More Choices to Consider in Beverage Calories and Alcohol Content

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 can lead to harmful health (liver and brain damage) and social conditions (drunk driving, violent behavior) if not recognized and addressed.

I’ve narrowed the negative characteristics of wine to two factors: alcohol levels and calorie count. 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 various 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

  • %alcohol x #ounces x 1.6 = calorie content.
  • Sample calculation: 14 percent alcohol content times an average pour of five ounces times 1.6 equals 112 calories.

Examples

  • The following is a table of calories per typical serving (serving size varies per beverage):
  • High-alcohol wine (dessert), five ounces: 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, 12 ounces: 165
  • Low-alcohol beer: 117
  • Standard cocktail (no additional ingredients), two ounces: 124 (martini)
  • Standard mixed cocktail, three-plus ounces: 250 (Margarita)
  • Lower alcohol mixed cocktail, three-plus ounces: 83 (low-cal Margarita)
  • Hard seltzer, 12 ounces: 100

Enjoying more than one – or two or three – of any of the above? Do the math and then push away that animal or plant protein burger and fries on your plate.

There are always exceptions to general guidelines. Not all wine is created equal. At times winemakers feel compelled to intervene. For example, using the above assumptions, a glass of chardonnay with moderate alcohol weighs in at 92 calories. Yet a bottle of Champagne may be enhanced by a bit of added sugar to influence its flavor profile (paradoxically referred to as Extra Dry Champagne). This may 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 long ago branded the light beer category, for those trying to avoid (reduce?) a beer belly.

The spirits industry understands the American demand for light(er) alcoholic beverages. Skinny Girl cocktails are 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 –

until recently. Enter Cupcake Lighthearted wines. The original brand has been popular for a number of years. In an attempt to capture the fledgling market demand for low-calorie, low-alcohol wines, this new line has just been rolled out.

The California lineup is produced from two unique sources. One from grapes harvested at low brix levels, resulting in naturally lower alcohol and calories. The other from fermented grapes that are manipulated via a filtration system to reduce alcohol content. The blending of these wines results in the Lighthearted line of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Rosé and Pinot Noir.

Their profile? A marketing team’s dream come true: only 80 calories, and less than one gram of sugar per five-ounce serving. The wines are 8 percent alcohol by volume, vegan, gluten-free and low carb. That puts Lighthearted in direct competition with several beverage categories, including the hard seltzers that are currently the rage. The price? $10 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

What is your beverage of choice? Regardless of the source and number of calories, always be mindful to drink in moderation.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and Program Director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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