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Low Calories, Low Alcohol Wines – First Encounter

February 7, 2023 Leave a comment

Low calories, low alcohol.

In my book, these are trigger words.

Don’t get me wrong – watching your caloric intake is definitely a first-world problem, and I generally pay attention to it when it comes to daily food. However, wine is an indulgence. I drink wine for pleasure. Wine is not a necessity. Yes, it is possible to live perfectly happily without drinking wine – however, this is a choice. And you already know what choice I made.

As I drink wine for pleasure, the number of calories is not a criterion I would ever use when selecting a wine to drink. The company, food, mood, ambiance, grape, region, winery, winemaker – there are lots of factors influencing the decision, but the number of calories in a glass of wine is definitely not one of them. If one selects wine by the number of calories, what is the point of drinking the wine? May I suggest water as a better choice?

Now, let’s scrap all of this. Let’s pretend I didn’t say yet anything in this post.

Apparently, knowing the calorie count in the glass of wine is important, especially if you are a part of Gen Z (not my opinion – this is what I read). Apparently, there is a demand for wines to have the same labels as any food product, listing all the ingredients and providing the breakdown of nutrients, calories, etc. ( I hope this will never materialize as a law – but oops, I’m not supposed to be expressing my opinion). And apparently, there is enough demand for low-calorie, low-alcohol, and alcohol-free wines that my friend Zak even allocated specific shelf space for such wines at his wine store in Stamford, as there are enough people asking for them.

As I visited the store and chatted with Zak about wine trends, he showed me these shelves with low-alcohol wines, and I surprised both him and myself by grabbing a bottle to taste.

There are a few reasons to be surprised. The first one, of course, is the fact that I decided to try a type of wine that I consider simply a gimmick. A bigger surprise was that I grabbed the bottle of Meiomi Pinot Noir – the wine I normally can’t stand. I don’t like pretty much any wine the Wagner family produces, including the flagship Caymus – and my dislike for Meiomi Pinot is very strong as I can’t get through the sweet and burning mouthfeel this wine delivers. And yet here I am – getting a low-calorie version of the wine I normally don’t drink. Talk about surprises.

Let’s continue on the subject of surprises. To my yet another surprise, I didn’t dislike this 2021 Meiomi Bright Pinot Noir California (8% ABV, $19.99, 90 calories, 9.7g of carbs per 5 oz glass). I guess the reduced alcohol was good for this wine as it was showing a nice dark berry medley with blueberries and blackberries taking the leading role, supported by sweet oak and a nice silky mouthfeel. If it would not be for the cloyingly sweet finish, this would be a good wine experience overall – but again, the wine was quite palatable, even during re-tasting over the next 4 days.

This encounter with the low-alcohol, low-calorie wine made me do something which I had never done before – trying to understand the calories in wine.

I don’t pretend to be a scientist here, so below is my layman’s understanding of what we are dealing with when counting the number of calories in a glass of wine. I’m fully open to criticism, and if someone thinks this is all baloney and the calculations are all wrong, I will be delighted to correct this text to set things straight.

First, some basics. Calories in a glass of wine come from 2 sources – alcohol and sugar. There are 7 calories in one gram of alcohol (there are multiple sources of info on this, I used this one), which by the way makes alcohol the second highest source of calories after fat, which delivers 9 calories per gram. There are 4 calories in a gram of sugar (you can verify via google search). One more important point – a standard wine pour is considered 5 ounces glass, and there are 5 standard pours in a bottle of wine, which contains approximately 25 oz of wine. As we measure calories per gram, we need to convert between ounces and grams. One ounce is equal to 28.3495 grams – however, as I don’t want to deal with a calculator all the time, we will assume that 1 oz is equal to 30 grams, for the simplicity of this exercise.

Alcohol is always presented on the label in the form of ABV – Alcohol By Volume. Thus the percentage shown with the ABV letters simply identifies what percentage of the bottle content is pure alcohol, the one which clocks 7 calories per gram. To provide a simple example, a 1 liter of 10% ABV wine will contain 100 grams of alcohol. By the same token, a standard pour of such 10% ABV wine which amounts to 5 oz, will contain 0.5 oz of pure alcohol. If you want to do it in grams, with our previous assumptions, 5 oz is equal to 150 grams, which will translate into 15 g of pure alcohol – which in turn will deliver 15*7 = 105 calories per glass just for the alcohol portion of the content.

Now, let’s analyze our Meiomi wine based on what we just learned (yes, I know it says on the bottle “90 calories” front and center, but let’s see if we can come up with the same number). This Meiomi Pinot Noir has 8% ABV, which means that the standard pour/serving of 5 oz (150g) contains 12g of pure alcohol. 12*7 = 84, which brings us to the perfect proximity of the 90 calories. However, according to the information on the back label, the same 5 oz of wine contains 9.7g of carbs, and the only source of carbs in wine is residual sugar – this is the sugar left in the wine after fermentation was finished. We can safely round our 9.7g to 10g, and when multiplied by 4 (calories per gram of sugar) we will get 40 calories. Adding 84 and 40 brings us to 124 calories in that glass of Meiomi Pinot.

I wanted to compare this caloric count with any regular wine. As an example, I took information from the technical note of the 2020 Barra Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendocino. This wine has 14.5% ABV and 3.2 g/l of residual sugar. At 14.5% ABV, our 150g of Barra Cab (5 oz, standard pour) will contain 21.75g of pure alcohol, which will give us 152 calories from alcohol. 3.2 grams of sugar per liter will translate into approximately 0.5g of sugar per same standard pour which in turn will only add 2 calories, for the grand total of 154 calories. That also means that there is only 30 calories difference between low-calorie, low-alcohol, manipulated wine and normal wine. You can make your own conclusion, but I’m sure you can figure out mine.

There is one more thought I would like to share. I’m afraid that a low-alcohol wine can give people a false impression that they can simply drink more of it because each glass supposedly contains less. So it is not impossible to presume that someone can drink 3 glasses instead of two, based on the premise of “light wine”. Using our calculations above, there will be 372 calories in these 3 glasses – 2 glasses of Barra Cabernet Sauvignon will set you back 308. Again, you can (and should) make your own conclusions.

I clearly understand that my personal viewpoint and perception are not important at the scale of the market – when there is a demand, the product will appear. Low-calories, low-alcohol wines are here to stay, no matter what I think of them. But I’m glad this Meiomi Bright Pinot prompted me to do some research and acquire some understanding of the calories in wine.

I guess when they say “liquid diet”, they are not really kidding. Cheers!

 

 

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