Red wine and white wine are both popular choices when it comes to alcoholic beverages. But if you're drinking wine, which one is healthier for you? In this blog post, we'll take a look at the differences between red wine and white wine in terms of their health benefits. We'll also explore why red wine is often considered to be healthier than white wine.
What's the difference between red and white wine?
At a basic level, all wine is fermented grape juice. White wines are made from white grapes, like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, and red wines are made from red grape varieties, referring to the colour of the grape skin, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. There's a little more to it than that though since red wine grapes almost always have clear juice.
The colour of red wines actually comes from the grape juice being in contact with grape skins. This skin contact occurs both during the crushing and soaking of grapes, and often continues into the fermentation process.
Other categories like rosé wine and orange wine also exist as wine categories, which are made from red grapes and white grapes respectively, but we'll leave the topic of these wines for another day!
Red wine vs white wine: why white wine might be healthier
There are two main arguments for why white wine may come out on top in the red vs white wine contest when it comes to health benefits.
First, white wine tends to be lower in alcohol than red wine. This is mostly because white wine grapes tend to ripen earlier than red ones, and at lower sugar levels. This is however, just an average, and there is plenty of high-alcohol wine out there that's white, as well as low-alcohol wine that is red. If you want lower-alcohol wine to help reduce your alcohol consumption, it's best to simply check the alcohol content of the wine you're interested in buying. We make this easy at Feravina by displaying the ABV of all of our wines on the website, as well as only listing wines with less than 13.5% alcohol.
Fewer histamine-related reactions
Remember the key difference between red and white wines being skin contact? Well, sometimes people can have allergic histamine-related reactions to some of the compounds in those grape skins, like tannins, hence could react to drinking red wine. This is quite rare, and can often be due to the interplay of other factors that interact with the chemistry of the grape skins (such as fungicides and herbicides sprayed in the vineyard in commercial winemaking), but with the skins removed out of the picture by making white wine, it certainly reduces the number of things in the wine one can react to. This is also true for white wines made from red varieties (also known as blanc de noir), but these are quite rare and usually sparkling wines.
This really isn't a strong reason for white wine being healthier though. Most people don't react to compounds found exclusively in red wine, and opting for organic red wine as well as trying different red wine styles (alternating between full-bodied and light-bodied reds for example) can often solve the problem.
Red wine vs white wine: why red wine might be healthier
There are a few reasons why red wine might come out on top in the contest of white wine vs red wine when it comes to health, at least!
Higher levels of antioxidants
The skin contact we mentioned earlier plays a key role in red wine's health benefits. This is because the skins of red grapes contain high levels of antioxidants, which are beneficial for our health. In particular, red wine contains high levels of a type of antioxidant category called polyphenols. Polyphenols are believed to help protect against heart disease by reducing bad cholesterol levels and inflammation, as well as having other benefits like reducing the risk of cancer. The polyphenol resveratrol in particular has received a lot of attention for its potential health benefits. Read all about red wine health benefits.
Lower sugar content
Red wine tends to be dry most of the time. When we say dry, we're referring to the level of residual sugar in the wine - dry meaning little to no sugar and sweet meaning lots of sugar, with descriptors like off-dry and medium-sweet lying in between.
While some white wines are made in off-dry and sweeter styles (Riesling being a common variety made in this way), red wines are more often dry, with the only actually sweet red wines being things like Port (fortified wines made specifically to be sweet).
This isn't specifically a benefit of red wine vs white wine though, since it is perfectly possible to buy a dry white wine that has zero to trace amounts of sugar, just like red wine. This can be easier said than done, since sugar levels aren't displayed on labels. If you're in your local bottle shop and want a low-sugar wine because you're on a keto diet or just want to avoid the calories, it would be better to grab a red wine like Pinot Noir since white wines tend to sometimes be higher in sugar. A better alternative though is to buy your wine from Feravina, since all of our wines are bone-dry with less than half a gram of sugar per glass in both red and white wine!
Lower levels of sulphur/sulphites
Another reason why red wine is a healthier option than white wine is due to its sulphur levels. Red wine contains natural preservatives and antioxidants it gets from the grape skin, therefore it doesn't require as much sulphur to act as an exogenous antioxidant and preservative. For those who have sulphite sensitivities, added sulphites in wine can cause side effects like headaches, skin rashes and sinusitis.
Most white wines don't have this advantage. Red varieties with high tannin like Cabernet Sauvignon in particular lend a strong antioxidant effect to the grape juice, which is why full-bodied reds tend to be a better choice than red light wines and richer whites.
This is a general rule of thumb though, as commercial red wine will still have higher sulphur levels than artisanal white wine. If you want to drink white wine (or both white and red wine) while avoiding high sulphur levels, this is perfectly possible by sticking to drinking natural wines which tend to have little to no sulphur added. At Feravina, all our wines, both red and white wine, only contain minimal levels of sulphites, with less than 50mg/L (or ppm) total sulphur compared to the legal limit of 250ppm that many commercial mass-produced wines are at.
An important note on wine and health
While wine drinkers get to enjoy the health benefits of wine, it isn't necessary to drink wine to achieve these benefits. Everything from the benefits of heart health to reducing the possibility of blood clots can be achieved in other ways, mostly by eating a healthy diet, living a healthy lifestyle, and taking the right supplements where appropriate.
The purpose of this article is to help wine drinkers who care about their health make better choices, not to make non-drinkers start drinking wine or replace green vegetables with a glass of red wine. That said, one drink is not overly problematic for most people, and if that drink happens to carry some benefits, that's a nice bonus.
The final word on red wine vs white wine and which is healthier
There are a number of things to consider as to whether red or white wine is the healthier option. From alcohol levels to histamines, sulphur levels to sweetness and sugar intake, and even wine's effect on health factors like heart disease.
On the whole, when it comes to red wine vs white wine, red does appear to come out on top, and information out there tends to agree. This is generally due to the beneficial compounds found in wine due to grape skin contact that white wine lacks.
So, is that it? In the big contest of red wine vs white wine, red wine wins? Not exactly.
What question should we really be asking?
The real question shouldn't be red vs white wine. Nor should it be sparkling vs white wine or any other colour or style vs some other colour or style.
There are key things that make some wines healthier than others.
How the grapes were grown, for instance. Were they grown organically or biodynamically, with no chemicals and minimal impact on the environment, or were they grown commercially with pesticide sprays and chemical fertilisers?
What is the wine's alcohol level? Reducing one's alcohol consumption is a noble goal, drinking lower-alcohol wine is one way of working towards that, after all not every wine glass contains the same amount of ethanol. We should be looking at the actual ABV of the wine and not picking wines based on colour if that's what we want.
The antioxidants in red wine are a good point, no doubt about it, but orange wines have high levels of antioxidants too, and there are plenty of different foods that can provide us antioxidants like fruits and vegetables as well as supplements.
How to choose healthier wine?
The key differences between healthier and less healthy wines have nothing to do with colour. They have a lot more to do with paying attention to specific health-conscious criteria and choosing wine accordingly.
This is exactly what we do at Feravina. Healthier wine is what we're all about, and that's why all of our wines are:
- Made naturally from grapes grown using organic or biodynamic practices
- Have no wine additives or processing aids added
- Contain minimal sulphites (<50ppm total sulphur)
- Lower in alcohol (<13.5% ABV)
- Keto-friendly by being 99.7% sugar-free (<0.5g net carbs per glass)
So if you choose to get your wine from Feravina, we've already done the health-conscious thinking for you.
All our wines come with tasting notes including food pairing suggestions, so you can get the most out of each food and wine pairing experience. So all you need to worry about now is finding the right spicy food to make a food pairing with a fruity white wine, or maybe some red meat for your full-bodied red wine. Or even just finding a white wine with some lovely floral aromas to enjoy as an aperitif.
To your health!