As of December 2015, chain restaurants will be required by the FDA to label calories in wine – in 2013 the TTB ruled that wine producers had the option of adding nutrition facts to their labels but this was voluntary and no one really did it. Rest assured this ruling will not affect your dining experience at Nopa in San Francisco or The French Laundry in Healdsburg. You won’t be seeing wine calorie counts at NoMad or Gramercy Tavern in New York City. I don’t even think Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s B&B Hospitality group, with their twenty plus establishments, will have to bow down to this. That’s because the new ruling is targeting chain restaurants with over twenty locations like the Olive Garden, Applebee’s and TGI Friday’s. TGIF! Let’s add another hundred or so calories to your neurosis!
Pardon me while I groan. Yes, we have an obesity issue in our country. And promoting healthy eating is important. It’s a glaring reality when you sit down at a place like The Olive Garden and see how many calories they can cram into something as small as a bruschetta (940 calories). My wife and I had a layover in O’Hare last year and sat down at Chili’s. We couldn’t help but ogle at the calories counts. Maybe we just get some guacamole (1,490 calories) or maybe the grilled fish tacos (1,070 calories). Sheesh! The lowest calorie count we could find was the Southwest Chicken soup at 110 calories or a simple salad at a lean 70 calories. We figured we’d be better off at a kiosk, so we left.
Can you imagine how we would have reacted if we had sat down at the airport restaurant bar and the calories for the drinks were on the menu? So much for passing the time when your flight is delayed. Wine is a beverage we drink to relax and unwind. We don’t need a constant reminder of caloric intake at the top of every menu prior to making our decisions.
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And while a five ounce pour of wine with an average of 120 calories doesn’t seem like a lot, think about how it looks when placed on top of every other item on the menu. Let’s take a look at a table for one at Olive Garden, trying to keep it as lean as possible:
One order Breadsticks w/ garlic butter: 140 calories
Chicken and Gnocchi Soup: 250 Calories
Cheese Ravioli with Meat Sauce: 659 calories
Tiramisu: 510 calories
So far we are at 1,559 calories – only a few hundred away from the daily recommended caloric intake average of 2,000. Is this dinner? Is it lunch? Is this your only meal of the day? And are you really only getting one basket of the limitless breadsticks with their salty, sugary crack like addictiveness? If you have only one glass of wine with this meal you’re at over 1,600 calories. One more glass and we’re flying into the danger zone like Kenny Loggins. And are you having a cappuccino (90 calories) after all is said and done? If you’re on a date or with friends, the calories will jump up even higher because, ya know, there will be more breadsticks and more wine.
What’s the point?! I think these days we all know what we’re getting into when we enter places with slogans like, “When you’re here, your family.” and “Eating good in your neighborhood.” They promote fun. Wine is fun. But when we are constantly reminded of how many calories we are stuffing down our gullets, it doesn’t help. Even in a chain restaurant setting, drinking wine is a gathering event. Wine at its core is a beverage meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, evolving with the conversations and laughter. That glaring number dulls the experience.
So try not to focus on this new ruling. It will only serve to increase the fear factor of your dining experience. It’s fun to splurge sometimes to say “Give me more Friday’s.” You know what you’re getting yourself into and an extra 120 won’t make a difference.