Do The Calories In Red Wine Matter?
We are often asked about the calories in red wine. Staying in shape these days is tough. We have a hectic, modern lifestyle and a dizzying array of foods readily available. Rather than hunting for our food or churning our own butter, all that is now required to eat is a short walk to the fridge or a click of a menu item on our phones. No wonder so many of us struggle with our weight!
Dieting and counting calories/carbs have become a normal part of modern life. Are you wondering if wine has any part in a healthy diet? I often wonder. I decided to dig into the subject and see how much I should or should be worrying about the calories in red wine.
Fact About Red Wine Health Claims
Let’s start with a few basics: yes, there has been a lot of press lately about the health benefits of wine such as antioxidant content and stress reduction. While these are certainly good things, they don’t necessarily factor into your weight-loss goals.
There have been some interesting research findings regarding fat burning and wine, but the study results always seem to be contradicted by the next study. It can all get pretty confusing when you are trying to assess the impact of wine on your health and weight.
How does a glass of wine stack up diet-wise?
It depends on the type of wine you are drinking.
Consider the fact that alcohol in wine is created by fermenting sugar from grape juice. This will lead us to the two primary sources of calories in red wine: alcohol and sugar. Alcohol has almost twice as many calories per gram as sugar, with alcohol coming in at 7 calories per gram and sugar, in fact, all carbohydrates, coming in at 4 calories per gram. However, alcohol and sugar are metabolized in different ways, and therefore affect the body in different ways. While alcohol is made from sugar, a carbohydrate, it is not metabolized as a carbohydrate and therefore does not contribute to the total carbs in a glass of wine. Great news for low-carb dieters!
Still, higher alcohol does mean higher calories. If this concerns you, you do have the power to limit the alcohol content of the wines you consume. Try to find wines that are at or under 11% ABV (Alcohol By Volume). Many reds now run as high as 15% ABV. That's a big jump in calories vs. an 11% wine.
Sugar In Red Wine Equals Calories
Unfortunately, this does not mean that wine is carb-free. The amount of carbs in a wine depends on the amount of RS, or residual sugar, in the wine. This sugar can be added in, think sparkling wines, or can be unfermented sugars from the grapes themselves.
In any case, very few wines will have zero grams per liter of residual sugar (g/L RS). Even a very dry red wine will usually have 1-2 g/L; a dry white often a bit more; an off-dry white can have as much as 50 g/L and a dry sparkling wine up to 12 g/L. These numbers can be much higher when you begin looking at sweet wines, flavored wines, and wine “coolers”.
How Can You Avoid The Calories In Red Wine?
How can you make smart choices if you are on a low-carb diet? Start by sticking with dry wines. Also, I hate to break it to you since we all love our $10 wonder bottles, but cheap wines tend to have more sugar than premium wines. In many cheap wines, the winemakers use sugar to make up for a lack of flavor and structure in the wine, and possibly to cover up flaws (additionally, some of the sugar content in cheap wines is likely from ADDED sugar during fermentation, as opposed to from the grapes themselves).
Keep in mind, many wines that taste dry may not be dry. Prime culprits here are cheap Italian Pinot Grigios and American Zinfandels—beware they are often hiding sugar! If in doubt, “tech sheets” for specific wines are often available online—these should tell you specific facts from where the grapes were grown and how the wine was aged to the amount of residual sugar in the wine.
How Does Alcohol Impact The Calories In Red Wine?
So now we have counting carbs down pat. I know you may still be wondering how the alcohol will affect your diet, especially if you are low-carb. Alcohol is not metabolized like a carbohydrate and is not stored as glycogen—meaning even if you are on the now-popular “keto” diet, you can have some alcohol and still be compliant.
However, when you consume alcohol, the liver prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol first and puts everything else on hold—after all, it wants to rid the body of any toxins ASAP. This means any other metabolizing—for instance, burning of fat cells or other calories—is on hold. Factor in the additional calories from the alcohol itself, plus the fact that your lowered inhibitions may have led you to reach for a pizza bagel at that party last night (no one blames you—pizza bagels are delicious), and it is easy to see how drinking red wine could stall your diet goals.
Some Basic Guidelines For Controlling The Calories In Your Red Wine
So we've established that all wine has calories. If you are still reading this, I have a feeling you plan to consume red wine going forward despite the calories. We want you to have a few simple rules to follow when you are ordering wine online, in a restaurant or deciding on which wine to serve at a party. These don't require that you become a wine expert, but that can give you a few tools to avoid the highest calorie red wines.
- Avoid red wines from the warmest wine growing regions. If you are buying California wines, you may want to avoid areas like the Central Valley or Temecula. The grapes get very ripe here. Ripe grapes mean more sugar and more sugar means more alcohol. You already know what more alcohol means.
- Consider wines from France. Wine production in more heavily regulated in France. There is less chance that sugar will be added during fermentation. In general, French wines are lower in alcohol.
- Drink whites. White wines are generally lower in alcohol and therefore have fewer calories.
Reference: Calories In Red Wine/White Wine | Carbs In Red Wine/White Wine
Here is a quick go-to guide to give you a general idea of the calories and carbohydrates in wine. Remember, this is a GUIDE, and these actual numbers in wines you drink will vary quite a bit:
Calories By Wine Type
- Dry White: Calories 110-170, Carbs 2-4 g
- Off-Dry White: Calories 110-170, Carbs 5-30 g
- Red: Calories 130-190, Carbs 1-3 g
- Dry Sparkling: Calories 150, Carbs 1-7 g
- Sweet Wine, Sweet Sparkling Wine: Calories 200-250+, Carbs 30-100+ g
Calories In Red Wine Varietals
- Cabernet Sauvignon - 120 calories per 5 oz pour
- Merlot - 120 calories per 5 oz
- Cabernet Franc - 125 calories per 5 oz
- Syrah or Shiraz - 125 calories per 5 oz
- Grenache or Garnacha - 120 calories per 5 oz pour
- Zinfandel - 130 calories per 5 oz pour
- Pinot Noir - 120 calories per 5 oz pour
The verdict: using common sense and moderation, wine can almost definitely have a place in your healthy diet. Remember that most health guidelines recommend no more than one five-ounce pour per day. A typical wine glass holds four times that about of wine. If you want to manage the calories in red wine, start by managing your portion sizes.