Are you worried about the calories in red wine? Or the number of calories in wine in general?
The rise of the anti-sugar movement over the last few years hasn’t just impacted the food industry, it’s made its way into wine as well. With so many of us following low sugar diets or omitting it altogether, a concern about sugar in wine could mean the kiss of death for your nightly glass of wine.
But it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, you don’t have to veto vino at all, you just have to know which wine has the lowest sugar content.
But sugar in wine can be confusing.
Isn’t wine just fermented grapes? Well, yes and no. Yes, there is sugar in wine, and also no, there isn’t necessarily added sugar in wine (although some wines do have it). Confused?
Hear us out.
Does wine contain sugar?
Wine does contain sugar, it’s called residual sugar, and it’s just part and parcel of drinking wine – but these sugars are naturally occurring sugars, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your wine has had sugar added in.
The naturally occurring sugars in the grapes are eaten by the yeast and turned into ethanol – the alcohol, as a by-product during the fermentation process. The higher the alcohol content of the wine, the less residual sugar it contains, but the more calories the wine has.
Saying that there are some wines that DO contain The White Stuff. Some wines have sugar added in by the winemaker under a process called chaptalization.
All the more reason to buy quality wine.
Some winemakers need to add sugar to wine when they use under-ripe grapes to make their wine. In chaptalization, cane or beet sugar is added to the crushed grapes before the grapes ferment in order to increase the alcohol by volume (ABV) of the final wine.
Fun fact – chaptalization isn’t legal everywhere.
In winemaking regions that are notorious for growing grapes with low sugar content such as in cooler countries like France, Germany and even some places in the US, it’s legal to add sugar to wine to increase the alcohol levels. In countries where they can routinely grow grapes with naturally occurring higher sugar content such as Argentina, Australia, Italy and Spain, for example, chaptalization is prohibited.
Sugar in wine
There are different amounts of sugar in different types of wine, so if you’re following the keto diet, or you’re diabetic, or you’re just trying to reduce your sugar intake for health reasons, knowing which wine has the lowest amount of sugar is going to help you make wise wine choices.
Essentially, the dryer a wine, the less sugar it has as the yeast has eaten all the sugars in the grapes. A sweet wine is the result of the yeast not eating all the sugar, leaving sugar in the final wine. Which is also why sweet white wines (8% ABV) have less alcohol than dry reds (14% ABV).
Here’s what you want to know:
- Red wine has the least amount of sugar – 0.9g per 175ml glass.
- White wine (a dry white such as Riesling, has around 1.4g per 175ml glass.
- Rose wine can have even more.
- Dessert wine has around 7g per serving – the same as a glass of Coke.
What does that look like for your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sugar intake? It’s advised that women consume just 6 teaspoons of sugar a day, men 9 teaspoons. 1 teaspoon is the equivalent of 4g of sugar.
Unlike the food labelling laws, wine manufacturers aren’t required (by law) to list ingredients on their wines, just allergens.
Allergens according to the food.gov.uk website:
- sulphur dioxide/sulphites/sulfites
- ‘egg’, ‘egg protein’, ‘egg product’, ‘egg lysozyme’ or ‘egg albumin’
- ‘milk’, ‘milk products’, ‘milk casein’ or ‘milk protein’”
So if the nutritional information isn’t available on the wine label, how can you choose a low-calorie wine?
One way to do this is to opt for a wine with lower alcohol content. This might sound counter to the above advice knowing that lower alcohol means higher sugar content, but the lower the alcohol content, the fewer the calories.
Because alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Whereas carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) contains 4 calories per gram. Meaning the higher the alcohol content of your wine, the higher the calorie count of your wine.
White wine tends to have a lower alcohol content than red wine, making it low-calorie alcohol in comparison. But sparkling wine like champagne is the ultimate low-calorie alcohol – always opt for the brut nature version as this also has the least sugar of all too.
But how do you know what the alcohol content in your wine is (if you don’t have a label?) One way is to measure it.
How to measure wine alcohol content
So if adding sugar to wine increases the volume of alcohol in the wine, how do you measure the wine alcohol content?
The easiest way to measure alcohol content in wine is by using a hydrometer. A hydrometer measures the specific gravity of the wine.
If you’re homebrewing, a hydrometer measures the alcohol by volume (ABV) in fermenting wine, by measuring the amount of sugar being turned into alcohol. The more sugar you have in your liquid, the higher the reading. As sugar becomes alcohol, the reading (gravity level) falls.
How many units in a bottle of wine
To figure out how many units there are in your bottle of wine, you need to know the wine’s alcohol by volume (ABV). You can find this information printed on the label – it will say a number followed by %.
You can work out the units in a bottle of wine by a simple formula:
Alcohol unit calculator
(ABV x ml) / 1000 = number of units
I.e. if you want to know how many units your 13% ABV 250ml glass of red wine has, it’s:
(13 x 250) / 1000 – 3.25 units.
Just FYI – the recommended number of alcohol units per week for both men and women is 14 units. This equates to approximately 1.5 bottles of 12% ABV wine.