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What Does ‘Spice’ in Wine Mean?

What Does ‘Spice’ in Wine Mean?


When trying to choose a bottle of wine to drink, we may select one due to the grape varietal used or the country of origin, or alternatively, some may pick a bottle based on the taste descriptors used to define the wine. There are several different taste descriptors used for wine, including floral, smooth and sweet. One of the most commonly used words for labelling a wine with a particular flavour or aroma is ‘spice’. We take a look at what the term spice means in the context of wine, and how a spicy wine will taste. 

What Does Spice Mean?

‘Spice’ in wine refers to the aroma or flavour of spice that may be present in a glass. Spice is more often a flavour associated with red wines, as the smell of these spicy elements adds a warming effect to the drink. Unlike mulled wines, spicy wines do not actually have any spices or flavourings added to them. Instead, these flavours can be imparted into the wine from the barrel that the wine is aged in, such as the clove aromas you get in a barrel-aged Zinfandel, or from the grape varietals themselves, as with the peppery tastes of Syrah.

What Flavours Are Common in Spicy Wines?

While, in a cooking context, you may think of things like paprika or chilli powder when talking about spice, for wine these are not typical ‘spice’ flavours. Common spicy flavours found in wine include black pepper, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, aniseed or ginger. It can be said that the spices identifiable in wine are predominantly ‘baking spices’ as opposed to ‘cooking spices’. Often these flavours are present in the aroma of the wine rather than the wine’s actual taste; however, these two senses are greatly interlinked, meaning that smelling the spicy aromas can activate receptors that detect warmth and trigger salivary glands.

How Does Wine Get Spicy Flavours?

There are a few different ways that wine can obtain spicy notes in its aroma and taste. Firstly, some grape varieties will have a hint of spice to them already. This is certainly the case for Syrah, which is known for having peppery notes, and these flavours remain in the wine that is made from the grapes. It was discovered that a chemical compound known as Rotundone is found in both Syrah grapes and peppercorns, and this is responsible for adding the peppery aromas and tastes to such wines.

This leads on to a similar type of spice. The Rotundone found in Syrah grapes is a type of terpene. Terpenes are aromatic compounds that are often present in floral wines and provide them with their scent. However, these chemical compound types can also introduce earthier tones which may present as being spicy. This is particularly the case for the few white wines that have spicy notes, such as Riesling, Muscat and Gewurztraminer. 

Another way in which flavour can be introduced to wine is through the barrel in which it is aged. This is more common with the use of oak barrels; however, too intense oaky flavours can make the taste more woody or simply vanilla, as opposed to spicy. Spice flavourings imparted through the wooden barrels is probably the most common way for wine to gain spice, as it does not rely on the nature of specific grape types. Barrels are more likely to develop ‘baking spice’ tastes, such as nutmeg, cinnamon and clove.

Do you have any bottles of spicy wine on your wine rack? If so let us know your favourite bottles by getting in touch via the comments below!


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