Wine myth: sweet wine makes you fat, or why fruity German Riesling is good with a diet

Wine myth: sweet wine makes you fat, or why fruity German Riesling is good with a diet

German wine is sweet. Sweet wine will make you fat whereas dry wine won't. Therefore German wine will ruin your diet. Actually, both statements and the conclusion are wrong.

First of all let me say that the majority of wine made in Germany is dry; it just so happens the we export more of the sweet stuff. Now the more interesting question in the context of this posting: what about residual sugar and calories? After all, some of the fruity Rieslings have dozens of grams of sugar - isn't that bad for my waistline? Yes, but no. Actually, it is the alcohol level you should be concerned about too: While 1 gram of alcohol has about 7 kcal, 1 gram of sugar has only about 4 kcal.

The key process in making wine is fermentation during which sugar is transformed into alcohol. To oversimplify the process: stop the fermentation earlier and you get more sugar and less alcohol, but without dramatically changing the calorie count in the process. This means we have to look at the individual wine to find out how bad it really is. An example:

I just tasted the WeightWatchers 2008 Fruity White that is said to have 64kcal per 100 ml. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? After all, this is a WeightWatchers wine, so it must be as low as the calorie count can get - and that would mean dramatically less than a sugar heavy wine.

Compare the 2006 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Spätlese, a wine that, as winemaker Molitor informs us, has 7.5% alcohol and the shocking amount of 106.7 grams of residual sugar. One would assume that this one is a calories bomb, as the Germans call it. But let's do some maths.

The Molitor has 7.5% alcohol, which means that 7.5% of the wine's volume (750ml per bottle), are alcohol. Therefore the wine contains 56,25 ml or about 45 g of ethanol (there are 0.789 g ethanol per ml). As 1 g ethanol has about 7 kcal, we are looking at 315 kcal because of the alcohol level, to which we add 4.1*106.7=437,47kcal because of the sugar level to get about 750 kcal for the sweet wine from the Mosel. Seems shocking, but we have to divide that by 7.5 as this is per bottle compared to the 64kcl per 100 ml WeightWatchers wine. And we get: almost exactly 100 kcal.

In plain English, this means that the super sugar heavy late harvest has only 50% more calories than the diet wine - despite having over 100 g residual sugar! Compare that to the standard version of Coca-Cola whose calorie count is about 100 times higher than that of the diet version!

Obviously, if you were on a diet the difference between the Molitor and the WeightWatchers would still make a, hm, difference. However, wouldn't it be better to compare the diet wine to a 'normal' wine, let's say a typical fruity Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel, at 10% alcohol (415 kcl) and 16 g (66 kcal) residual sugar? This wine would have about 64 kcal per 100 ml - which is pretty much identical to the WeightWatchers but almost certainly much more tasty.

And as a final comparison take a wine made by winemakers Trockene Schmitts ('Dry Schmitts'), the Silvaner Konsequent. With 13% alcohol, this - as you could think - diet friendly wine with only 0.5 g residual sugar does actually have about 72 kcal per 100 ml - so despite having 200 times less sugar than the Molitor sugar bomb it still has more than 2/3 of its calorie count. So remember to keep an eye on the alcohol level!

This actually means that if your are on a diet, go for a fruity German Riesling, as long as you stay away from the sugar heavy Spätlese or Auslese. The category you will be looking for on the label is 'halbtrocken' or half-dry, meaning that the wine should have 9-18 g of residual sugar.

Submitted by Caroline Tuesday, 04/08/2009

Good grief that is a lot of numbers! The scientist in me craves a table. So alcohol=calories
P.S. Your ... and ,,, are a little mixed.

Submitted by torsten Wednesday, 05/08/2009

While you might be scared away by the numbers (or crave a table, if you are a scientist), there is a bigger problem with the calculations, as I just found out. A colleague with a background in biology pointed out to me the kcal is not like kcal. What does that mean?

If you burn 1 g of ethanol you will measure about 7 kcal of energy. However, the human body does not process ethanol in that way and is actually not able to get the full amount of (potential) energy out of the alcohol, whereas it is much better with sugar - sadly for some. The body does not convert most of the alcohol into fat, but into a substance called acetate. This means that not only will the body need some energy to do that, it can apparently also get less calories out of acetate. One source I found suggested that we would have to half the kcal that the body will get from alcohol in the calculations above.

But don't be so quick to call me wrong, as it actually is even more complicated. Acetate in your blood stream will apparently slow down the body's fat metabolism - the body will look for the acetate fist as a source of energy and not the body fat. This means that drinking wine with high levels of alcohol while on a diet will still be bad for you as it keeps your body from reducing its fat reserves. In addition to that, alcohol acts as a potent appetizer and will increase calorie intake. Do also have a look at these two websites:

As often, we find that the answer is a bit more complicated. Having said that, the conclusions I drew would still be correct: First of all, there is no point in drinking the bad WeightWatchers wine as the wines I have cited above would all have their calorie count reduced too - the Mosel Kabinett wine would be reduced to about 40 'effective' kcal, as would be the WeightWatchers wine (assuming they have not already factored that in, in which case its balance would be even worse). The dry Silvaner would now look like a diet wine and even a glass of the Molitor every other day would not be the end for your diet.

Submitted by tammy Sunday, 09/08/2009

I shall have more 'fruity German Riesling', even though I am not on a diet.