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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, but, 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 excellent 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 thought 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 really 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 really has jurisdiction over the nutritional labeling of the product. But, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has jurisdiction over the mandated government warnings that are also found on the marks 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 stout contents [on wine marks or advertising materials] are acceptable provided the actual carbohydrate or stout 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 delight in 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

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