Sugar In Wine

Hi team.  In this post I want to cover a topic that is on the minds of many people – health.  Specifically, health as a function of their dietary choices.  “Health” is a complex subject, but as it relates our eating and drinking habits, it most often gets boiled down to calories, carbs (sugar!), fats, veggies, etc.  I think it is fair to say that we have learned that caloric intake is not the end all be all when it comes to our eating, but it is of larger importance as it relates to our drinking i.e. empty calories.  Caveat: I am not an expert on diet, nutrition, sugar, etc., but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  (Narrator Voice: No he didn’t)

Vice, Vice Baby

Let’s get to it – we drinkers are choosing a vice.  In doing so, many of us would like to minimize the negative impact on our bodies, mostly the waistline, by limiting calories.  These days, this is often done by reaching for a hard seltzer. Generally speaking, these drinks are alcohol derived from fermented sugar and/or a malted grain, seltzer water, and flavoring.  You can check out a pretty wide look at the hard seltzers on the market here, or I can save you the click – 5% ALCOHOL! 100 CALORIES!

But what about wine?  Calories from wine <basically> come from two sources – alcohol (7 calories per gram) and sugar (4 calories per gram).  Cutting to the chase, most wines clock in between 90-125 calories per 5 oz. glass (Reference) – these include the most commonly drunk wines in the U.S., ranging from 10-15% alcohol (the higher the alcohol, the higher the calorie count).

How do I know if a wine has sugar?

Well, it depends.  Let’s first talk about what makes wine, well, wine.  As you know, wine starts out as grape juice, which is full of the naturally occurring sugars glucose and fructose (Glu/Fru for short). Traditionally, wines are fermented to dryness (there are exceptions – Sauternes, Tokaji (Yum!), Port, Auslese Riesling, to name a few), which means that the yeasts continue gobbling up all of the sugars until gone, leaving behind alcohol.  Over the past couple of decades, however, it has become apparent to larger corporate wine producers that the average wine drinker actually prefers some sugar in their wine.  

WARNING: Hot button subject ahead!  There are two ways to accomplish this: 

  1. Arresting fermentation prior to dryness. This is called Residual Sugar (RS for the cool kids). RS is NOT added sugar – the fermentation is stopped prior to the yeasts eating all of the natural glucose and fructose, leaving some <residual> in the wine. 
  2. Fermenting to dryness and then adding a specifically calibrated amount of grape juice (full of natural sugars) to reach the desired level of sweetness and mouthfeel.  This process is what inflames many traditionalists but goes largely unnoticed by legions of satisfied customers.  (Google “Mega Purple” to see behind the curtain)

These producers have been giving customers what they want, which is kinda funny because it seems most everyone says they prefer “dry” wines and don’t like “sweet” wines.  Unrelated factoid: the overwhelming majority of people also believe that they are above average.


What Really Matters

We are not here to judge.  This is just reality (sugar tastes good to humans), a reality that has created confusion among consumers who really aren’t interested solving complex chemistry or math problems on the way to pour a drink.  To further complicate things, sketchy marketing practices are now adding to the problem with deceptive claims around healthfulness, sugar (NO ADDED SUGAR!), “clean” wine, etc.  [Sidenote:  It is actually illegal to promote the health benefit of an alcoholic beverage]  The fact of the matter is, many modern wines (especially those under $15) have residual sugar, but the biggest driver of calorie count is alcohol.  Check out this useful chart from Wine Folly.  You can see that even “dry” wines with up to 10 grams per Liter of sugar have less than 10 calories per glass derived from that RS.

It’s the alcohol, friends.

Unrelated factoid: alcohol is also the cause of the overwhelming % of hangovers.  Not sulfites (unless you are in the 1%), not additives, not sugar.  It’s the alcohol.  And <sometimes> biogenic amines.

Inconvenient Truth Meet Rationalization

This is a national pastime by now, innit?

Back to the drinking!  If you find yourself choosing between a hard seltzer or wine, that wine is likely of the lower alcohol/more refreshing variety, like Rose` or sparkling, for instance.  The calorie count is going to be pretty similar – the difference lies in the fact that you are getting 12 ounces of 5% alcohol seltzer vs. 5 ounces of 12% alcohol wine.  Another angle on this would be the difference between a factory produced alcohol with added flavors vs. a more natural, plant-based beverage.  If you prefer a more sessionable drink, reach for the wine and pour it over ice with a splash of your favorite sparkling water, or explore some of the wine-based seltzers that are on the market – you know, something convenient that comes in a can (Groove is working on this for you).  These alternatives are likely tastier, more natural, similar in alcohol content, AND lower in calories.  What would you choose?

Now go talk about it!  Thanks for checking in.  As always, if you have something you want to rap about, hit me up on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook (@groovewines) or, and don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list!

Groove Wines believes that alcohol should be enjoyed responsibly at all times.
Never drink and drive. Have a designated driver. Do not drink on an empty stomach.