Ask Decanter: How to count calories in wine
Maria O’Connell, from Chicago, asks: How much does the calorie content of wine differ according to its alcohol level? If I’m looking to limit my calorie intake, is Bubbles the best option? Beverley Blanning MW for Decanter, replies: If you are looking to limit your calorie intake, you are right to focus on the alcohol content of wine, as this is by far the most significant determinant of its calorific content. Alcohol weighs in at a hefty seven calories per gram, which is only two calories fewer than pure fat.
Wines to consider
Wine can cause weight gain because it is a concentrated source of calories, even if it feels light to the taste. Champagne can be a good choice for limiting calorie intake, because it is often relatively low in alcohol compared to other dry whites – albeit residual sugar levels would also be a factor. Generally, cooler-climate whites will also have lower alcohol levels and therefore fewer calories per glass. A dry Sherry such as Manzanilla is a fortified wine, so will be high in calories, but as it is often drunk in smaller volumes, the calories consumed could end up being fewer than a lower alcohol, unfortified wine.
Calculating calories in wine
To calculate the number of grams of alcohol in a bottle or glass of wine, use this formula:
volume (ml) x alcohol (ABV %) x 8 / 1000
Multiplying this answer by seven will give you the approximate calorie content. Using this model, a standard bottle of wine at 750ml with an abv of 13.5% would have approximately 567 calories. Guideline total intake for women in the UK is 2000 calories daily, and 2,500 calories for men, according to the National Health Service.
One other point to bear in mind is that a dry wine may not always be the best choice for a low-calorie option: a sweeter wine with low alcohol (like a German Kabinett Riesling) could be lower in calories than a high-alcohol dry white, because the residual sugar is a less-concentrated source of carbohydrate than alcohol, at four calories per gram.
The politics of calories in wine
Decanter.com editor Chris Mercer adds: There is debate among health and food policy specialists on how much focus should be placed on counting calories as an indicator of health, as opposed to other specific measures, such as saturated fat, salt and added sugar levels in foods and drinks. But, there is political pressure to improve calorie labelling on food and drink in several countries in Europe, and in the US – particularly in restaurants.
As of March 2016, the US food watchdog, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), is expected to issue guidance this year on a new regulation that would require restaurants, supermarket delis and convenience stories to print calorie counts on menus and prepared foods. The law would take effect one year after the guidance is issued and would affect wines. California’s Wine Institute has been lobbying the FDA to agree that an average calorie count ‘statement’ would suffice on wine lists in restaurants.
In Europe, members of the European Parliament backed a proposal to ensure calorie counts on alcoholic drinks labels, in a vote held in 2015. Alcohol has traditionally been exempt from EU nutrition labelling rules. In late 2015, Penfolds owner Treasury Wine Estates said it would begin providing calorie information for its wines, beginning in Europe. But, initially at least, it said calorie counts would be published online rather than printed on every label.Back in 2014, Sainsbury’s – one of the biggest UK supermarkets – said it would start printing calorie counts on its own-label wines. However, other retailers disagreed with the move.
Do you think wine labels should have calorie counts on them? Let us know in the comments section below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beverley Blanning MW is a writer and author who contributed to The Oxford Companion to Wine on wine and health.
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