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Counting Carbs With Wine


The recent health claims that wines have antioxidants in them that may block free radicals, prevent heart disease, cancer, and other conditions associated with aging seems to have some validity. Polyphenol, catechin, and cholesterol-reducing resveratrol are found predominately in red wines in various degrees. One suggestion as to why some of these antioxidants are present in red wines is that grapes that have been distressed during their growth will exhibit the highest level of antioxidants. Red-skinned grapes seem to have better growing success in less temperate climates but exhibit the effects of stressful weather conditions in the form of higher levels of resveratrol. Before all you wine enthusiasts start shouting, "I told you so!" let me point out that many of the same antioxidant benefits can also be found in dark beers, too.

What low-carbohydrate dieters are most concerned about with wine, however, is its carbohydrate count, loosely a function of the wine's residual sugar content. Although residual sugar levels are often made available by vintners and are a good indication as to the possible dryness or sweetness of a wine (the higher the number, the sweeter the wine), we can't, unfortunately, extrapolate the carbohydrate count of the wine from this figure without a full lab analysis.

Some wine-related Web sites say that there are no carbohydrates in dry wine, a glaring example of people who have no idea of the mechanics of fermentation. The process of converting sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide during fermentation is limited by the attenuation of the yeast or the manipulation of the fermentation by the vintner. In order for a wine to have no carbohydrates in it, it would have to be pure alcohol, in other words, distilled. Of course at that point, the liquid would no longer be wine, but brandy or cognac. All-and I repeat-all wines, including dry wines, have some residual sugar left behind after the fermentation process ends. Residual sugar equals carbohydrates. If it were possible to use fermentation to convert a sugary liquid into a drink that was free of carbohydrates, the process of distillation would be a meaningless procedure. Only after distillation, when the resultant liquid is transformed into ethyl alcohol (ethanol), will a once-fermented liquid truly become carbohydrate-free.

You might notice while shopping for wine that some fruit-blended wines actually carry a nutritional analysis statement on them. For any wine with an alcohol content of less than 7% by volume, the Food and Drug Administration actually has jurisdiction over the nutritional labeling of the product. However, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has jurisdiction over the mandated government warnings that are also found on the labels of these wines and of all alcohol-based products. This is one of the few times that the FDA gets involved in the realm of spirited beverages with the TTB. You'll also find nutritional information on ciders under 7%.

What kind of a margin of error does the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau allow in the measurement of carbohydrates in wine? From the TTB ruling: Statements of carbohydrates and fat contents [on wine labels or advertising materials] are acceptable provided the actual carbohydrate or fat contents, as determined by ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the former alcohol trade regulatory agency) lab analysis, are within a reasonable range below, but in no case more than 20% above, the labeled amount.

If you're on a low-carbohydrate diet and enjoy the occasional pressings from "the noble grape," the following list of wines with their carbohydrate counts should help you keep your daily carb intake in check:

Barton & Guestier

Cabernet Sauvignon ('02) 5 oz 1.70 g
Chardonnay ('02) 5 oz 1.10 g
French Tom Cabernet Sauvignon ('02) 5 oz 1.30 g
French Tom Chardonnay ('02) 5 oz 1.10 g
French Tom Merlot ('01) 5 oz 1.40 g


Ecco Domani

Cabernet Sauvignon ('01) 5 oz 4.00 g
Chianti ('01) 5 oz 3.60 g
Merlot ('01) 5 oz 4.05 g
Pinot Bianco ('96) 5 oz 3.50 g
Pinot Grigio ('02) 5 oz 3.15 g


For more information on the carbohydrate count of more than 1000 worldwide brands of beer, 400 wines, 60 liqueurs, and distilled products, go to www.lcbartender.com.


© Bob Skilnik, 2004


Bob Skilnik is a Chicagoland freelance writer who has written for the Chicago Tribune, the Collector Magazine, the American Breweriana Association's Journal and the National Association Breweriana Advertising's Breweriana Collector on the subjects of beer, brewery history and breweriana. He is a 1991 graduate of the Chicago-based Siebel Institute of Technology, the oldest brewing school in the United States, with a degree in Brewing Technology.

His interests in beer and brewing were cultivated while serving as a German translator in West Germany for the United States Army. Skilnik is the Associate Editor for the ABA Journal and The Tap newspaper, and a member of the Society of Midland Authors and the Culinary Historians of Chicago. He has appeared in the Chicagoland area on Media One's television program, The Buzz, WTTW's Chicago Tonight with Bob Sirott and Phil Ponce, Chicago's Public Radio station, WBEZ , Springfield, IL's WUIS Radio and the WOR Morning Show with Ed Walsh in New York. Skilnik's national television appearances have been on the Cold Pizza morning show on ESPN2 and Fox News Live.

Skilnik's latest effort is The Low-Carb Bartender, published by Adams Media. This reference book of hundreds of beers, wines, liquors, and liqueurs with their carbohydrate counts and a collection of over two hundred low carb mixed-drink recipes will be available in bookstores in November, 2004.


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