Grapevine: Beware Alcohol in Wine – Do Calories Logically Follow?

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Over the past seven years of penning this column, I’ve touched on many aspects in the vast compendium of wine topics. Always seeking to present an objective focus, I’ve rarely veered into expressing my opinions. With one notable exception: the health benefits of wine consumed in moderation.

I’m a proponent of the camp that promotes wine as a healthy beverage in spite of its alcohol content. The antioxidants and phenolic compounds present in red wine contribute to the prevention and treatment of numerous health conditions, all of which have been well documented.

However, in the interest of presenting a well-balanced wine column, I have in the past two weeks taken a right turn from espousing the benefits of wine.

There are negative aspects of consuming any alcoholic beverage, including wine, that if not recognized and addressed, can lead to harmful health (liver and brain damage) and social conditions (drunk driving, violent behavior).

I narrowed the negative characteristics of wine to two factors: alcohol levels and calorie count. Last week I focused on ways a wine consumer might cut back on the alcoholic consumption of wine by seeking out wines with low or no alcohol. This week I’ll focus on the dietary consequences of consuming wine–and other alcoholic beverages.

Here’s a formula to assist you in calculating the caloric content of wine, followed by several examples of wines and other popular alcoholic beverages. Feel free to clip it and carry it in your wallet or transfer it to the notes app on your smartphone for future reference.

The Formula

Percentage of alcohol times number of ounces times a factor of 1.6 = calorie content.

Sample calculation: 14 percent alcohol content times an average pour of 5 ounces times 1.6 equals 112 calories.


The following is a table of calories per typical serving (serving size varies per beverage).

High-alcohol wine (dessert): 220

High-alcohol wine (13.5 to 15 percent alcohol): 112

Moderate alcohol wine (10 to 13 percent): 92

Low alcohol wine (5 to 9 percent): 56

Standard lager beer: 165

Low-alcohol beer: 117

Standard cocktail, no additional ingredients: 375 (martini)

Standard mixed cocktail: 507 (Margarita)

Lower alcohol mixed cocktail: 176 (low-cal Margarita)

And don’t forget the drink invariably blamed as a cause of obesity, carbonated flavored soda: a mere 143 calories.

There are always exceptions to general guidelines. Not all wine is created equal; at times man feels compelled to intervene. For example, using the above assumptions, a glass of chardonnay with moderate alcohol weighs in at 92 calories. A glass of Champagne with similar calories but a bit of sugar added by a winemaker to enhance the flavor profile (paradoxically referred to as Extra Dry Champagne) can increase the calorie count by 40 to 50 percent.

It is fairly obvious that several sectors of the alcoholic beverage industry have made concerted efforts to focus on the changing preferences of consumers for less alcohol and calories. The beer industry has branded the light beer category, for those trying to avoid (or reduce) a beer belly.

The spirits industry is beginning to understand this American demand for light(er) alcoholic beverages. Skinny Girl is the latest trendy alcoholic beverage focused on the diet-conscious consumer. Do you enjoy a Margarita, but feel guilty about the high calories? Try a bottle of Skinny Girl Margarita to keep your waistline trim(mer). It contains one-third the calories of the standard version served at tropical beaches.

However, the wine industry hasn’t latched onto these marketing opportunities. Is there an opportunity to market wine as a lower calorie alternative to other alcoholic beverages and perhaps increase sales and broaden acceptance by consumers? Or will wine continue to be the mysterious beverage with no nutrition label requirements to aid the conscientious consumer? And will wine continue to be a potentially dangerous beverage masked by reports of its medicinal benefits? Only an informed consumer can make the right choices.

What is your beverage/poison of choice? Regardless of the source of calories, always be careful to drink in moderation.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted

wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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