When shopping for food or drink, most of us check the label for some pertinent info-calories, fat content, sugar, carbs…things like that.
Most products are required to list the nutritional facts on their labels…except alcohol. So as a wine drinker, how do you know if you are consuming a lot of calories or not too many calories?
Well, it all depends on the wine.
Gimme some sugar, baby…
Dry wines will have fewer calories than sweet wines…sometimes.
Since nutritional information for alcohol is voluntary, how do you know how many calories you are consuming?
Sugar! The sugars are what’s important when it comes to calories in wine and alcohol. To explain this, we are going to take it all the way back to the vineyard…where it all starts.
The harvest sugar (Brix) of a wine grape are very important. That Brix amount will ultimately determine the overall alcohol in the wine.
To give you a Brix comparison:
- Wine grapes are typically harvested between 22 – 26 Brix.
- Grapes that will be used for dessert wines are a little higher, about 32 – 36 Brix.
- Grapes that you buy in the store are usually in the 13 – 17 Brix range.
Most winemakers would lead you to believe it’s very complicated to calculate alcohol.
But, to do so, you don’t need charts or graphs-things like that. You simply take 59% of the Brix and that is the alcohol…more or less.
So, 24 Brix will result in about 14% alcohol.
It isn’t that easy in actuality since there are other factors in determining final alcohol during the fermentation process, but this is a good estimate.
Winemakers can stop fermentation at any point and have sugar left in the wine, this is known as residual sugar or RS. Any wine that is fermented to 100% is considered Bone Dry to Dry with no or very little residual sugar (RS).
Now you know how about sugar content in wine. So how do know if your wine is high or low in sugar?
Wine labels aren’t the answer
So, why not take a look at the bottle for nutritional information?
Funny thing about wine labels, there is very little that is required by the Feds that has to be on a label. Who, what, when, where and alcohol content is about it. Plus, the mandatory “alcohol is scary” warning and sulfites added.
Other than that it is a free for all.
Some fine wine producers like to geek out on their labels. Besides the mandatory stuff on the front, you will find things like: residual sugar value (RS), harvest sugar of the grapes (Brix), acidity of the grape or wine (Ph), if they aged it in oak and the types of oak barrels used (French or other), how long it was aged, is there other wines blended into it…the list can get bigger.
What you won’t find is calories or any other nutritional information.
So how can you figure out what to drink if you want less calories?
Time to whine…about alcohol and calories
The relationship between the RS and the alcohol level in wine will determine the calorie count.
A Bone Dry to Dry wine has almost no RS and if it is low in alcohol it will have the least amount of calories.
On the low end of the calorie scale examples would be: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Vinho Verde, Muscadet, Verdejo and Vermentino.
The alcohol ranges from 9-12%. The calories are in a range of 107-143 per 6fl oz. 0-20 of those calories are coming from the sugar content.
Most fortified and dessert wines are packed with sugar and alcohol. Some of these wines have more calories than a scoop of ice cream.
Just to define: A fortified wine has added alcohol after fermentation, usually a brandy or cognac. Some good examples of this would be: Port (fortified) and Late Harvest (just really sweet) wines.
They are produced with a RS from 5% to as high as 20%. Alcohol varies from 9% to as high as 21%. Your calories can range from 180 to 280 for just a 3 floz serving, 100 – 150 calories coming just from the sugar.
The usual suspects
Let’s look at what most people are drinking so we can get a better picture.
Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the two most popular wines today. They would be categorized as a Dry white and a Dry red wine with high alcohol. Most Dry whites come in at 12% to 14% alcohol. The Dry reds are about 13.5% to 15.5%. Sugar content is a RS of 0.1 to 0.3% for both.
Calories for these commonly consumed wines range from 150 to 170 for Dry white wines and 165 to 195 for Dry red wines, this is all based on a 6fl oz. serving.
Other wines that fit into this category are Dry whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Viogner, Marsanne, Roussanne and Muscadet.
For Dry reds you will see Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese and Malbec.
Just when you are starting to catch on, let’s confuse things a little…you can also get “crossover” on some wines. This all goes back to the vineyard and when they picked the grapes. Remember, the lower the Brix the less sugar there is to ferment, so that means less alcohol will be in the bottle.
Are there “diet” wines?
Yes! And no…
Like most things on the market, there are low calorie, low sugar wines available. These wines have become very popular with the fitness population as well as the Keto followers, diabetics, Paleo enthusiasts, vegetarians, vegans, moms, dads and anyone else watching their caloric intake.
But, these wines aren’t much different than a nice low alcohol, dry white or red.
Most of the research done on these wines reveals that they are lacking a lot of flavor for just a 5 to 7 calorie reduction. Since, most of them are very low in alcohol (8-10%), folks have a tendency to drink more of it.
So that means you are likely to double or triple your calories depending on how much you drink.
The safe bet
The theory of “drink what you like” is very popular among wine drinkers.
When it comes to watching calories as a wine lover, it is pretty tough.
You love wine for the flavor, the experience, with food, as a cocktail or on any day that ends in Y.
If you are watching your calories, find a good low alcohol red or white that you enjoy and go for it. It might take a few bottles to find the right one…but that’s part of the fun.