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A bottle of wine contains mostly water with alcohol, carbohydrates and trace minerals. Historically, there have always been a variety of naturally low-calorie wines available, while an emerging trend has wineries specifically tailoring production methods to produce wines with lower calories and alcohol to meet demand.
The latter, so-called diet wine category, celebrates their low-cal qualities to such an extent that wine lovers may no longer view the product as an honest-to-goodness expression of white, red or rosé. The former tends not to promote its calorie-conscious attributes. It sells itself solely as a wine made from a grape (or grapes) and a place. (An enduring problem in the world of wine marketing is producers assume consumers understand the nature and nuances of the product on the shelf in front of them when they don’t. Truth be told, the same can be said of many so-called experts.)
Since nutritional facts aren’t required, you won’t find the calorie content listed beside specifics about alcohol content, volume and a declaration about sulphites on most wine labels. Rising consumer interest in low-calorie alcoholic beverages, however, is prompting more producers to volunteer that information in a bid to compete against a rising tide of less alcoholic and less caloric alternatives.
Skinnygirl was an early adaptor, with its range of low-cal California wines. On Point is a new brand developed in collaboration with Weight Watchers Canada offering a Crisp White and a Smooth Red blend that declare on the front label each wine contains 9 per cent alcohol and a 188 mL (6.4 oz) serving is 110 calories. Popular New Zealand brand Kim Crawford has launched its Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc with 7 per cent alcohol and a declared 90 calories per 188 mL serving. (Health Canada requires the nutritional facts table for wine to be based on a 188 mL serving, while the traditional pour would be 150 mL or 5 oz.)
Those calorie counts aren’t much lower than many conventional wines. Depending on the wine, a single serving might range between 100 and 300 calories. The range has to do with alcohol content, the inherent sweetness of the wine and serving size. Reports suggest a 150 mL (5 oz) glass of many dry table wines – selections that range between 12 and 14 per cent alcohol by volume – contain about 120 to 130 calories.
Dry styles of sparkling wine might have between 90 to 125 calories per serving, which might make a glass of prosecco or Champagne seem virtuous as well as stylish to sip poolside or on a patio.
Dry rieslings (or trocken styles from Germany), muscadet and grüner veltliner count among the naturally low-calorie white selections to consider. For reds, look to gamay, lower alcoholic pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
Alcohol contains seven calories per gram so it’s easy to see that the higher the alcohol level of the wine, the more calories. As a result, Australian shiraz or California zinfandel tend to have slightly more calories than cabernet sauvignon-based wines. At the high end of the scale, a two-ounce serving of tawny or ruby port, which are sweet wines that are fortified to 18 to 20 per cent alcohol, hovers around 300 calories.
For anyone looking to count calories and embrace moderation, I’d suggest dropping the skinny wine labels and buying a better-quality wine to enjoy by the glass. To my taste, it’s not worth sacrificing flavour and complexity to save relatively few calories. The real point to consider is how much you’re pouring into your glass. Research shows wine lovers consistently pour more than a standard 5-ounce glass, with white wine pours in studies tending to be heavier than red wine. Reduce your serving size, not your wine.