Life in the Low-Carb Lane

As low-carbohydrate diets sweep the nation, wine enthusiasts should rejoice. our favorite beverage is the perfect complement to most of these plans.

ome months ago I was having dinner with Ted Baseler, president of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, at Fiamma in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Fiamma is known for its spectacular pastas, but Ted ordered red snapper and avoided the wonderful breads. He told me he was following a low-carbohydrate diet, and when I wondered aloud whether such diets were fads, Baseler set me straight—and set me on a path that in a few days helped me easily lose eight pounds.

“I don’t think it’s a fad at all,” Baseler asserted. “I think it’s a permanent change in Americans’ style of eating, drinking and exercising. It’s a matter of overall wellness.”
It’s hard to argue with his observation. Whether it’s the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, the Zone or some other refinement, it seems that everyone is either on one of these diets or knows someone who is. That’s not just an impression—these plans are so popular that many areas of the food industry are feeling the effects, for good or ill.

Baseler mentioned a french fry plant located across the street from Columbia Crest Winery that recently closed its doors. Most adversely affected is the baking industry. In the first quarter of this year alone, Krispy Kreme posted net losses at $24.4 million. After three years of solid growth, they expect an overall dip in sales of 10 percent. Other industrial and smaller, neighborhood bakeries are also feeling the pinch. Pasta, too-one company, New World Pasta, which recently closed its doors, cited these diets as the cause of its demise. Sales of orange juice are also reportedly slowing.

Companies that are jumping on the low-carb bandwagon, however, are doing well. There’s been a flood of low-carb alternative product introductions—everything from beer to milk; even low-carb potatoes are being offered. Sales of dairy products are high. (How’s that for a diet turn-around?) Nuts, which have traditionally not been favored in diet plans, are disappearing from store shelves due to their low-carb friendliness. And sales of beef jerky are rising, as it is considered a useful, low-carb snack.

It was inevitable that low-carb wines would appear, and it seems that Brown-Forman is the first out of the gate. The Louisville-based company is releasing One.6 Chardonnay and One.9 Merlot, the names stemming from the grams of carbs found in a 5-ounce glass of the wines. (A standard count for a glass of wine is 3 to 6 grams.) Cara Morrison, the California winemaker for Brown-Forman who handled the project, removed as much sugar as possible during fermentation, with the goal of giving “the sensation of sweetness without it being there.”

Without belittling Brown-Forman’s effort, Ted Baseler is not convinced that the wine industry needs to introduce a flood of “low-carb” wines. “Our concern with a low-carb wine is that it would suggest that wine is not already a low-carb product, which it is, especially if it is fermented dry with low residual sugar. Wine is a natural product and the perfect complement to the diet,” he concludes.

In our September issue, we will be presenting an article that will go into greater depth on these issues and offer strategies that people can employ to make a diet viable for life, rather than a few months.

What’s more diet-friendly than grilled fish? People tend to avoid grilling fish due to catastrophes they experienced in the past, when the fish stuck to the grill or fell apart entirely and plunged into the coals. In this issue, Melanie Barnard provides tips for avoiding those mishaps.

Also in this issue, we profile the Sebastianis, the pioneering Sonoma wine family who continue to innovate in their second century of California winemaking. Steve Heimoff continues our coverage of mountain wines with his story on Sonoma mountain winegrowing. In addition, Michael Schachner examines three often-overlooked white wine varieties from Italy. If you shop with some knowledge and persistence, you can find bottlings of the “three Vs” (Vermentino, Verdicchio and Vernaccia) that can make intriguing, summertime sipping.

And if you were drawn to our image on the cover, turn to our Proof Positive section for Gary Regan’s story on gin; in the age of flavored vodkas and flavored everything, gin distillers are beginning to react and shake up gin’s flavor profile.

What’s the carbohydrate count of a gin and tonic? I have no idea. Who’s counting? It’s summer.


Published on August 1, 2004

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