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Calories in Wine - You Can't Handle the Truth

Brian Gurnham Chief Cork Officer

Much like Jack Nicholson's impassioned speech about Marine Corps honor in A Few Good Men, when it comes to the truth, (in this case about wine), you may not be able to handle the truth.  Wine has calories, a lot of calories, in fact more than most other beverages.  Depending on the style of wine, one five ounce glass can have between 100 to as many as 300 calories.  Here is how wine stacks up against some popular beverages.  In this example we have selected Kendall Jackson's Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, a white wine on the lower end of the caloric spectrum. 


Beverage

Calories*

Kendall Jackson Chardonnay

118

Whole milk

90

Apple Juice

74

Tropicana Orange Juice

68

Red Bull

66

Coke

57

Beer

55

Gatorade Fruit Punch

33

Diet Pepsi

0


*Calories per 5 oz. serving

A five ounce pour is an average white wine glass filled to just over half.  So, speaking of the truth, how often do you have only one glass of wine and run for the stopper?  If you do, then your wine consumption easily falls within the category of the occasional caloric splurge.  If however, you are like me, and on any given night you and your significant other can demolish a bottle, and even pop a second, well then, read on.

The number of calories in a wine is controlled by two factors; the amount of alcohol, and the amount of sugar.  Unless you are a fan of very sweet wine, alcohol content is the more likely culprit when it comes to calories.  The formula for determining calories in wine is relatively simple:

 

Glass size in ounces X 30 X alcohol % X 7 = alcohol calories
Glass size in ounces X 30 X residual sugar % X 4 = sugar calories

Alcohol calories + sugar calories = Total calories

The alcoholic percentage or Alcohol by Volume (ABV) is easy to determine as by law in the United States, and most countries, it must be listed on the label.  Light bodied white wines such as Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Viura and Gewurztraminer have lower percentages of alcohol often in the 8% to 12% range.  Big, full bodied reds and many full bodied whites will have ABV in the 12% - 14.5% range with some Zinfandels, California Cabernets, Petit Sirahs, and Australian Shirazs' surpassing 15%.

Determining residual sugar percentage is problematic as it is rarely listed on the label.  Use the table below for an approximation of the percent residual sugar.

 

Description of Sweetness

 

Residual Sugar
Grams per Liter of Wine

 

 

Representative Wines

Dry

Less than 1%.  Virtually all wine has some residual sugar however; no detectible sweetness is present in these wines.

 

Most chardonnays, cabernet sauvignons, Chiantis, Zinfandels, and sparkling wines labeled natural or extra brut.

Medium Dry

1.0-1.8%.  These wines will have perceptible sweetness to most tasters at the upper end. 

 

Most Merlots, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and some chardonnays.

Medium

1.9 – 4.5%.  In the medium category virtually all tasters will consider a wine sweet.

 

White Zinfandel, German Riesling and Gewürztraminer, many Vouvrays.

Sweet

4.5%+ Most wines in this category would be considered liquid sugar by most tasters. 

Hungarian Tokaji, most Ports, Moscato, many Sauternes, late harvest wines.

 

As if the caloric content itself was not discouraging enough, wine calories are often referred to as “empty calories” because they have virtually no nutritional value.  Our bodies cannot store alcohol, so the metabolism of alcohol takes priority over absorbing other nutrients and burning fat.

The effect of alcohol calories on weight gain is a much debated topic.  Some studies argue that because the alcohol is metabolized and cannot be stored as fat it has minimal effect on weight gain.  Other studies point out that because alcohol stimulates the appetite and blocks the metabolism of food, it actually increased the storage of fats and promotes weight gain.  Regardless of the science, few would argue that excessive wine consumption is beneficial.

Alright, you now know the truth. Do not despair, armed with the facts there are a few things that you can do to manage your caloric intake from wine.

  •         Drink less – I know that's a tough one, but it is the truth, and the most effective way to reduce calories from wine.
  •         Look for lower alcohol content (ABV) wines.  Try dry sparkling wines or dry Rieslings, especially during summer months.  A glass of dry Riesling can contain half the calories of California Zinfandel.
  •       Check sweet wines carefully.  Sweet wines are often lower in alcohol so total calories are manageable.  Some however, combine higher ABV with a lot of residual sugar – the result?  A lot of calories. 
  •        Most Sherries and Ports pack a double punch – lots of sugar and lots of alcohol.  Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry has 17.5% ABV and 12.2% residual sugar.  Do the math, 320 calories for a five ounce glass!

See, you can handle the truth!

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