There’s been a huge focus on calories in the last couple of weeks - whether wine should be labelled with calories and whether we’re counting them the right way. For once I’m inclined to agree with the Department of Health which says it sees little benefit in revising the system according to yesterday’s report in the Guardian. "The difficulties of implementing a change to the current system of calculating energy content would far outweigh the minor gains in accuracy from such a change and would offer little practical assistance to consumers" a statement says.
However you measure it though there’s no getting away from the fact that wine is calorific - the higher the ABV or alcohol content the more calories a glass will have. Add that to the trend to bigger glasses - 250ml is now routine in many bars and restaurants - and it’s easy to consume way more than you think.
The calorie counters are not particularly helpful on this point giving the calories for a glass of red wine without specifying the ABV and, on one site I spotted, for a 175ml glass of champagne when most glasses only hold 125ml.
The most useful site is drinkaware.co.uk which has a unit calculator to help you work out the content of specific wines some of whom I guess must pay to be featured. The figures are also slightly confusing. A named brand can have a higher calorie content than a generic wine at a particular ABV. That probably reflects the amount of residual sugar left in the wine, an issue I’m trying to clarify with the website.
Here are some examples:
125ml glass of 12% champagne e.g. Bollinger = 95 calories or 1.5 units (which, let's face it, is rather good news)
175ml glass of Dry River Pinot Grigio at 12.5% = 158 calories or 2.2 units
175ml glass of Montana Sauvignon Blanc at 12.9% = 130 calories or 2.3 units
175ml glass of a 14% white = 140 calories or 2.5 units
175ml glass of Campo Viejo Rioja (13%) = 119 calories or 2.3 units
175ml glass of The Boulders Reserve Shiraz (14%) = 175 calories or 2.4 units
175ml glass of 14.5% red = 140 calories or 2.5 units
To rub it in, if you drank 2 ‘standard’ 175ml glasses of a 12% Merlot like Tierra del Rey - in other words just under half a bottle - that would be 319 calories and 4.5 units. If you drank 2 glasses of the Boulders Shiraz that would be 375 calories and 5.2 units. Add a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to that (which many wouldn’t regard as excessive for a night out) and you’d have topped 500 calories - 25% of the recommended daily calorie intake for women.
The message if you're watching your weight is clear: that unless you go for low calorie wines, which are about as appealing as low calorie cheese, we should drink rather less and become more aware of what we're drinking. So I’d be in favour of putting the calories in wine - and other drinks - on back labels. It might do more to address the binge-drinking culture than heavy propaganda about how bad alcohol is for us all.
What do you reckon?
PS I've just discovered there are only 70 calories in a manzanilla sherry though the suggested amount is 50ml rather than the more common 75ml which would make it 105 calories a glass. Still, not a lot compared to some other wines.