On my mind this month – January 2023

Hands up who’s going on a diet this month?

Chances are that lots of us need to cut down after an over-indulgent past few weeks and one of the first things to go is often the wine. I once heard a diet-specialist say ‘don’t drink your calories’ and I think that’s fair enough because an average bottle of dry wine contains around 600 calories which is about one third of recommended daily intake for a woman. My problem isn’t necessarily the wine I consume, it’s the munchies that said wine generates whilst I’m consuming it – bowls of chips, sticks of biltong and the ever-dangerous Chuckles – all adding up to a scarily-high calorie count before I even get to supper. Ah me.

So what are the alternatives? Low and no-alcohol wine is on the increase on the shelves, but although less alcohol is good for lots of reasons, losing weight isn’t one of them if the wine has replaced alcohol with a large dollop of sugar. Alcohol is one of the things which carries flavour – a bit like fat in food – but if you’re replacing alcohol with sugar to give the wine more oomph, then you’re kidding yourself that it’s doing you any good. A new-ish technique called spinning cone technology is a big improvement in low/no alcohol wines. This machine spins the wine round so fast that the component parts (water, alcohol, flavour etc) are separated out before being captured and reassembled without the alcohol. This results in a more flavoursome wine, although I have to say that it still lacks the intensity of a normal bottle.

In New Zealand, Dr John Forrest is experimenting with producing grapes with lower sugar levels in the first place. After many years, he’s discovered that leaving certain leaves in place to shade and protect the grapes retains acidity without adding sugar, allowing him to leave the grapes on the vines for longer so they develop full flavours for the wine. The resulting wine comes in a around 9.5% abv without any manipulation in the cellar and is proving a big hit both in New Zealand and around the world. Is this something we could try in South Africa? Very possibly.

The biggest problem with all these ‘healthy’ alternatives is that unless you cut down on quantity, it will make absolutely no difference to you at the end of the day. We’ve all done it haven’t we – eaten 2 of the low-cal biscuits instead of 1, drunk half the bottle of low-cal wine instead of a glass because it’s ‘good for us’. I once went to a dietitian who earnestly urged me ‘Surely you can manage to stick to just one small glass of wine per week?’ and when I said ‘no’, it kind of terminated our relationship (I had another one who said ‘I really can’t see any reason why anyone ever needs to eat butter’ and I got up and walked out of her office at once. I mean – who needs that kind of negativity in their life?).

Sadly, I think the only option is to get some balance in our lives – no wine on a school night, a glass or two at the weekends seems to work for many of us. And if you can stick to that – especially sticking to only a glass and not a bottle – then I think we deserve to drink something delicious, packed with flavour and totally worth the calories. My mother has always maintained ‘A little of what you fancy does you good’ and on that basis, I raise a full- fat, no-holds barred glass and wish you ‘cheers’ to a healthier 2023.