Calories in Wine
A friend reached out to me last week, quite sheepishly, to ask if I had heard of a brand of wine that she had recently subscribed to (to receive a monthly allotment). I said I hadn’t, so she sent me a link to their website, and I realized why she had subscribed immediately: The brand was touting its “low-fat” wines. My head nearly left my body.
I’ve been hearing about low-cal/no-cal and low-fat wines for years, but I think we’ve reached a new level of saturation as consumers who’ve already adopted healthier eating lifestyles now try to figure out how to drink wine more consciously with that healthy food. That part I totally get. But what I don’t appreciate is the psychobabble of marketing that try to lure calorie-counting imbibers with false data. How many times have you seen a wine advertisement that says something like, “Our Pinot Grigio has 40-percent less calories!”? My question, whenever I see statistics bandied about in advertising, is: percent of what? There’s no other data listed with this claim, and yet it’s like clickbait, it draws people in.
“‘one glass of wine can range between 92 and 300 calories.'”
I checked out a few of my go-to resources for some plain-English language and facts about the calories in wine. I should start off by paraphrasing Madeline Puckette, co-founder of @WineFolly, “There Are Calories in Wine (eek!). Depending on the wine,” says Puckette, “one glass of wine can range between 92 and 300 calories. Those calories are factored by alcohol content, the inherent sweetness of the wine, and the serving size.”
I found a lively debate about this on GuildSomm, a website that’s a dedicated educational resource for sommeliers studying in the Court of Master Sommeliers. Well, to clarify, not a debate about calories. Most sommeliers I know don’t care about calories as much as quality and quantity. The gist of the discussion yielded these facts:
Calories in wine come almost entirely from alcohol and carbohydrates (sugars). Alcohol has about 7 calories/gram, and the sugar is about 4 calories/gram. So, if you’re looking for a low-calorie wine, you want something low in alcohol. Two great examples would be a dry (aka Trocken on German bottles) Riesling or a Portuguese Vinho Verde. If you’re thinking, “Wait, a dry Riesling??”, the answer is yes; there are many out there – just ask your retailer.
“‘Lower alcohol is what you should look for if you’re trying to conserve calories.'”
One broad generalization says that if the wine is low in alcohol, the sugars will be higher. According to GuildSomm member, Anthony deFigio, “This isn’t strictly true, because all wine must (crushed grapes about to be fermented) doesn’t start with the same potential alcohol.” You can make a low alcohol wine that is fermented completely dry if your must didn’t contain a lot of sugars in the first place. “Second,” deFigio adds, “ounce for ounce, ethanol is a higher-energy component than sugar. So, it’s also possible to have a wine with some residual sugar that is actually lower in total calories than a very alcoholic but dry wine.”
Some tedious examples to help illustrate:
16 grams of ethanol:
1. 5 oz. glass
2. 12% alcohol content
3. 10 grams/liter of RS (Residual Sugar)
= 112 calories
California Cabernet Sauvignon
22 grams of ethanol:
1. 5 oz. glass
2. 15.5% alcohol content
3. 0 grams of sugar
= 152 calories
If a Riesling has 10 grams/liter of RS (residual sugar), a 5-ounce glass of that wine will contain about 1.5g of sugar. That’s about 6 calories from sugar. If that same wine has a relatively low 12% alcohol content, that 5-ounce glass has 16 grams of ethanol, or 112 calories. As you can see, it’s really all about the alcohol. Compare that to a California Cabernet Sauvignon with (let’s say) 0 sugar and 15.5% alcohol: No calories from sugar, but 5-ounces at 15.5% alcohol is almost 22 grams of ethanol, or 152 calories. So, the dry Cabernet has significantly more calories than the lower-alcohol but perceptibly sweet Riesling.
Net-Net: Lower alcohol is what you should look for if you’re trying to conserve calories.
Here’s an abbreviated list of wines with (general) calorie equivalents from WineFolly:
Wine Calories from Least to Most (6-ounce pour/full 750ml bottle)
- German Spatlese Riesling: 110 calories/ 495 calories
- Slightly Sweet Lambrusco: 140 calories/630 calories
- Cabernet Sauvignon from France: 160 calories/720 calories
- German Auslese Riesling: 160 calories/ 720 calories
- Cabernet Sauvignon from California: 175 calories/788 calories
- California 16% Zinfandel: 190 calories/855 calories
- Australian Shiraz: 190 calories/855 calories
- Sauternes: 270 calories/1215 calories (note: standard serving size is only 2 oz which is 90 calories)
- Ruby Port: 310 calories/1395 calories (note: standard serving size is only 2 oz which is 103 calories)
- Tawny Port: 320 calories/1440 calories (note: standard serving size is only 2 oz which is 106 calories)