Pouring it Slim

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By Coty Dolores Miranda

Master Sommelier Greg Tresner, and sommelier Ruthie

Let’s admit it, Thanksgiving through New Year’s was a caloric mine field fraught with diet dangers for the average person, let alone someone battling to lose, or even maintain their pre-holidays weight.

Not only was there a parade of temptations – like Tia’s homemade pork tamales, and all those delicious baked goods – but there was also the opportunity to enjoy holiday cheer with friends.

Modern vintners feel our pain and are marketing low-calorie wines to help us shave a few more calories while still imbibing responsibly. And though this is a fairly recent movement beginning a few years back mainly with white wines, you can now find lower calorie reds, too.

As Sean Marron, director of wine at the Valley’s Phoenician Resort points out, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require nutritional values to be listed on alcohol (frankly, I’m glad), but with a little advance knowledge, you can find and enjoy good wines for less – calories, that is.

The USDA National Nutrient Data Base tells us most red wines with 13.7 percent alcohol content will run about 106 calories and higher for a 5-ounce serving; white wines start at about 100 calories.  (And should you fill a copious red wine glass, you’ll have twice that much. With new DUI laws and for your own enlightenment, take time to do an at-home measurement to determine what 4 to 5 ounces looks like.)

Also of help is the knowledge that the younger the grape, the lower the sugar content and thus less alcohol and fewer calories. This is why early low-cal wines were mainly chardonnays and semillon/sauvignon blancs.

But remember, even selecting the lower calorie/lower sugar wines,  you’re saving a modest amount of calories – perhaps as little as 6 or 10 a glass.

In the red wines, Campo Romano Pinot Noir from the Poderi Colla vineyards in Italy is one of Marron’s low-cal suggestions. This delicately colored wine has spicy notes of white pepper, fruit and flowers with oak notes and a silky texture and at 12 to 13 percent alcohol by volume is just 100 calories per serving.

The Bouchard Chambolle-Musigny from Burgundy, France, has 99 calories.  This thin-skinned French pinot noir has a lean texture and red cherry flavors with a touch of earth. The acidity keeps the flavors lively and appetizing, flavors one can enjoy without feeling compelled to work off the calories later.

Other lower-cal reds include Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre Rouge from the Loire Valley.

The Vacherons have bottled a festive dry red with hints of cherry and raspberry jam at 100 calories a glass. With these fine wines, there’s no sacrifice in taste.

White wines are generally lower in calories than reds which can reach 120 calories for a 5-ounce serving, or 170 calories for ports. Remember, the younger the grape, the lower the alcohol/sugar content and the fewer calories.

Marron also suggests another way to select less-caloric wines is by wine regions.  For the most part, the cooler the wine region, the less ripe the grapes are when they are harvested and therefore, the lower the sugar content of the wine.

The Phoenician’s Master Sommelier Greg Tresner suggests the Louis Michel Chablis, a 12.5 percent alcohol by volume Chardonnay from France that is lime-scented.

“It tastes like it has no calories. You’ll feel lighter drinking this wine,” says  Tresner.

Since sparkling wines, especially Champagnes, are grown in cooler climates, they have relatively lower alcohol levels and fewer calories. (As a lover of bubbly year round, to me, this is good news.)

Not everyone is sold on shopping for wines with only calories in mind.

Ariel Ceja of Napa’s Ceja Vineyards, one of the first completely owned and operated Mexican-American wineries in the country, considers low-calorie wines more of a gimmick.

“It’s not so much that low-calorie wines are bad – but the grapes used to make this wine have not reached proper maturity to fully express varietal characteristics like the fruit aromas/flavors and everything that comes with it – proper acid levels, proteins, tannin levels,” she says.

Krisi Raymond, a fifth-generation member of the family winemakers at Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif. advises moderation:

“Go for the taste and don’t worry about the calories.” Then, take a walk after dinner.

Where to buy

Most of the wines discussed here are available at the Phoenician Resort, which offers one of the most extensive wine collections in the U.S. with more than 45,000 bottles and 2,500 labels. It also boasts 36 sommeliers throughout the resort’s restaurants.

Master Sommelier Greg Tresner, along with his team at Mary Elaine’s, was recently nominated for the James Beard Award as one of only five establishments nationwide cited for Best Wine Service.

For more information on wines, dining and where to buy the wines in this story, visit or call (480) 423-2530.

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