Recently I read a news item on WineSpectator.com that reality TV star and former Real Housewives cast member Bethenny Frankel is launching a wine label called Skinnygirl. Oh no, just what we need, another wine brand pandering to women.
Bethenny plays off the success of her Skinnygirl Margarita, which clocks in at 100 calories per five ounce serving (with or without salt). The average margarita at your favorite bar can be anywhere from 350 to 750 hefty calories, thanks to a premix or limeade, triple sec and tequila. Skinnygirl comes premixed, alcohol included, so all you have to do is chill it, crack open the screw cap and pour. What's not to like? This pre-made margarita flew out the doors of retailers.
Bethenny continued to build the Skinnygirl brand, with a White Cranberry Cosmo at less than 100 calories and Skinnygirl Sangria, with 132 calories per five ounce serving. Her "new girls," as she calls them, are a lineup of three wines, a Rosé of Syrah and Grenache, a white blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio and a Syrah-based red. All have 100 calories per five ounce serving and 12 percent alcohol and will sell for $15 a bottle.
I understand why the Skinnygirl Margarita is so popular. The calorie savings are enormous. I bought a bottle and poured myself a cocktail, over ice. The flavor is what you'd expect in a margarita, tart with lime and that kick from tequila. While it is not a complex concoction, it is a fast cocktail.
But the thought of Skinnygirl wines drives me crazy. Why? Two reasons. One, most five ounce pours of wine have about 128 calories, 25.6 25 calories per ounce, according to the USDA. There's no huge calorie savings here.
Wine's calories come from the alcohol and sugar content. Most wines are dry, which means there's no sugar in them. Sometimes wine tastes sweet, but that's usually due to the ripe fruit flavors, which we perceive as sweetness.
There are also wines that are made to be sweet, like dessert wines and port. These wines are concentrated, with about 50 calories per ounce. But the standard serving of port or sweet wine is much smaller, at two to three ounces, which is about 100 to 150 calories or so. That's equivalent to or less than any dessert you'd eat. So the Skinnygirl low calorie premise just doesn't work.
The second reason is more serious for me, that this is yet another wine brand marketed to women, presumably because we all want a lower calorie beverage and that we want fun, not complex wines.
But I'm a wine drinker, not a "female" wine drinker. Would anyone make a Skinnyboy wine? I don't think so. Why do we need a special wine brand, especially when the calorie savings are about 25 calories per glass? According to most recommendations, women should not drink more than one glass of wine a day.
"I'm not a wine snob," Bethenny tells WineSpectator.com. Neither am I. What I don't like are brands that approach selling wine to women differently from men.
Low calorie wines are not an original concept. In 2005 wine giant Beringer launched a brand called White Lie. The initial release, a Chardonnay, was billed as being lower in calories and alcohol. According to this press release, White Lie has 97.4 calories per five ounces and 9.8% alcohol. The wine was marketed as being what women want, something easy and simple with fewer calories. At $10 per bottle, it had a lower price point than Skinnygirl wines. But I can't seem to find any White Lie wine on the Beringer site or in a Google search for sale. Hmmm. Maybe that approach didn't work out.
I wasn't crazy about the White Lie wines either. To me it felt like pandering to a stereotypical female audience.
That's why I think Skinnygirl wines are a bad idea. Wine is intimidating enough. Women have fought hard to be considered equals when it comes to wine, whether professionally or in our private lives. Many of us get handed the wine list at the restaurant, which is great. Would we order a Skinnygirl wine?
Kudos to Bethenny for creating the Skinnygirl Margarita and for it being wildly successful. Brilliant idea. I'm sure the wine will also fly off the shelves, as most things tied to a celebrity usually sell well. But when it comes to wine, this is not a label that we need. It just fuels the stereotype about women and wine, and it's not a pretty one.