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How worried should I be about calories in wine?

We don't believe in calorie-related wine guilt here at The Wine Society, but in the spirit of mindful drinking and moderation, it can't hurt to know what's going into your Friday night tipple. Caroline Gilby MW explores the science behind calories in wine.

Wine Basics: How Worried Should I Be About Calories In Wine?

Calories in wine – the basics

  • Red wine: 175ml, 12% = approx. 147 calories 175ml, 14% approx. 175 calories
  • White wine: 175ml, 12% = approx. 147 calories, 175ml, 14% approx. 175 calories
  • Champagne: Dry, 125ml = 175 calories

Wine serving sizes

As always moderation is the key here, especially being careful about glass sizes. It's worth remembering that a standard pub serving is now 175ml and a large one is 250ml or a third of a bottle. Alcohol itself is quite calorific – it packs 7 kcal per gramme which is more than either carbohydrate or protein (4 kcal per gramme) and is nearer to the calorie content of fat (9 kcal per gramme).

Calories in Wine

How worried should I be about calories in wine?

How does the body break down alcohol?

Alcohol can't be stored in the body so remains present until it's been broken down, largely by the liver. The speed of absorption into the bloodstream is another factor to consider. Some absorption and breakdown takes place in the stomach but this depends on how long the alcohol stays in the stomach – if you've eaten, food slows down the speed of gastric emptying. And there's some evidence that the enzyme that breaks alcohol down (alcohol dehydrogenase) is present at higher levels if you've eaten.

Most rapid alcohol absorption is actually in the first part of the intestines (the duodenum) so if you haven't eaten, blood alcohol will increase more rapidly. There are genetic differences too. Alcohol isn't fat-soluble and women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat so blood alcohol will be higher in most women than men of the same weight.

Which wines are most calorific?

The other factor to consider in wine is sweetness. This may be natural from unfermented grape sugars, and quite a lot of apparently dry wines have noticeable levels e.g. New Zealand Sauvignon may vary from 2 or 3 g/l to 8 g/l and more to balance the very crisp acidity. Extra Dry Prosecco is allowed 12 to 17g/l of residual sugar, while dry Prosecco can be 17 to 32g/l. Champagne is a unique case where actual sugar, or sucrose, is often added at final bottling as part of the dosage (brut champagne is allowed up to 12g/l - close to two teaspoons in a bottle). There are various calculators available online including Drinkaware. Drinkaware calculates 89 calories in a 125ml glass of brut Champagne or 9 minutes running while a 175ml glass rises to 133 kcal. A 175ml glass of dry wine (red or white) at 12% is 147 kcal (15 minutes running), while the same size glass of wine at 14% alcohol packs 175 kcal (18 minutes of running). There's no firm rule but often white wine is naturally lower in alcohol than red. But if you are counting the calories, look out for dry wines with low alcohol and take care about the serving size.

Caroline Gilby MW

Guest Writer

Caroline Gilby MW

Caroline Gilby is a Master of Wine and a scientist by training. She is a wine writer with a passion for the wines of Central and Eastern Europe and contributes to several wine books, magazines and websites.

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