Do you Count the Calories in Wine?

While in London recently I spotted this array of WeightWatcher wines in a supermarket. Only "80 calories" a glass the bottle proudly stated. Somehow I could not bring myself to buy a bottle. What do you think? Since coming back to New York I have browsed various websites that offer information on the topic of calories in wine. Unlike most other packaged foods, wines are not yet required to declare the nutritional value on the label.

So how many calories are in a glass of wine? Well it depends on two key factors, namely, the alcohol content of the wine and the residual sugar in the wine. Most of the websites I visited posted figures ranging from 85 calories for lighter wines to up to 180 to 200 for dessert wines with most dry styles hovering around the 100-calorie mark.

Higher alcohol wines will typically be higher in calories than lower alcohol wines. The riper the grapes at harvest, the higher the sugar levels, and thus the greater the potential alcohol.

Residual sugar also plays a role. Many wines that we buy as 'technically' dry may have anything from 2 to 6g/l of residual sugar. If the wine has high acidity we are less likely to perceive the wine has having any residual sweetness. For example, dry Brut styles of Champagne and sparkling wines contains anything from 6g to 15g/l of residual sugar. Most hover around the 10-12g mark. This addition of a sugar mixture to Champagne is called dosage and is added to balance the traditionally high acidity in the wine. So Champagne and sparkling wines will be more calorific than a light dry white or red wine.

Other wines contain residual sugar either because the fermentation was arrested before all the sugars were converted into alcohol, or like many entry-level wines, the wine was fermented dry, and a sweetening mixture added post fermentation to create the desired taste profile for the target market.

Obviously dessert and sweet fortified wines such as Port or Madeira are at the higher end of the calorie counter. Even Sherry, which is generally a dry wine, will have higher calories because of the added alcohol.

Wines with the fewest calories will typically be wines from cooler climate regions, which reach full physiological ripeness without soaring sugar levels. For example, there is probably significant calorie difference between a 12.5% alcohol Chardonnay wine from say Chablis, France and a full-bodied warm-climate Chardonnay at 14.5% alcohol.

For me, the best way to manage the alcohol-calorie dilemma is simply to drink less (but well), rather than relying on a manipulated "WeightWatcher" wine at 80 calories a glass. For a saving of circa 20 calories per glass I am not so inclined to risk compromising taste or quality.

What do you think? Have you ever bought low calorie wines? What did you think? Is there a market for such wines? Perhaps?

Meanwhile, this is what has been on our table over the weekend, enjoyed with friends who came over for dinner.

NV Crémant du Jura, Domaine de Montbourgeau, Jura, France, $20 – Made from Chardonnay, this is a great value traditional method French sparkling wine. Persistent, creamy mousse, aromas of brioche, biscuit and orchard apple. Crisp, really lovely with a smooth finish. Enjoyed as an apéritif with thinly sliced wild boar saussison sec,

2007 Prager Grüner Veltliner Federsp[piel, Hinter der Burg, Wachau, Austria, $19 – A top quality classic Gruner Veltliner. Very minerally, taut palate with flavors of stone fruit, salad, spice and freshly cracked white pepper. We paired this with a fresh ripe tomato, feta, red onion and caper salad

2006 Domiane Mercouri Red Wine, Vin de Pays des Letrinon, Peloponnese, Greece, $22 – I reviewed the 1997 vinatage of this wine last July in my post on wines from the Peloponnese. Made from predominantly Refosco (an Italian variety) blended with the local Mavrodaphne grape. Obviously a much younger wine, showing more vibrant ripe fruit, black cherry, plums to the fore against a backdrop of spice, leather and earthy notes and a savory finish. Firm ripe tannins and refreshing bright acidity give the wine a lovely structure. This wine paired perfectly with our grilled dry-aged steak on a bed of polenta with wilted swiss chard and bacon.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

(Image: Mary Gorman)

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