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What’s in my wine? (What are the additives in wine?)

You would be forgiven for thinking that wine is simply the product of fermented grape juice. For winemakers grapes are the key ingredient and most would prefer to leave it at that. However, in order to get the wine just right and make sure it’s in more or less the same condition when it leaves the winery to when you pour it in your glass, there are sometimes a few additions that need to be made. There is often a lot of confusion or misinformation about the additives in wine, so here is a plain-English cheat sheet for some of those strange labels.

Sulphites (Preservative 220)

Until a wine has finished fermenting, the process only really involves grapes, juice, and maybe the seeds and stems. The other main additive, from picking right through is sulphur dioxide, a common food-grade preservative that has been used for centuries. Most finished wines will have some amount of sulphur in them, with Australian standards setting maximum limits at 250 milligrams per litre for dry wine. It acts as an antiseptic and antioxidant. It is generally suitable for consumption unless you have an allergy and it can affect people with asthma.

Quealy sparkling wines are unfiltered, unfined and have no added sulphur

Fish, Eggs and Milk

There are a number of materials that are used by winemakers to fine their finished wine. Fining means clarifying and stabilising the wine by removing small solid particles from the liquid. These include the animal proteins casein, derived from milk, isinglass, derived from fish and albumen from egg. Each of these proteins are added in small quantities (between 50-500 milligrams per litre) to assist in removing solids. Unlike other fining agents like carbon, clay or silicon, these animal products pose an allergen risk and must be labelled as trace amounts may remain.

Ocean Eight wines are unfined and unfiltered


Histamine is present in a range of bacterially-produced foods including cheese; kimchi and other fermented foods; and of course wine. Red wine has the highest histamine present and is often blamed for headaches and other maladies. Some may have an allergy or intolerance to histamines which may be aggravated by drinking red wine. These reactions usually affect breathing and sneezing rather than headaches, and histamines don’t usally affect people without an intolerance in any way.

Organic wine

Organic wine standards are set by different organisations in different countries, so the organic label can differ somewhat. Generally speaking organic wines are primarily concerned with the work in the vineyard, meaning that no pesticides or other sprays have been used in the process. Organic does not mean that no preservative has been used.

Natural wine

Natural winemaking is the broad term given to people who make wine without any additives whatsoever. We have a more in-depth explanation in our article here. Natural wine should therefore be mostly suitable for vegans and people with allergies, however it should be noted that as sulphur dioxide is a by-product of fermentation itself, it is very difficult to state that a wine is completely free from sulphur.

Hopefully this guide helps clear up some questions around the additives commonly used in wines. For other interesting articles on wine try:

For some more interesting articles on wine try:

What are Tannins in Wine?

What is the difference between red wine and white wine?

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Kieran Clarkin
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