but this may not always be accurate. It could be due to high levels of tannin intake rather than added sulfites causing adverse reactions after consuming sulfur dioxide-containing foods such as dried apricots and white wines.

  2. Potential link: Research suggests a link exists between the consumption of foodstuffs rich in phenolic flavonoids (including dark chocolate), also found abundantly in reds, leading to potentially triggering migraines in specific individuals predisposed genetically toward the condition. Despite the possible correlation between tannin intake and headaches, further evidence is needed to draw a definite conclusion.

  3. Solution: If you suspect your 'wine headache' stems from excessive consumption containing high amounts of these compounds, try switching up the types of drink; perhaps opting for less robust varietals like Pinot Noir instead of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, known to contain higher quantities of them. Additionally, consider pairing your meal with protein-rich foods to help soften the effects experienced due to its interaction with saliva proteins, neutralizing the effect on mouthfeel and reducing the perceived intensity of the tasting experience, according to experts.

Histamines - A Hidden Cause Behind Sinus Congestion

Experiencing sinus congestion after enjoying a glass of wine? It might not be the sulfites or tannins that are causing your discomfort. Instead, histamines could likely be to blame.

Decoding Histamine Intolerance

To begin with, let's understand what we mean by 'histamine.' Our bodies naturally produce histamine as a defense against invading allergens. When allergens invade our system, histamines spring into action to combat these foreign substances.

The issue arises when some individuals have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating these compounds from their systems, leading to what is known as histamine intolerance.

Symptoms such as headaches, hives, and nasal congestion can occur due to an excess build-up of histamines in the body.

Certain foods high in histamines or those that stimulate their production within our bodies can exacerbate this condition. Fermented food items like cheese and sauerkraut, along with alcoholic beverages, including wines, fall under this category.

Beyond Nasal Congestion: The Health Impact Of High Dietary Histaminic Foods

Nasal congestion following wine consumption may seem harmless, however chronic exposure to high dietary-histaminic foods, can potentially lead to other health issues if left unchecked.

Other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), may arise from chronic exposure to high dietary-histaminic foods if left unchecked over time, significantly affecting one's quality of life.

Understanding how different components in food items affect us individually becomes crucial for maintaining optimal health status.

Ketogenic Diet and Sulfites in Wine

Are you contemplating whether you can enjoy wine on a ketogenic diet while considering the presence of sulfites? Sulfites are compounds often found in wine that can trigger sensitivities or allergic reactions in some individuals.

If you're on a keto diet, you may wonder about the compatibility of wine consumption.

While some wines contain sulfites, their presence doesn't necessarily conflict with the principles of a ketogenic diet.

However, it is not recommended to consume any kind of alcohol on keto, as it can disrupt the state of ketosis and does not lead to better health overall.


While sulfites play a crucial role in winemaking as antioxidants and preservatives, they can trigger sensitivities or allergic reactions in some individuals.

Understanding the presence of sulfites in wine and their potential effects on your health can help you make informed decisions about your wine consumption.

Whether you're considering sulfites in relation to sensitivity, tannins, or histamines, being aware of how they may impact your well-being allows you to choose wines that align with your dietary preferences and health goals.

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