Other than mulled wine, are any wines truly spicy? The short answer is ‘yes’ but there are great differences in individual interpretation. To listen to or read some reviewers impressions you would be led to believe drinking some wines would be similar to eating a chili pepper. For example, “You can taste a red wine and suddenly discover your mouth is sizzling – that spicy red wine has a whole world of delicious, zesty compounds that light up your palate and senses.”
Wine can, however, have a certain amount of spiciness to it, though it is much more subtle than the above quote would suggest. There are several reasons for this.
Some wines do have the aroma of freshly ground black or white pepper. Wines made from Syrah grapes have a high level of pepperiness. This is because the grapes actually have one of the same compounds in the skin as is found in black peppercorns, a compound called Rotundone. However, one in five people are unable to detect the smell of Rotundone and thus do not find Syrah or Shiraz to be peppery.
Some red wines, such as Italian Chianti Classico, will provide a warming or burning sensation when they are drunk. This is a result of a high level of acidity in the wine. The same type of sensation may occur when drinking a wine with an alcohol content of around 15% or greater. Amarone is an example of such a wine.
There are wines with the aroma of spices such as vanilla, cloves or baking spices. A California Zinfandel or South African Pinotage will have the aroma of these types of spices. Part of this is due to the wine being aged in oak barrels. Lactones from the barrels create a coconut smell, and vanilla flavours come from vanillin. Spicy, toasted and clove aromas are generated by eugenol and guaiacol respectively, which are also found in the oak barrels.
There are some white wines as well that have flavours and aromas of spice; for example, a Gewürztraminer from Alsace. Grüner Veltliner from Austria can also be spicy as it, like Syrah, has Rotundone in its skin. As a result, it can have a peppery character.
So, although there are some peppery and spicy wines to be found on the shelves of your local wine store, I truly doubt that any of them will leave you fanning your mouth from the intensity of the flavour.