Saturday, May 24, 2014

A word about wine

It is summertime, Memorial weekend, and besides turning on the BBQ, people also love to open a bottle of cold beer, drink a icy cocktail or a refreshing glass of wine. It is all part of the social aspects of summer: a get-together with friends under the shade of umbrellas, snacking on pita chips and hummus, the rewarding drink after a long, sweaty hike, a nice glass of wine with the luncheon on a vacation day. My favorite drink is definitely a glass of wine. But not all wines are the same.

The alcohol content in wine is one of the major contributors to the amount of calories in wine. The higher the percentage of alcohol, the higher the calories. How come? Wine mostly consists of water, a little bit of sugar, and the rest is alcohol. Alcohol clocks in at 7 calories per gram (while carbs/sugars only come in at 4 calories per gram). Therefore, a sweeter wine can have fewer calories than a dry wine with high alcohol content.

For example, a glass (148ml/5fl oz) of alcohol-free red wine has only ca. 25 calories (based on the brand) but the same amount of regular red wine clocks in at 135 calories. So, here is is a small guide to aid your informed selections.

1. Check the ABV. There are no actual nutrition labels on bottles of wine, but you can use the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) percentage to approximate the calories. ABVs can range from 9 percent for low-alcohol wines up to 17 percent for some dry wines. If you aim for an ABV that's between 9 to 12 percent, you will get about 87 to 115 calories per 5 oz glass (check out my calorie calculator below).

2. Buy European. Look for European wines from regions like Italy, and France, and try to avoid wines grown in warmer regions like Californian, Chile or Australia, where higher sugar content in grapes converts to higher ABV in wines.

3. Choose light, dry whites. In general, white wines tend to be lower in alcohol and calories than reds. While light whites have around 110 calories or less per 5 ounce glass, a light red has between 115 to 130 calories, while a higher-alcohol red like pinot noir or syrah can have up to 150 in a glass.

4. Avoid added sugar in Champagne. But be sure to check the label for a "brut nature" or "brut zero" designation, which signifies that hardly any extra sugar has been added. One five-ounce glass of brut nature Champagne has around 120 calories, compared to around 175 for a sweet (aka "doux") Champagne or a sweet sparkling wine.

Recently, several low-calories (i.e. wine with low alcohol content) have come into the market. For example, Skinnygirl wines, or Skinny Vine. I must admit I have not tried any of them because any food or beverage that has “skinny'” on its label has the latent odor of deprivation, and I feel I need to make up with something else (more chips or 2 glasses of skinny wine?). However, as a rule of (alcohol intelligence) thumb for this summer, light whites are a lighter choice.

I created this handy calculator: enter the ABV of your wine (works for any alcoholic beverage), your serving size in milliliter (5oz are 148ml, and a bottle of wine is 750ml) and it will calculate the alcohol units in your drink as well as the calories for wine (it works quite well for spirits, too, but beer has a higher baseline calorie content). So, be accountable.

Wine Calculator:
Alcohol by Volume (ABV) %:
Alcohol units:

Typical serving sizes:

Glass:  4fl =118ml; 5fl oz = 148ml (small glass of wine), 8flz = 237ml (typical serving size in a bar/restaurant)
Bottle: 750ml = 25 floz;

(Note, that the recommendation is for no more than 2-3 alcohol units/day for women, and for men 3-4 units based on the calculator above.)

ABVs of wines:
Very Low (under 12.5 percent)
Sparkling: Italian Asti, Italian Prosecco.
White: French Vouvray and Muscadet, German Riesling, Portuguese Vinho Verde, Spanish Txacolina.
Rosé: California White Zinfandel, Portuguese rosés.
Moderately Low (12.5 to 13.5 percent)
Sparkling: California sparkling wine, French Champagne, Spanish Cava.
White: Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Australian Riesling, French Alsace white, French Loire and Bordeaux whites, French white Burgundy, Italian Pinot Grigio, New York Riesling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Oregon Pinot Gris, South African Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish Albarino.
Rosé: French rosés, Spanish rosés.
Red: French Beaujolais and Burgundy, French Bordeaux, Italian Chianti, Spanish Rioja.
High (13.5 to 14.5 percent)
White: Australian Chardonnay, California Chardonnay, California Pinot Gris, California Sauvignon Blanc, California Viognier, Chilean Chardonnay, French Sauternes, South African Chenin Blanc.
Red: Argentine Malbec, Australian Shiraz, California Cabernet Sauvignon, California Pinot Noir, California Syrah, Chilean Merlot, French Rhône red, Italian Barolo.
Very High (more than 14.5 percent)
White: French Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (fortified), Portuguese Madeira (fortified), Spanish sherry (fortified).
Red: California Petite Sirah, California Zinfandel, Italian Amarone, Portuguese port (fortified).

Other resources:
Comparison of calories in wine

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