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Calculating calories over a glass of wine

This column is not going to be pretty, but then neither is the reading on my bathroom scale, which is forcing me to ask the unattractive question: "Is wine making me fat?"

While nursing a blue-cheese float — that is, Rogue Creamery Crater Lake Blue dunked in a dessert wine with 8.3 percent residual sugar — I took my question to the World Wide Web and (surprise!) found a lot of conflicting information. If I turned to a wine industry-sponsored website, I learned that wine was not the reason I'm packing more on my back end. Wine was, however, the culprit if I waddled over to some diet-pushing page.

Impossibly skinny people posting on diet websites warn that wine could be slowing my metabolism, drowning me in nutrient-free calories and reducing my ability to resist tempting, high-calorie snacks (OMG, this cheese it good!). A few glasses of high-sugared, high-alcohol or "heavy" wines a day could slap an extra pound on me every two weeks.

That can't be true, I sputtered to myself, smug in my pants with an elastic waistband. Have these "experts" considered thermogenesis, a godsend I didn't even know existed until a few websites ago? Thermogenesis is a process in which calories are burned when alcohol raises one's body temperature. Would drinking wine in Bikram yoga classes multiply the burn rate?

Encouraged, I surfed a little more (does that count as my aerobic exercise for the day?) and discovered on a wine-research website that red wine is healthy for the heart, cools tension and could help me lose weight. At about 120 calories for 5 ounces, wine is less fattening than beer and many foods, according to those jolly wine researchers.

Pushing aside a box of vegetable-shaped crackers, I reached for my Lose It app and calculated that a glass of Trium viognier ($20 a bottle) has fewer calories than my beloved onion-ringed, jalapeno-topped double burger served with fries at Louie's Bar and Grill on Ashland Plaza. Added bonus: Wine gives me an energy boost, a little extra wattage I could use heavy-lifting those 2-pound tins of Harry & David truffles from my desk drawers.

In my Internet-driven confusion, I called up Will Brown, a retired physician who earned an enology certificate from U.C. Davis then worked as a cellar rat at RoxyAnn Winery before becoming a winemaker at Agate Ridge Vineyard for the 2006 and 2007 harvests. I usually see the Ashland resident next to me at the gym, churning like a happy hamster on an upright bicycle, as I sit there, sluglike and daydreaming, in my Barcalounger-esque recumbent bike.

Doc Brown and I agreed to conduct our talk about wine calories not at the gym, where dedicated souls are strengthening muscles and shaking off holiday excess, but instead at Starbucks, where he ordered a small, black coffee while I glared at the red-velvet whoopie pie.

"You won't get fat from one glass of wine a day," said Doc Brown, whose former career as an OB-GYN practically makes him an expert on women and weight gain.

And he's in good shape. He weight-trains to increase his metabolism and rides the bike until he burns more calories than he consumes with his daily 8 ounces of wine. "I would hardly think of having a meal without wine," he said, fit in a black fleece vest and a T-shirt with a sassy torn collar.

He said Americans are overweight not from drinking wine but Big Gulp sodas and chomping on fatty snacks.

"The health benefits of wine are undeniable," he said. "Some doctors even recommend that patients drink wine." He followed those statements with some other "blah, blah" about don't drink too much, or you might have trouble sleeping or lose your balance, but I wasn't listening. Instead, I was looking at the good doc's caring, Paul Newman-blue eyes and thinking about Newman's Own Four Cheese Thin & Crispy Pizza.

Doc Brown regained my attention when he confessed that in December he gained weight, the residue of Thanksgiving stuffing, Christmas fudge, New Year's Eve cookies and birthday cake.

He turned 80 Dec. 13 and celebrated a few days later with wife Judith Ginsburg, 35 friends and 10 bottles of wine, including Red Lily Vineyards tempranillo from 2003, 2004 and 2005 ($35 for 2006) and Agate Ridge Vineyard 2006 Petite Sirah ($29 for 2008) and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($24 for 2008).

So maybe it's not just my job-related wine "research" that's adding rolls to my torso but also unconscious snacking (though you'd think I'd be aware of that) and my never-ending Dagoba chocolate-and-port-pairing experiments. I don't want to be fat or unemployed, so my 2012 plan is to sweat more with my squishy, wet friends in Bikram classes then enjoy a glass of wine. Doc Brown said it's fine. And I believe him.

EVENT: Just as best-seller lists always are bookended by cookbooks and diet books, I'm including in this beware-of-fat column an endorsement of cooking classes at Jacksonville Mercantile. The gourmet shop's $25 classes begin with a splash of local wine, followed by owner and culinary expert Constance Jesser making low-fat, high-flavor entrees (Jan. 10), Thai dishes (Jan. 18), sauces (Jan. 24), soups (Feb. 7) and gourmet vegetarian dishes (Feb. 21). Call 541-899-1047 or see www.jacksonvillemercantile.com.

APPRAISED: Sometimes you just have to splurge. That's my mantra every January when the Oregon Truffle Festival announcements start filling my email inbox. I attended the full three-day festival in Eugene a few years ago, and I recommend it. Watching the truffle dogs sniff out treasures buried in the fairy ring around hazelnut trees is entertaining, and the dinners bring together Oregon's top chefs and winemakers. The Grand Truffle Dinner ($175) Jan. 28 will showcase winter white and black truffles over five courses paired with Willamette Valley Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir Signature and other Oregon wines. It's only $20 to enter the Marketplace at the Eugene Hilton from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 29 to watch truffle-cooking and dog demonstrations, taste artisan cheeses, truffles and breads and sample regional wines. For more information, see www.oregontrufflefestival.com.

Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com