Why does white wine affect me more than red wine?

White Wine Riedel Glass The “red wine headache” is a common issue. But what about when the bottles are switched and it’s actually the white wine that is going straight to your head and giving you a nasty “wine flu” the next day?

There are various theories as to why this occurs to some people. After a fair bit of research and a few bottles of white consumed (a girl’s got to do her research after all!) I have narrowed it down roughly to the most highly talked about theory – Sulphites.

On virtually every bottle of wine you’ll notice the words, ‘Contains Sulphites’ on the back label. Sulphites = Sulphur Dioxide = SO2 = is the preservative used in winemaking to keep the freshness and work as an antioxidant to remove unwanted yeasts & bacteria.

Sulphites are naturally found on grapes however small amounts of sulphur are added prior to fermentation. Red wines generally have lower amounts of sulphites than whites. Therefore this could be the possible cause of the white wine blues.

Another popular theory is the way we drink white wine. It is said that we drink white wine at a much faster rate than red which means we end up consuming more. Just think about it, it’s summer, it’s hot and you want a wine to quench your thirst.

White Wine Contains Sulphites
So maybe the most important thing I can share with you is how you can try to lessen the damage of having a glass or two of white wine:

  • Drink water in between glasses of wine! I know this is an over preached rule but honestly it does work and it will help at the time and the next day.
  • Asprin before bed, it’s one of those things you brush off at the time.. But just do it and live with no regrets.
  • Eat! I cringe at the thought of my uni days living by the ‘eating is cheating’ rule when it came to drinking. Thank goodness I now enjoy my food way too much for that sort of stupidity.
  • Avoid sugary foods when drinking! I know I know… I too love indulging in glorious cupcakes and candies with my odd glass of wine or two. But guess what? Sugar and alcohol are the perfect recipe for a headache. It’s a sad but true fact. I know, I’m depressed that I even had to write that.
  • Buy wine from a good vintage & from a trusted vineyard. If the grape crop was bad for that year then it’s possible that the flaws of the wine have been cleverly hidden with substances that simply scream hangover in a bottle.
  • Try organic wine! Organic wines are produced with the bare minimum of added extras. It may seem hippity-dippity of me, but there are some great organic wines out there so don’t diss it before you try it!

As part of my research I recently visited Harris Organic Wines in the Swan Valley in Western Australia. I had a good talk with the owner and winemaker, Duncan about this topic and he too suggested the likely cause could be sulphites and possibly acidity, as acidity levels are also generally higher in white wines.

After tasting through the Harris Organic Wines range I actually had a new appreciation for this style of winemaking. The dry whites (learn more about dry white wines here), sweet whites and reds were all very beautiful wines, I was flabbergasted at the quality actually. Check out my tasting note on the Harris Organic 2009 Verdelho here.

After all this if you are still suffering, well it’s not the end of the world. Just think of all those reds out there to taste. Plus these days you can get some lovely reds which are meant to be chilled prior to drinking – perfect for summer! And of cause you have the Aussie phenomena of sparkling reds if you really feel like putting on a show.

Please leave a comment on your thoughts of the great debate on what causes the ‘white wine headache’ and any tips and tricks on how to avoid it.. Help a wino out!
Disprin Black & White

11 thoughts on “Why does white wine affect me more than red wine?

  1. Well Hi there, I recently have acquired a taste for red wine, i’m 69 and have always hated it! Why i started looking online for information is a) i found i was drinking it slower than white wine, b) definitely less buzzed, i know, drinking it slower, but still, a rather sedated high than a “drunk” feeling and c) better in the morning although I only consume maybe 8 ozs, is that a lot????
    I find your site so informative and will continue to follow.
    Thanks for what you do!

  2. Thanks for the lovely feedback Quentin – I’m glad I’ve helped shine a light on your Chardy hangovers!

  3. I love your blog. And this gave me great insight. I had always wondered why I could finish a bottle of Merlot or Cabernet and feel fine in the morning, but after the same amount of Chardonnay, I’d feel like someone just bent me over and beat the living daylight out of me. This was really informative.

  4. Very true, there’s always some article coming out with a different theory on why wine is good or bad for us, but ultimately the way a wine is made can change so much depending on winemaker, place, grape, etc etc it’s hard to generalise even one region! This enormous gray area, and constant variability in wine is what makes it so fascinating and so frustrating at the same time!

    Will be sure to keep you in the loop for upcoming classes. Cheers Casey


  5. Hi Christina, thank you so much for your insights. It is such an interesting topic! There are so many theories and thoughts on this topic out there, the research seems to be never ending! I agree with you that it is probably more to do with how we are drinking, rather than what’s in the wine. Hopefully some of the above tips can help battle the dreaded wine lurgy!

    I would definitely love to sponge on your wine knowledge so please do keep me in the loop πŸ™‚


  6. Hi Travelling Corkscrew, just thought I’d chip in my two cents! Having working full time in the wine industry as a presenter/writer (in Britain and now here in Perth) for many years, I’ve heard everything, and equally. People ask me why white wines affect them more. Others say it’s reds. Others swear bubbly is a killer for hangovers. Theories about histamines in reds (from the skins of the grapes), higher sulphur in whites and in particular bubblies and sweet wines (and added mainly before bottling, and sometimes at the beginning of fermentation), etc have been bandied about, but I think most if it is to do with speed of drinking and level of alcohol. Reds tend to be higher in abv than whites, but whites more refreshing and easier to drink fast. A wine with an alcohol of, say, 14.5% will make you drunk (and therefore hungover) much faster than one with 12%.

    Also, an Organic wine is mainly referring to the way the grapes were grown (ie without chemicals, like with food), but once in the winery can still have a quite frightening amount of additives (both natural and synthetic). Preservative free is good, but if you’re looking for truly unadulterated wine (often referred to as ‘natural’)-as close to fermented grape juice as possible without all the additives and manipulations in the winery-there are a few producers in WA working like this: you rightly mention Blind Corner, Si Vintners, Bella Ridge, Marq (Mark Warren, Happs winemakers’ aren’t natural but are relatively hands off), Counterfeit (Lenton Brae winemaker Ed Tomlinson’s side project), and a few others experimenting. It’s a much bigger ‘movement’ elsewhere in Oz and is v big in France and Italy and a bit in the states. From elsewhere in Oz look out for wines from Shobbrook, Domain Lucci/Lucy Margaux, Jauma, to name just a few.

    As a bit of a shameless plug, I’m actually hosting a tasting for the WA Wine Education Centre in the end of October featuring many of these winemakers and talking about the differences between organic/biodynamic/natural. I’m also launching my own wine school where I’ll feature many natural winemakers from around the world! The website’s not officially launched yet but here it is so far without the calendar of classes added: http://schoolofwine.com.au/. I’ll keep you posted if interested!

    Thanks and keep up the good blogging!


  7. Thank you πŸ™‚ I have seen those wine drops in the store – that’s great to hear that they work! Organic wine is definitely something to try, I’ll have to hunt out some from Happs. Blind Corner is another one from Margaret River, available at Apple Daily/Print Hall!

  8. Great post!! I love my wine but avoided it as I’d have a headache after only drinking half a glass. till This year I discovered “wine drops”, so now I don’t have to feel scared to have a glass or two!! I will have to look into the organic wine. I heard Happs does some preservative free wine as well πŸ™‚

  9. Sorry to have to burst your bubble,but,rubbish.There is much more SO 2 in dried apricots but you do not get a headache,etc from eating them.The reason is,and you need to watch friends next time,is speed.People drink whites too quickly and in larger amounts than reds.

Grab a glass of wine and let me know what you think...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.