IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Low-carb mania extends to wine labels

Taking advantage of a recent federal ruling, some wineries are tapping into the frenzy for low-carb consumption by listing their carbohydrates on the label.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ever wonder if that full-bodied wine will leave you in a similar condition? Some wineries are tapping into consumers’ low-carb cravings with new labels listing calorie and carbohydrate counts.

Some see the new trend in wine bottles as a way for the premium wine industry to connect with customers who want to know how many carbs are in their chardonnay.

“People want this information and we have a good story to tell,” said Ray Chadwick, president of Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, owner of Beaulieu Vineyard.

Beer companies already are marketing low-carb versions of their product and the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade bureau recently said alcoholic beverage producers may list calorie and carbohydrate content on labels.

Most dry wines are already well below the 7 grams per serving threshold set for calling a beverage low-carb. Any listing must include fat and protein (wine has none of the former and only a trace of the latter) along with calories and carbs. There must be no implication that low-carb alcohol can play a healthy role in losing or maintaining weight.

Diageo, which had been studying nutritional labeling for some time, plans to do that with its BV Coastal, Sterling Vintners Collection and Century Cellars brands. The information will go on labels hung around the top of the bottle, known as bottle neckers. A sample for BV Coastal Estates 2002 chardonnay bills the wine as “Low Carbs, High Standards,” and says a 5-ounce serving contains 3 grams of carbohydrates, 124 calories, less than 1 gram of protein and no fat.

Also giving the lowdown on low carbs is Sutter Home Family Vineyards, which will be using bottle neckers and listing nutritional information on its Web site. Its wines range from 122 calories and 2.7 grams of carbs for the 2002 sauvignon blanc to 119 calories and 4.1 grams of carb for the 2002 merlot.

Sutter Home’s famous white zin, the wine that started the blush rush, has 8.3 grams of carbohydrate per 5-ounce serving, just over the low-carb limit.

Sutter Home and BV aren’t changing their wines, just listing the carb content.

More than just new labels
However, one company, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman, is making special, low-carb wines, One.6 Chardonnay and One.9 Merlot, named after the number of carbohydrates in a 5-ounce serving. Brown-Forman makes Jack Daniel’s and Southern Comfort and also is a leading wine producer, owning California-based Fetzer Vineyards among others.

The new labels are a departure for bottle prose, which up to now has favored the poetic over the pragmatic, said Paul Wagner, owner of Napa-based Balzac Communications & Marketing.

“Telling people that the wine is 100 percent zinfandel from a tiny vineyard 1,300 feet up ... doesn’t really tell American consumers very much about the wine,” Wagner said.

Many diets discourage alcohol or allow only an occasional glass of wine for fear liquor will strengthen the appetite and weaken self-control. The popular Atkins and South Beach diets forbid alcohol in the first stage of the regime, although they do allow moderate consumption later on.

Advertising wine’s carbohydrate content is “probably a smart move,” said James Capparrell, president and publisher of the magazine LowCarb Living. “The common foods and drinks — you tend to forget what is high and low in carbohydrate.”

Wagner doesn’t expect to see carb counts on the most expensive wine —“When people are buying $150 bottles of Bordeaux, I don’t think they care about calories or carbs” — but he does expect it to catch on at the $15-and-under category.

“It’s not going to be a competitive advantage, but I do think simply the fact they are offering this information is going to be an advantage,” Wagner said. “It just really goes to show who’s listening and who isn’t.”

Some look askance at the idea of drinking wine by the numbers.

“For the non-generic wine market, I think it’d be a detriment. Taking wine out of its more craftsmanship positioning and putting it into the cereal category,” said Erica Valentine, co-owner of the Vineyard Outlet, a Napa-based wine shop.

“You’re drinking wine because of enjoyment. If you’re counting calories you probably shouldn’t be drinking wine,” she added with a chuckle.