Wine Basics / Serve, Store & Taste

Wine Basics: How worried should I be about calories in wine?


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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.

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 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 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.

Members' Comments (1)

"This, of course, presupposes that the calories in alcohol can be converted into fat. It is a common misconception, largely encouraged by dieticians, that all calories are equal. This is simply not the case, as more and more research is showing. To take an extreme example, cellulose, a major constituent of paper and present in some foodstuffs, contains a lot of calories - try burning a piece of paper and see how much heat it gives off (a calorie... Read more > is simply a measure of heat). However, the human gut is incapable of digesting cellulose, so any cellulose in food together with the calories it contains simply pass through the body.

The most fattening element of wine is the residual sugar it contains. Unfortunately foodstuff packaging rarely shows any breakdown of the sources of the calories contained therein, or makes any attempt to differentiate between "usable" and "unusable" calories.

Dr Richard Hobson (02-Jan-2021)

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