Excess in moderation has always been my mantra and following the extravagances of the festive season, January finds me in a temperate mood. This time last year I'd ditched drink altogether for the month to give my liver a break and unwittingly shed a surprising amount of kilos, which led me to take a look at just how calorific wine drinking could be.
At seven calories per gram, alcohol has almost twice as many calories as carbohydrates and proteins, but not quite as much as fat. This makes something like a 150ml glass of a 13 per cent abv sauvignon blanc clock up around 110 calories; a 14 per cent abv pinot noir punch in at over 115 calories; a blockbusting 15 per cent abv Aussie shiraz hit over 125. while sweet fortifieds top the calorie charts.
However, wine stacks up better than many other alcoholic drinks. A five per cent abv beer is around 160 calories a pint, while the combination of relatively high alcohol and sugar can make a 330ml RTD tips the scales at over 200.
As a rule the higher the alcohol content, the heftier the calories - that's if it's dry as most red wines tend to be. Warmer regions tend to produce grapes with more sugar, which translates to higher alcohols and consequently makes the most calorific cuvees.
When it comes to whites it's a tad more tricky as these can have some sugar left in them that also needs to be taken into account but is rarely specified. However, varieties such as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc tend to be made in drier styles, while residual sweetness is fairly widespread in the likes of pinot gris and riesling.
But it also depends on the grape, as riesling is one of the few varieties that ripens at relatively low sugar levels, making many of its examples - even those with quite a bit of sweetness - weigh in at lighter than many of its counterparts.
Alcohol is metabolised differently to other foods. Burnt first, it delays the body dealing with calories from anything else, something dieters need to note. However, research suggests that moderate alcohol intake in the diets of lean folk does not lead to weight gain. It appears to become a more weighty issue when consumed by those who are already carrying too many kilos.
As the world's grapes have got riper, recent years have seen alcohol levels rising. However, there has been a growing backlash against this in a region like Britain, where low alcohol wines have become a new and expanding category.
There are two options when choosing low alcohol wines, the first being de-alcoholised products. Historically, many have proved unappealingly skinny on the taste front as alcohol carries flavour and provides body. However, new techniques both in the winery and vineyard are now making for more satisfying examples.
Invivo is a local label producing one of the more successful low alcohol wines, whose Bella sauvignon blanc at 9.5 per cent abv, has 30 per cent less calories than its standard sauvignon blanc. Like other more palatable examples, it's the work initially done in the vineyard before applying alcohol-reducing wizardry in the winery that seems to make the difference.
"The key is working in the vineyard throughout the year to produce a quality lower alcohol option that is balanced," explains Invivo's Tim Lightbourne, who adds that the grapes for Bella are harvested around three weeks earlier than those for its standard sauvignon.
Other lighter alternatives include varieties naturally suited to being harvested early. These include riesling and a style like hunter semillon, which remain the safest picks for calorie conscious quaffing.
As someone who's opposed to dieting over making long-lasting lifestyle changes, I maintain that health reasons should be the main motivator to cut down on one's alcohol intake. I'm certain stressing about calories could be equally bad to one's well being.
By all means experiment with this new wave of low-alcohol wines, but my tip for maximising both wine enjoyment and health in 2012, is to drink less but better in the coming year!
Gunderloch "Jean-Baptiste" Riesling Kabinett 2009 $28.99
Riesling from a cool climate is a naturally low-calorie wine, with Germany's "Kabinett" style having the lowest sugar levels at harvest. This 11 per cent lovely has pure mandarin fruit, notes of flint and white pepper, with a subtle sweetness counterpoised by racy grapefruit. (From Scenic Cellars.)
Bella by Invivo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $21.90
With its notes of oregano, juicy lime and hints of passionfruit, Bella has surprisingly vibrant flavours and good weight for such a low-alcohol wine. (From Caro's; Farro Fresh; Liquorland: Forrest Hill, Albany & Mt Eden.)
Lindeman's Early Harvest Shiraz, Australia 2010 $21.99
A rare low-alcohol (9 per cent) dry red wine, that's light with fresh acidity and bright cherry and berry fruit (From selected supermarkets and liquor stores.)
Have you tried any low-cal wines? What are your thoughts?