Friday, 17 January 2014

New Year - new you?

It’s a media mantra at this time of year – a diet and exercise regime to create a whole new person out of that lump of lard that has spent the best part of two weeks either parked in front of the TV or eating – or both at the same time.

Yet just a few short weeks ago those same newspapers and magazines were bombarding us with images of decadent desserts and indulgent Christmas treats to gorge ourselves on over the festive period. This invitation to fatten ourselves up like the livers of foie gras geese followed close on the heels of exhortations to get ourselves thin enough to sparkle in our Christmas party gear.

But now the pendulum has swung back again and we are made to feel guilty for giving into the temptation of all those high-fat treats washed down with a glass or three of wine. Now the talk is all about denial and detox so that we can release that fitter, svelter, younger version of ourselves that we have been doing our best to disguise in a fat suit in recent weeks. Before we know it we’ll be measuring the circumference of our thighs with a fatuous smile on our faces as the weight drops off.

Gawd help us, are we really such mindless hamsters on a wheel, that we respond automatically to whatever stimulus is put in front of us?

And am I really going to peddle wine, those cocktails of empty calories and evil alcohol, at this time of year? Hell yes, January is bad enough without depriving yourself of the occasional glass of something.

The Drinkaware website is full of useful, if rather downbeat, information on alcohol and its effects, including the number of calories contained in a glass of wine. Their statistics are based on a 250ml glass of wine, ie a third of a bottle. This amount of wine containing 13% alcohol provides 200 calories and constitutes 3.3 units of alcohol. And no matter how fruity the wine, it does nothing towards your five a day.

I would like to make a couple of modest suggestions based on this information. First of all, 250ml is a lot of wine to have in a glass. You might think, just one glass is fine, but at 3.3 units of alcohol that is already in excess of the recommended drinking guidelines for a woman (which is no more than 2-3 units a day). Whether those guidelines have any scientific validity and whether there is any such thing as a “safe” level of alcohol intake are hotly debated questions  - which I do not intend to debate.

Here is a small illustration of what 125ml and 250ml look like in the glasses I generally drink from at home. What immediately strikes me (other than the fact that my wine has gone blue), is that the bigger measure doesn’t look anything like twice the amount in the other glass.

If you tend to pour something closer to the glass on the right, it might be a good idea to measure 125ml in a measuring jug and see what that looks like in your own wine glasses, so that you can get in to the habit of smaller measures. You can still have your glass of wine, but you’re not blowing more than 3 units in one go – and your calorie intake is kept down too. A 125ml glass of Champagne (almost always 12% alcohol) constitutes a single unit of alcohol and a more reasonable 86 calories (the equivalent of a chocolate digestive biscuit the helpful bods at Drinkaware inform me).

Lower calorie and lower alcohol wine options

I’m a full fat milk kinda person and instinctively shrink from anything that is a light or low fat version of the real thing. I would always rather choose a small amount of what I really like, rather than lots of something that doesn’t quite hit the spot. So if I were to be counting the calories in my wine, that 125ml of Champagne looks good to me.

However, there are also a number of wines who advertise their lower alcohol and lower than average calories. Generally they are made from grapes are picked earlier than usual, so sugar levels start out  lower than in fully ripe grapes. Many of the finished wines also have quite a bit of residual sugar, ie not added, but sugar that was already present in the grape juice and which remains after fermentation.

Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2011 - £9.99 from Taurus Wines (Bramley)
A lower (9.5%) alcohol version of one of this country’s favourite wine styles – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I have actually tasted this wine and it slips down easily with bags of fruit, juicy acidity and is definitely off-dry. All fair enough, but don’t go looking for complexity with this kind of wine. 90 calories for 148mls.

Jacob’s Creek Cool Harvest – RRP £8
Jacob’s Creek have a range of wines including a Sauvignon Blanc and a Shiraz rosé with alcohol levels of 9.5-10.5% and clocking in at 100 calories per 120mls.

If your tastes are more on the bone dry side, then make friends with Australian Semillon. Most famously grown in the Hunter Valley, Semillon makes for intensely limey, crisp and bone dry wines with modest alcohol levels.  Young wines are incredibly fresh palate-sharpeners, but Semillon also ages beautifully, developing toasty, lime marmalade flavours with more time in bottle. Try Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Hunter Valley Aged Semillon as an example, which has 10.2% alcohol and 114 calories per 125ml glass.

And don’t worry if counting calories and units is getting you down, the media pendulum will soon swing back again as we head towards Valentine’s Day, accompanied as it is by a tsunami of chocolate and pink fizz.  Come April and Easter means more chocolate…. closely followed by the anticipation of summer and a raft of regimes to get your body bikini-ready. Back to our wheels, hamsters.

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