‘Diet’ wines to try

Under $20 

Cavit Pinot Grigio, Italy

Babich Marlborough Dry Riesling, New Zealand

Beringer White Zinfandel, U.S.A.
Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rosè, France

Rickety Bridge Foundation Stone Rosè, South Africa

Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc Rosè, France

George DuBoeuf Beaujolais, France


Under $25 

Marchesi di Barolo Gavi, Italy

Lunetta Prosecco, Italy

Lunetta Prosecco Rose, Italy

Marchesi di Barolo “Madonna del Dono” Dolcetto d’Alba, Italy


Under $50 

Bouchard Père & Fils Gevrey-Chambertin Burgundy, France

L’abeille de Fieuzal Rouge, France


It’s the time of year when many people are trying to cut calories and lose weight, and now that you’ve been drawn into this story with an alluring headline that suggests there is such a thing as “diet wines,” here’s the bad news: There is no equivalent to Michelob ULTRA in the wine world.

However, the good news is that if you are going to drink alcohol while trying to lose weight, and you do not want to suffer through watery light beers or clear spirits with no mixers, then wine is a good choice. Although there aren’t any “diet” wines in the true sense, some wines definitely have fewer calories than others.

Alcohol content 

The higher the alcohol content ‑ expressed in terms of a percentage called Alcohol by Volume, or ABV – the more calories a wine will have.

Generally speaking, those looking to reduce calories should look for wines that have an ABV of 13 percent or less in red wines, 12.5 percent or less for rosès, and 12 percent or less with white wines. Most red wines and rosès today have higher ABVs than that, so your choices are going to be limited. The choices are much wider with white wines.

Almost all wines available retail will state the ABV on the bottle because it’s a legal requirement to do so in many countries. However, most governments allow for a percentage of error in stating the ABV. In the U.S., for example, the error can be has high as 1.5 percent for wines containing 14 percent or less alcohol, and 1 percent for wines that are more than 14 percent alcohol. So, a wine that states it has 13 percent alcohol (the upper target range for “diet” red wines) can actually have as much as 14.5 percent alcohol, and that is not a diet wine at all.

As a result, although stated label ABVs can be a good starting point in choosing a lower calorie wine, weight watchers would be wise to consider other factors as well when picking out a wine that fits their weight loss goals.


In general, the cooler an established wine region is, the less alcohol the wines it produces will possess. Warmer climates create grapes with more sugar. Sugar is converted to alcohol in the fermentation process. This means that in order to create dry (non-sweet) wines, more sugar has to be converted to alcohol from grapes grown in warmer climates, hence a higher ABV. Many red wines from sunny California for example have ABVs over 15 percent.

Traditionally, wine regions in France and Italy produced red wines from popular grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebiollo at around 13 percent ABV or less. However, because of warmer summers in many wine growing regions and a market trend demanding wines with higher alcohol content, finding “big” red wines with ABVs at 13 percent or lower is getting harder. The same holds true with “big” white wines, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

One way to find lower ABVs in both red and white wines is to look at wines from countries like Germany, Austria, Hungary, Canada and New Zealand, as well as cooler growing regions like Oregon in the U.S., Alsace in France, and northern Italy and Spain. Cooler temperatures in these climates tend to reduce the ripeness and sugar levels in grapes grown there, usually – but not always – resulting in lower ABVs.


It probably seems counter-intuitive that a sweet wine could have fewer calories than a dry wine, but in some instances with low-alcohol wines, that was the case.

All grapes have natural sugars in them. Calories in wine come from both the alcohol and the carbohydrates in residual sugar left over after fermentation.

In the process of fermentation, yeast converts sugars to alcohol. To make dry wines, fermentation is allowed to continue until all or nearly all of the sugars are converted to alcohol. Hence, dry wines from warmer growing regions tend to have higher alcohol levels.

To make some sweet wines, fermentation is often deliberately stopped to prevent yeast from converting all the grape sugars to alcohol. Stopping fermentation in this manner keeps the alcohol content lower.

One way to stop fermentation is to lower the temperature to a point that the yeast becomes inactive, which is how White Zinfandel in California is made. Although White Zinfandel would not be considered a sophisticated wine by any stretch of the imagination, it generally has less than 120 calories per 5-ounce glass, mainly because its alcohol levels are 10 percent or lower, especially the less sweet White Zinfandels.

However, not all sweet wines are low in calories, and those that are fortified – like Port and Sherry – have some of the most calories of any wine.


Most dry Champagnes are about 12 percent ABV, so bubbles are good for those watching their waistline and not their wallet. Those on a budget can also choose dry sparkling white wines like Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, similar wines from the U.S., or even other regions of France outside of Champagne. The key is making sure they are dry. Many sparkling wines, and even Champagnes, purposely add sugar in a process called “dosage” to balance the high acidity of the wine. If too much sugar is added, then a sparkling wine or Champagne won’t be low in calories. Look for Extra Brut or Brut Champagnes and sparkling wines and just know that if the glass of bubbles you’re drinking tastes noticeably sweet, it’s probably not low calorie.


All wines have calories and probably even more importantly, alcohol inhibits the metabolic process of converting calories to energy. If you’re drinking a lot of alcohol, you’re not losing weight, so if that was your goal and you do not want to abstain, it’s best to drink in moderation, meaning not every day, and no more than one or two glasses a day.

Drinking water while drinking wine helps limit intake, and white wine or rose spritzers are a great idea, as long as sweetened sodas or fruit juices aren’t used as mixers or other kinds of sweetened ingredients added in the cocktail. Spritzers can not only be refreshing in Cayman’s climates, especially at outdoor venues, but also come in larger servings, meaning one drink can last longer. And, although purists might look at you strangely, feel free to add ice to your house wine at the pool bar if you want. It will not reduce the total number of calories in a glass, but it will reduce the number of calories in each sip, meaning you can get more sips per drink, making it last longer.

Champagnes and sparkling wines, like these regular and rose Proseccos, usually have ABV of 12 percent or less.

Champagnes and sparkling wines, like these regular and rose Proseccos, usually have ABV of 12 percent or less.


It’s harder to find red wines with lower ABVs, but good options from some producers include Beaujolais, Dolcetto and Burgundy.

White wines from cooler climates, like Gavi and Pinot Grigio from northern Italy and dry Riesling from New Zealand, tend to have lower alcohol content and fewer calories. – Photos: Alan Markoff

White wines from cooler climates, like Gavi and Pinot Grigio from northern Italy and dry Riesling from New Zealand, tend to have lower alcohol content and fewer calories. – Photos: Alan Markoff