Does (diet-branded) Cense wine make sense?

The marketing story: Cense Marlborough sauvignon blanc is the first Weight Watchers-branded wine, made by Truett-Hurst, a holding company for California-based wine production and branding operations. Cense has 85 calories per 5 oz glass,* equating to 3 Weight Watchers’ “points.” The partners expect to add other wines to the brand line-up including (surprise, surprise) a rosé.

The numbers: Cense is a reduced alcohol wine. The brand also hooks its diet-friendly message on claims about no added sugar, but dry table wines essentially never contain added sugar, and the small fraction of residual sugar in the vast majority of table wines makes an insignificant calorie contribution. “Lower calorie” is just alternate marketing for “lower alcohol.”

Since ethanol and sugar are the only signficant sources of calories in wine, estimating the calories in your glass of non diet-branded wine is simple.** (Color only matters in that whites are often, though not always lower in alcohol than reds.)

Calories in a 5 oz glass = (alcohol on the label as a decimal)(785) + (sugar in grams/liter) X (.568)

A 12% dry wine with .5% residual sugar clocks in at just about 100 calories per 5 oz. Make that 13.5% – the starting point for sauv blancs from Kim Crawford up to Cloudy Bay and Greywacke – and the same 5 oz glass comes up to 110 calories. By drinking Cense, you save about 35 calories per glass, the equivalent of about 5 almonds or one and a half medium-sized carrots.

The analysis: Does Cense make sense?

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Finding unboring wines in Marlborough, part 1: Seresin Estate

If you don’t live in New Zealand, Seresin Estate is a producer you should know, or know better. They’re a largish (if you’re not comparing against Yealands) biodynamic producer in Marlborough, and the biodynamics is one reason you should know them: Seresin proves that fresh, approachable, frankly delicious biodynamic and even no-sulfur wines are possible. But you should also know them because their wines are worth drinking with no labels attached, like the vegan carrot mole salad good enough to make the omnivores reject their roast chicken.

Perhaps the best way to describe Seresin’s core wines (the winery also produces a second label, Momo, and several higher-end pinots hovering around NZ $100) is that they’re easy to drink without being boring. These are biodynamic wines you can serve to people who don’t like weird wine. More importantly, these are interesting wines you can serve at a dinner party: you won’t be bored; your non-oenophile guests won’t be turned off. And you can probably even find them whereveryouarenotMarlborough.

The following are rough-cut notes from the tasting room; more important than the specifics is that all were delightful and eminently drinkable.

2011 Memento riesling – Seresin has in the past produced a dry riesling but has (at least in part because the style is such a hard sell in New Zealand) scaled back to this single sweeter bottling. Robustly aromatic with a rich honey apricot nose accurately foreshadowing its dominant flavors. Rich and honeyed, but well-balanced by bright acidity (and lots of it). Something to pour with the lovely array of chêvre- and nut- and fruit-adorned salads in perpetual vogue.

2013 sauvignon blanc – One of three S.B.’s Seresin produces under its main label, and the most regionally typical. Combines classic sweaty armpit, passionfruit, and asparagus notes with typically bracing acidity, but underpinned by enough body to keep things pleasant. A simple grilled fish kind of wine.

2012 Marama barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc – Easily the most challenging wine on this list, in part because it strays from easily recognizable styles. Obviously sister to the stainless S.B. in aroma, though bigger and rounder. Clear oak presence especially in the mid-palate with some oiliness lasting through on the finish. I’d like to see it after another few years’ integration time.

2012 pinot gris – Splendid bright acidity carries throughout without being overwhelming over apple-dominant fruit. Slightly sweet, but on the crisp rather than the oily side of what gris does. More roast pork tenderloin than seared salmon.

2012 chardonnay – Light, fresh, relatively understated aroma emphasizing the green apple-lemon side of the chardonnay spectrum. Crisp, fruit-focused but still with some dimension, and lots of acidity on the finish.

 2013 Osip pinot noir – Osip is Seresin’s sulfur-free line: no sulfur sprayed (as a de rigeur anti-fungal) in the vineyard; no sulfur used in the winery. Proof-of-principle that a sulfur-free wine can be (here, at least) fresh, fruity, and easy-to-drink. Fresh, bright raspberry aroma with an equally exuberant impression in the mouth. Not wanting for intensity, but light on its feet. At the risk of using the word “yummy,” it is. I’d like to try this with sushi.

2012 Leah pinot noir – The flagship and least expensive of six (excepting the Osip) pinot noir bottlings. More intense, darker, and brambly than the Osip, but still unquestionably fruit-driven. Silky up-front but with prominent tannins dominating the finish. Duck pastrami comes to mind, though an herby smoked-salmon pasta is a lot more likely in my kitchen.