Drink This, Not That: Your Guide to Low-Carb Wine
As a wine lover, you might be wondering if you can still enjoy your favorite vino while maintaining a low-carb lifestyle. Maybe you're following a paleo or keto diet and want to make sure that having a glass of wine isn't going to throw your health goals off track.
Well, we have good news: Wine can certainly be part of your low-carb diet, you just have to choose the right types of wine — in other words, low-carb wines. Join us as we delve into the topic of low-carb wine, including what it is, which varietals are best when you're counting carbs, and which wines you should avoid altogether.
A Quick Word About Carbs
Sugars, carbs, calories. Welcome to the world of adulting where you've come to the sobering realization that eating and drinking whatever, whenever is no way to live anymore. You've educated yourself on the perils of consuming too many sugars, carbohydrates, and calories (yes, they're all intertwined) and you want to make better choices for the overall health benefits.
But before we go any further, let's quickly review the basics of carbohydrates just so you have it all organized in your mind. As you may already know, carbs are naturally occurring sugars, starches, and fiber that your body uses for fuel. All carbs are comprised of sugar molecules and are found in a variety of foods and drinks — from fruits and dairy to grains and veggies — and they provide you with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
There are two primary types of carbs: simple and complex. Simple carbs include natural sugars (like fructose from fruit and lactose from milk) as well as added sugars like white sugar and corn syrup. Our bodies digest simple carbs rather quickly as they don't have much fiber at all, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike. On the other hand, complex carbs contain a good amount of fiber and take longer to digest, resulting in a gradual increase in blood sugar.
The reason all of this matters is because our modern American diet is far from balanced when it comes to carbs. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that the average American consumes 77 grams of sugar every day, which translates to approximately 60 pounds of sugar per year. Yikes! As a result, there's a greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, among other chronic conditions. Clearly, monitoring carb intake is an important part of wellness.
Good to know: When following a paleo, Atkins, ketogenic, or other low-carb diet, the term "net carbs" is a common one. This simply refers to the total carbohydrate content of any given food minus the fiber content. When reading nutrition labels, you can calculate the net carbs by subtracting the amount of fiber from the total number of carbs.
Understanding Carbs in Wine
Since all alcohol is derived from sugar, there's no such thing as sugar-free wine. That said, there are low-carb wines that don't contain any added sugars — it all depends on the winemaking process.
The sugar content (and therefore carb content) in wine is affected by several factors, including when the grapes are harvested. Varietals that are left on the vine longer create a sweeter and more raisin-like grape with higher sugar levels. While the most famous late-harvest varietal is Riesling, winemakers can apply this approach to any wine grape, be it Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, or Chenin Blanc.
The fermentation process also directly impacts the sugar content in wine. During this phase of wine production, the sugars in the grape juice are converted into alcohol. If fermentation is stopped early before all the sugars are converted, you end up with more residual sugar and therefore a sweeter wine. If fermenting continues until completion, there will be less residual sugar, thus creating a drier wine.
Good to know: When looking for low-carb wine, always opt for dry wine. There are many dry red wines, white wines, rosé wines, and sparkling wines, including Usual Wines, which have zero grams of sugar (and zero additives or preservatives).
It's worth noting that many winemakers use additives, including added sugars, flavors, and preservatives like sulfites. Chaptalization involves adding sugar to wine to increase its alcohol content, which can also affect the carbs in wine.
Generally speaking, the lower the alcohol by volume (ABV), the lower the sugar content — wine with 10-12% ABV is a good rule of thumb when seeking low-carb options. For more details, be sure to check out our guide to alcohol content in wine.
What To Drink: Low-Carb Wine Options
When monitoring your carb intake, consider the following wines that can help you stay on track. Remember: Select dry wines as these will have the fewest grams of sugar, and therefore the least amount of carbs.
Here are a few dry red wines that average less than 4 grams of sugar per 5-ounce serving, which is the standard serving size per U.S. guidelines:
Here are several dry white wines that average less than 4 grams of sugar per 5-ounce serving:
- Brut Champagne: less than 2 grams of carbs
- Sauvignon Blanc: 3 grams of carbs
- Chardonnay: 3.2 grams of carbs
- Pinot Grigio: 3.8 grams of carbs
Good to know: When it comes to Champagne and sparkling wine, choose Extra Brut, Brut Nature, or Brut Zero for the driest options. Usual Brut Sparkling Wine has zero grams of sugar yet plenty of delightful bubbles and a clean, refreshing flavor.
What Not To Drink: High-Carb Wine Options
In general, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Grenache are red wines that tend to be higher in carbs, with at least 4 grams of carbs per 5-ounce pour. When following a ketogenic diet or other low-carb eating plan, steer clear of these wines that can send your carb count soaring:
- Cheap, mass-produced wines: These usually contain added sugar (thus increasing the carb count) well as other additives and undisclosed ingredients.
- Dessert wines: This includes sweet wines and ice wines (Eiswein), which have the highest sugar content.
- Sangria: This drink is typically made with fruit, fruit juice, and sweeteners such as sugar or syrup.
- Fortified wines: Sherry, Port, Madeira, and Marsala and other fortified wines have higher sugar levels.
- Late-harvest wines: Any wine with "late-harvest" on the label, such as late-harvest Riesling, Moscato, or Pinot Gris.
- Dolce, demi-sec, or semi-sec: Any wine with these terms on the label indicates more residual sugar.
- Champagne Doux: This is the sweetest version with at least 50 grams of residual sugar per liter of wine (talk about a sweet tooth!).
Cut Carbs and Carry On
You don't have to say goodbye to drinking alcohol when following a low-carb diet. While you'll need to rethink that daily donut run or lunchtime bag of chips, you can still enjoy a glass of wine every now and again as part of your overall wellness routine. (There's even some research that shows drinking red wine in moderation offers some health benefits.)
When looking for low-carb wine, opt for dry wines that have less residual sugar. Fortunately, you can find options whether you're a fan of red, white, or rosé — just take a look at the selection of Usual Wines low-carb wines and you can see for yourself. For even more ideas on how to include a delicious glass of wine into your health-conscious lifestyle, don't miss our guides to keto-friendly wine and low-sugar wine.