What is the relationship between alcohol and weight?

Steve Delaney
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Some winemakers are reducing the alcohol levels in their wines, partly in response to perceived consumer demand. Why are some wine drinkers looking for less alcohol?

Last week, we covered how the alcohol content of wines can be reduced through either natural or technical means. Such reductions are usually aimed at taking a few percentage points off a wine in the 15 per cent range so that it ends up in the more traditional 13 per cent range. There are comparative studies which indicate wine drinkers prefer the taste of wines with this level of alcohol.

Beyond taste, some consumers are worried about calories and alcohol consumption. We are now seeing wines in which technical reduction methods are used to bring levels below 10 per cent. A wine with a rating of nine per cent has just two-thirds the alcohol of a 13.5 per cent wine.

The standard method of measuring the calorie content of foods and beverages is to subject them to a “bomb calorimeter” and completely convert the item into its energy equivalent.

Alcohol is measured to have seven calories per gram when it is tested in this way (noting that scientifically we are actually talking about kilocalories). Supposedly a 125 ml glass of 13.5 per cent dry wine should contain about 100 calories. A nine per cent wine would ring in at only 67 calories.

But does the body process alcohol in such a way that we need to be concerned about all those calories? The answer is not entirely clear.

Dealing with alcohol becomes the top priority of the liver when we drink, because alcohol is a toxin in the body. The liver stops its normal work and starts converting alcohol into chemicals that can be eliminated from the body.

The first step turns it into acetaldehyde, which is then converted into acetate. Acetate is the compound that the body uses to generate cellular energy at which point the final products are water and carbon dioxide.

So, drinking seems to result in the production of energy, which is probably one reason we get hot when we drink. Even if all those calories are not kept on board, other things are happening while the liver is busy.

Drinking stimulates appetite and encourages increased food consumption. And while you are burning along on your alcohol energy, that food energy has to go somewhere!

This is all a little academic, and we should be concerned about the main point: are these low alcohol wines any good?

First, it should be noted that there are already some enjoyable wines that fall naturally in the low alcohol range. Many German wines, Portugal’s vinho verde, Italy’s Brachetto d’Acqui and others from around the world fit this category already. Using technical processes extends the range of such wines available to us, which is probably a good thing.

On the other hand, perhaps we can continue to enjoy a full-bodied wine with traditional levels of alcohol, and just drink two-thirds the amount!

The Miranda Summer Hues Shiraz 2012 (NLC $16.48) is a nine per cent wine from Australia. It showed typical dark red colour and had the bramble fruit aromas one would expect from an Aussie Shiraz. Tannins were just noticeable, and the usual heat of alcohol was muted, so in the mouth the wine favoured its fruity side.

Perhaps this might best be enjoyed as a sipper on the deck, as the name suggests. Score: 13/Good.

Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at sdelaney@nfld.com

Twitter: @delaneystephen

Organizations: Opimian Society

Geographic location: Portugal, Italy, Australia

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