Spicy wines is probably my favorite red wine category, though, I do appreciate a Power Bomb wine, (term I use to describe big and beefy reds that have high everything: alcohol, tannin, fruit and acidity). Spicy wines tend to be more moderate without losing their personality. They normally have medium to full bodies, noticeable acidity which in some cases will be high, substance from tannin, usually ripe and not aggressive and plenty of fruit as well as the extra kick that spices can provide; meaning notes of clove, cinnamon, black or white pepper, paprika, vanilla, licorice, chocolate, anise, mint, coffee, etc.
Most spicy wines will be very balanced, climate will determine their alcohol levels, which in some cases can be high, climate also influences the freshness of the fruit; cooler to moderate climates will give fresh fruit aromatics, while warm to hot climates will give more stewed, jammy notes.
Some of these Spicy wines are often aged in oak, enough to give them some structure, but not to overpower them. Because of this, they are a natural good match for many dishes, including those that have some spice or herbs in them: tacos, nachos, chili or any tex-mex foods, pepperoni pizza, pasta in tomato sauce, chicken cacciatore, all types of barbecue and grilled beef, sausages,meatloaf, roasted duck, paella, and other earthy dishes. Avoid matching these wines with delicate dishes.
Of all the classic varieties, Syrah is the only one that should be included in this group, especially if we are dealing with inexpensive wines that cost less than $30. Other grape varieties that yield Spicy wines are: Barbera, Carménère, Malbec, Pinotage and Zinfandel. Let’s review their wine styles below.
Barbera is without a doubt one of my favorite reds, mostly because it produces a mouthwatering and light to medium bodied wine with fresh fruit flavors, featuring sour cherry and strawberry but also spicy black pepper and dried herbs notes. Young samples can be quite floral featuring violet aromas. Unless they are aged in oak, Barberas are usually very low in tannins. Best Barberas come from the Piedmont region in the north Italy (Barbera D’ Alba, Barbera d’ Asti and Nizza), though we can also find Barbera in Argentina, Australia and the US.
Carménère is the jewel from Chile, it has more body than Barberas and plenty of ripe fruit. It has medium to medium plus acidity and plenty of texture, yielding a wine that is full of back plum and black currant notes, but also coffee, grilled meat, soy sauce, jalapeño and sometimes peppermint flavors. Its round tannins and density makes it a wonderful ingredient in wine blends featuring Cabernet Sauvignon. The best samples come from the Central Valley in Chile: Cachapoal, Colchagua and Maipo.
If you were looking for a crowd pleaser, you have arrived at the right destination! Velvety full bodied Malbecs feature fruity notes of blackberry, plums, black cherry and mulberry but also spicy cocoa dust and licorice; with oak aging:vanilla, cedar and dry tobacco notes. Tannins are usually ripe and sweet. Best samples come from my home country: Argentina (Mendoza). Make sure to get a bottle to celebrate International Malbec Day on April 17, see some of my recommendations below.
The child of Pinot Noir and Cinsault was created in South Africa and for a while was accused of being a tad rustic. Nowadays and thanks to adjustments made in the vineyards and cellars, Pinotage samples show less volatile acidity than in the past. What they have is plenty of red fruit flavors such as cherry, raspberry, red plum (fresh or jammy) but also spicy black pepper, licorice, chocolate and mocha notes (usually from aging in heavily charred oak barrels). Best samples come from South Africa: Stellenbosch,Paarl and Swartland.
Also known as Primitivo in Italy, Zinfandel produces a big bodied red featuring black cherry, cassis, prunes, raisins but also vanilla, black pepper, clove, anise and cinnamon notes. I consider Zinfandel a semi powerbomb, because they are usually very high in alcohol in some cases 16% is the norm, rich in overripe fruit but with low to medium acidity, and super soft tannins that are never harsh. Best samples come from all over California but especially from the Sierra Foothills, Santa Cruz, Paso Robles, Dry Creek Valley and Lodi. Many of them are made from fruit from very old vines (50 + years old), which makes these wines super extracted and flavorful.
My wine recommendations: Thank you to Viña Tarapacá, Global Vineyard, HB Merchants, Broadbent Selections, Kobrand, Louis Martini and Vineyard Brands for this fine selection of Spicy wines.
Massolino Barbera d’Alba 2019, $26.99
Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Le Orme 2017, $17.99
Viña Tarapaca Carménère 2019, $19.99
Maquis Carménère 2018, $19.99
Taj Pinotage 2020, $19.99
Southern Right Pinotage 2019, $33.99
Beeslaar Pinotage 2018,$54,99
Lievland Pinotage 2018,$18.99
Little Mad Bird Malbec 2019, $11.99
Weinert Carrascal Malbec 2018, $18.99
Norton Malbec 2018, $18.99
St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel 2018, $22.99
Louis Martini Monte Rosso Zinfandel 2016, $74.99
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