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Correction to This Article
Correction: A version of this column that appeared in the newspaper on Dec. 25, in a section that was printed in advance, incorrectly stated that the Carl Jung wine is named for the analyst.

Wine and Beer That Won't Make You Fat or Tipsy? I'll Drink to That!

At seven calories per gram, alcohol contains nearly double the calories found in protein and carbohydrates and just shy of the nine calories in a gram of fat.
At seven calories per gram, alcohol contains nearly double the calories found in protein and carbohydrates and just shy of the nine calories in a gram of fat. (By Cate Gillon -- Getty Images)

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By Sally Squires
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The holidays mark the end of one year and the beginning of another -- a worthy occasion for celebration. So it's hardly surprising that wine, beer and spirits flow freely.

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Those who can't imbibe (or choose not to, for health, weight, safety or other reasons) often feel left out of the merriment. But a growing number of nonalcoholic wines and beers are giving them new options.

Question is: Are they drinkable? Or would it be better to ask for sparkling water with a twist of lime and wait to sing "Auld Lang Syne"?

To answer that, I got an array of nonalcoholic beverages and drank them so that you wouldn't have to. Since palates can vary widely, I also recruited some of my more daring colleagues -- and my husband -- to taste them, too. All told, we tried four types of beer and 14 varieties of wine. Results are included below.

But first, welcome to the sixth and final week of the Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. If you're just discovering the challenge, whose goal is simply to keep weight steady during the holiday season, it's not too late to join in. Figure it this way: If you've already gained a few pounds, you may be able to stave off any additional weight by making adjustments now. If you haven't gained any weight, you'll find tips, tools and goals to maintain your weight until 2008 at http://www.leanplateclub.com/holidaychallenge.

Alcohol can be a huge caloric addition to festivities already celebrated with some of the best-tasting, highest-calorie food available. At seven calories per gram, alcohol contains nearly double the calories found in protein and carbohydrates and just shy of the nine calories in a gram of fat.

As if that weren't enough, alcohol is easily converted by the body into fat. Plus, the diminished inhibition that go hand in hand with drinking can undermine the best intentions to eat smart.

Nonalcoholic brews and vintages generally contain about half the calories of regular beer and wine. They're also very low in alcohol -- about 0.5 percent, compared with 11 to 14 percent for wine and 3 to 10 percent for beer. But because these beverages are not completely alcohol-free, they may not be options for recovering alcoholics or those who must avoid all alcohol.

As for cost, these nonalcoholic beverages won't beat the $3 bottle of award-winning chardonnay you can find at some Trader Joe's locations. But at about $5 to $7 per bottle of wine and $5 to $6 for a six-pack of beer, they're competitively priced.

The taste may also surprise you. It did us, though not every bottle we sampled was a winner.

Beverage producers told me the public has readily accepted nonalcoholic beers. After I opened a cold bottle of Gerstel from Germany, I could see why. It was flavorful and frankly delicious. I sipped it with dinner and found it a great substitute for regular brew. I'd even rate it above the taste of some regular light beers.

On another night, I uncorked a bottle of 2004 Ariel chardonnay and sipped a small glass, just as I might do with regular wine while cooking dinner. At first it seemed a little watery, and I missed the full body of regular wine. But with a little food and a few more sips, it was an acceptable option. My husband, a man with more discriminating taste buds, pronounced the chardonnay "drinkable, but barely."


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