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These Wine Varietals Are Naturally Lower-Calorie — and Taste Fantastic

By Pamela Vachon
April 6, 2022

A glass of wine with a meal is something worth savoring. Wine and food are extremely complementary companions, with the natural acidity and sweetness in wine capable of enhancing anything you are eating. Texture in wine also plays a part in how well it can elevate your dining experience: Tannins, bubbles, and tang can also cut through richer dishes, cleansing your palate and inviting the next bite. While wine can definitely be part of a mindful, health-forward diet, it can also be a slippery slope in terms of inadvertently taking in more liquid calories than is good for you. Fortunately, many winemakers are responding to the better-for-you movement by producing and marketing naturally made, low calorie wine.

Read next: 7 Lighter Versions of Your Favorite Comfort Food Recipes (That Still Taste Great)

António Soares Franco is Vice President of Portuguese wine brand José Maria da Fonseca, whose Twin Vines Vinho Verde is one such selection: A wine that actually has nutrition information printed on the label. “The natural identity of the wine is low in alcohol and calories,” he says. “People are concerned about their diets and their health, so we’re using the opportunity to show what our vinho verde is all about,” noting that it’s a great choice for people who like to drink wine and enjoy themselves — but in a more healthy way.

Dave Edmonds, Chief Winemaker for New Zealand’s Kim Crawford, concurs: Over the last couple of years, we have found that wellness has transitioned from a short-term trend to a more sustainable, longer-term lifestyle choice. As such, Kim Crawford’s Illuminate line allows us to better reach those consumers seeking healthier, more balanced options.”

Winemakers such as those at JM Fonseca and Kim Crawford aren’t deviating from standard winemaking processes or changing up their formulas — these lighter wines are not the Diet Coke of winemaking. In these processes, taste and texture don’t become a casualty in pursuit of better health, bringing you balanced, low calorie wine.

Understanding the content of wine

A 5-ounce glass of wine, on average, clocks in at about 120 calories, which is roughly the same impact as 12 ounces of beer or two ounces of an 80-proof spirit. The calories in wine come from both its sugar and alcohol content, and it’s important to understand that those elements are inversely related. The winemaking process converts grape sugar into alcohol, so for a majority of table wines, the lower the sugar, the higher the alcohol content and vice versa, but the calories are there either way. A slightly sweet riesling with a lower alcohol content, or a dry, grippy cabernet with a high octane ABV are still going to score similarly on the caloric impact scale. It doesn’t necessarily follow that all drier wines are better for you — especially if they are on the higher side of the ABV spectrum.

Wine grape and weather factors

Different varieties of wine grapes, however, have different potential for producing sugar in the first place, which is the key with wines like JM Fonseca’s Twin Vines Vinho Verde. White grapes, especially those that can grow in wetter, cooler climates, tend to be higher in acid and lower in sugar when they are ripe. While Vinho Verde translates to “green wine” in Portuguese, that doesn’t actually speak to the ripeness of the grapes. 

low calorie wine: vinho verde fields in portugal

“A lot of people think that Vinho Verde means ‘unripe grapes,’ says JM Fonseca’s Head Winemaker Domingos Soares Franco. “It’s very high in acidity, and people think that the high acidity means that the grapes don’t reach full maturation, but no. The grapes are fully ripe, the thing is that the grapes are planted in an area of northeast Portugal where it rains a lot more and is much cooler than other regions.” 

The name Vinho Verde actually refers to the lush landscape and rainy climate of the corner of Northern Portugal it occupies, and is made from a blend of native grapes that do well in the region. Stylistically, Vinho Verde is made to be a slightly spritzy, fresh, low-alcohol wine, and so it’s a perfect candidate to promote for the better-for-you category. A low calorie wine in its natural state, Twin Vines Vinho Verde has only 10% alcohol and 85 calories per glass, and pairs beautifully with seafood, especially sushi.

Other white grapes that tend to be naturally lower in sugar when grown in cooler climates include pinot grigio, riesling, albariño, and sauvignon blanc (especially those grown in Marlborough, New Zealand) where winemakers can choose to harvest grapes early, just at the point of maturation, so there is less sugar to convert to alcohol.

Low calorie wine distillation technology

Along with a growing trend in better-for-you choices, the lower- or no-alcohol movement is also having a moment, and with that, spinning cone technology is on the rise. Spinning cone columns are used via distillation in a process that was initially intended to remove sulfites in wine, but also has the possibility to remove alcohol, while retaining many of the volatile compounds that create aroma and flavor. Its use is on the rise in winemaking broadly, especially due to climate change, to keep wines in warmer climates from going beyond the 15% ABV mark. It is common, and legal, in many winemaking regions, to reduce the alcohol content in standard table wines by up to 2% to produce wines that are full bodied and balanced.

For Kim Crawford winemaker Edmonds, creating a lighter Marlborough sauvignon blanc with all of the hallmark flavors of the region was a combination of vineyard management and spinning cone technology. “For sauvignon blanc, it’s about managing irrigation, keeping a close eye on soil and nutrition, and managing the canopy to provide the air flow and shade required to bring its tropical and citrus characters to life,” he says. “Not only do we source grapes from the best vineyards across Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, but we leverage spinning cone technology to reduce the alcohol from a portion of the base wine.” Kim Crawford’s Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc comes together by blending a portion of dealcoholized wine with the base wine, for a resulting low calorie wine that has only 7% alcohol and 70 calories per glass, with a light body and expressive flavors of passionfruit, guava, and citrus. 

Full on flavor, not so full on calories, this growing trend in lighter wines is definitely one worth raising a glass to. Here are a few of our favorite low calorie wines.

Low calorie wine brands to try

JM Fonseca Twin Vines Vinho Verde

85 calories per serving

Made from a blend of four indigenous Portuguese grape varietals, the resulting wine is lively, crisp, and slightly spritzy, with bright citrus and tropical fruit notes.

Kim Crawford Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc

70 calories per serving

Elegant yet full flavored with lifted aromas of guava and passionfruit, its crisp acidity is highlighted with a refreshing herbal and citrus finish.

Kim Crawford Illuminate Rosé

70 calories per serving

An ideal warm weather sipper, this crisp and light rosé shows fresh berry flavors and notes of watermelon and florals, with a dry finish.

Avaline White Blend

99 calories per serving

Made from a blend of organic Spanish grapes, this lovely white has a strong mineral backbone with notes of peach blossom, tropical fruit, and tangy lemon.

Mind & Body Rosé

90 calories per serving

A delicate, floral California rosé, made with a blend of syrah, merlot, zinfandel, and grenache, with light and lively berry flavors.

FitVine Chenin Blanc

104 calories per serving

Light in body but full in flavor, with honeydew melon, green apple, and sweet citrus coming forward on the palate, finishing dry and tart.

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