Hydrogen sulphide formation in canned wines – the role of liners and wine composition

by | Jan 1, 2024 | Oenology research, Technical


Hydrogen sulphide formation in canned wines is probably the main challenge posed by the aluminium packaging.1 A recent study2 investigated the role of different can internal coatings (liners), as well as wine composition in hydrogen sulphide formation to better understand the mechanisms involved in the occurrence of the stinky aroma over time.


Materials and methods

Ten wines were packaged in both glass bottles and in aluminium cans with different liners and stored for eight months in an upright position away from sun and light at 20°C. The wines tested in the study included six white wines, two rosé wines and two red wines. The wines packaged in the aluminium cans were subjected to tests at fixed intervals for a total of eight months. The wines packaged in glass bottles served as a control and were analysed only at the end of the storage period (eight months).




Hydrogen sulphide increases during storage in bisphenol A (BPA)-epoxy-lined cans
  • After two months’ storage: Relatively small increases in hydrogen sulphide were detected in three white wines. At this point, the hydrogen sulphide concentrations were still mostly below 10 μg/L.
  • After four months’ storage: Most white and rosé wines showed some increases in hydrogen sulphide. However, only three wines reached hydrogen sulphide levels above 10 μg/L.
  • After eight months’ storage: Further increases were observed, with six white and rosé wines having a hydrogen sulphide concentration of more than 10 μg/L.
  • Negligible hydrogen sulphide production was observed for the two red wines and most control samples, which were packaged in glass bottles.


The role of the can liners
  • Hydrogen sulphide formation following eight months of storage in cans lined with BPA epoxy and BPA-non-intent (NI) epoxy correlated well. The preferential use of these two liners is unclear and would likely depend on the specific composition of the liner.
  • Wines stored in acrylic-lined cans showed highly degraded liners and extreme hydrogen sulphide production after only two months. This liner is not recommended for the canning of wines.


Visible liner damage

Damage was measured by visual assessment of the inner surfaces of the cans, which took the form of small blisters. Similar to the hydrogen sulphide production, liner damage was not detected for most of the wines until after four months of storage. After eight months, the extent of liner damage correlated well with hydrogen sulphide formation.


Correlation between wine components and hydrogen sulphide formation

The study’s researchers evaluated different wine components to ascertain if a correlation between specific wine constituents and hydrogen sulphide formation exists. The evaluated parameters included free sulphur dioxide, total sulphur dioxide, molecular sulphur dioxide, pH, alcohol content and titratable acidity.

Results showed that, for the epoxy liners, the wine component best correlated with hydrogen sulphide formation was molecular sulphur dioxide, followed by pH and free sulphur dioxide. However, because molecular sulphur dioxide is proportional to free sulphur dioxide, it is unclear whether the observed increase in hydrogen sulphide is due to molecular sulphur dioxide or to a synergistic interaction between free sulphur dioxide and pH. No correlation was observed between total sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide production, indicating that bound sulphur dioxide is not involved in hydrogen sulphide formation.

The red wines included in the study showed the lowest increase in hydrogen sulphide concentrations during storage. These two wines also had the lowest molecular sulphur dioxide of all those tested, mainly due to their relatively higher pH values. Thus, red wines are expected to be relatively low in concern for hydrogen sulphide formation during storage.


Liner failure

This study confirmed that the likely explanation for the higher hydrogen sulphide formation observed in many canned wines is the reaction of sulphur dioxide and aluminium to yield hydrogen sulphide. Therefore, the fact that there is hydrogen sulphide formation would suggest that the sulphur dioxide gets into direct contact with the aluminium. This would suggest that the liner was breached in some way. The mechanism through which liner failure occurs is unclear2,3 and may involve subsequent steps of liner degradation followed by a reaction of sulphur dioxide with the aluminium metal.



A recent study confirmed the important role of sulphur dioxide (specifically molecular sulphur dioxide) in hydrogen sulphide production in wines packaged in lined aluminium cans. Results also showed that the potential formation of hydrogen sulphide is best predicted by molecular sulphur dioxide.

Based on the results obtained in this study, the authors recommend a maximum molecular sulphur dioxide of 0.4 mg/L. This recommendation is based on the targeted shelf life of approximately six months at room temperature. This limit will likely have to be decreased if longer shelf lives are desired, or higher storage temperatures are expected.



Results from a recent study showed that the potential formation of hydrogen sulphide is best predicted by molecular sulphur dioxide. This highlights the important role of sulphur dioxide in aluminium-packaged wines.


  1. Allison, R.B., Montgomery, A. & Sacks, G.L., 2022. Analysis of free hydrogen sulfide in wines using gas detection tubes. Catalyst: Discovery into Practice 6(1): 1 – 8. https://doi.org/10.5344/catalyst.2021.21003.
  2. Montgomery, A., Allison, R.B., Goddard, J.M. & Sacks, G.L., 2023. Hydrogen sulfide formation in canned wines under long-term and accelerated conditions. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture 74(1), 0740011. https://doi.org/10.5344/ajev.2022.22051.
  3. Coetzee, C., 2021. The Winemaker’s Guide to Wine in a Can, Winetech.


For more information, contact Carien Coetzee at carien@basicwine.co.za.


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