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Which red wine is spicy?

Red wine is well known for its rich, complex flavors and aromas. While most red wines showcase fruity, earthy, and oak notes, some can have a perceptible spiciness to them. So which red wines tend to be the spiciest?

The spicy character in red wine can come from a few different sources. The grape variety itself can impart spicy flavors, especially if it contains higher levels of compounds like rotundone. Winemaking techniques like oak aging can also introduce spicy notes like pepper, cloves, and vanilla. Finally, where the grapes are grown can significantly influence the spiciness of the final wine.

Some of the most famously spicy red wines come from the Rhône Valley in France. The Rhône is home to Syrah, a red grape that often presents white pepper and baking spice notes. When grown in warmer Rhône appellations, Syrah becomes even more peppery and bold. Other spicy French wines include value-driven options like Côtes du Rhône and Lirac, made predominantly from Grenache and Syrah.

Outside of France, Australian Shiraz, often styled after the Rhône reds, can be quite spice-driven. Barossa Valley Shiraz is especially known for black pepper spice. Over in Italy, the Nebbiolo grape makes spicy, tannic reds including Barolo and Barbaresco. In the new world, Zinfandel can offer black pepper spice when grown in warmer regions like Paso Robles.

While oak aging can add spicy complexity, some of the most peppery reds see little to no oak. Instead, factors like extended maceration with the grape skins and stems, whole cluster fermentation, and terroir are responsible for their sizzling spice character.

So what exactly constitutes “spicy” in red wine? Here are some of the most common spicy flavors to look out for.

Common Spicy Flavors in Red Wine

White Pepper

One of the hallmark spices in red wine is white pepper. Unlike black pepper’s upfront pungency, white pepper has a smoother, almost earthy pepper flavor. It commonly appears in Syrah/Shiraz from the Rhône Valley or Australia. The origin of white pepper spice in Syrah is thought to come from compounds like rotundone.

Black Pepper

Black pepper is another signature spicy note that can be perceived in reds like Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo. It tastes bold, almost crunchy, adding an energetic sizzle. Black pepper may derive from the grape skin tannins or benefits from oak aging.

Chili Pepper

Some red wines can show actual heat and chili pepper spice. Zinfandel and Primitivo often display a chili pepper bite, especially when grown in hot climates. Grenache can also have a pinch of chili spice among its dominant red fruit flavors.


The warming spice clove can turn up in oak-aged reds like Bordeaux blends or Malbec. Clove flavors come from compounds like isoeugenol and beta-caryophyllene extracted from the oak. In the right proportion, it adds appealing complexity.


Vanilla is a sweet, fragrant spice that also stems from oak aging. Wines aged in new oak like Rioja Reserva or Napa Cabernet reveal especially pronounced vanilla spice. It helps round out the flavor profile and tames tannic edges.


Cinnamon frequently makes an appearance in Grenache and Grenache-based blends. Its familiar baking spice character gives it appeal in small doses. You may also encounter traces of cinnamon in oaked Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.


Anise provides a licorice-like, potent sweet spice note in some red wines. It can surface in wines made from grapes like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Primitivo. A touch of anise spice provides depth without overpowering.


While not that common, some reds can exhibit mild curry spice traces. Syrah, Zinfandel, and Touriga Nacional are among the grapes that may express a subtle curry flavor, especially when grown in hot climates.

As you can see, the range of spices in red wine is quite diverse. But what influences how much spice flavor ends up in your glass? Next, we’ll cover the factors that impact spiciness.

What Influences Spiciness in Red Wine?

Here are some of the key considerations when it comes to spicy red wines:

Grape Variety

Some grapes are inherently more spicy than others. For example, Syrah/Shiraz, Nebbiolo, Zinfandel, and Sangiovese commonly display spicy traits. Their complex chemical composition includes spicy compounds like rotundone and piperidine.


Where grapes are grown significantly affects spice levels. Warmer climates tend to produce spicier reds. Regions like the Barossa Valley, Paso Robles, and certain Rhône appellations yield peppery wines thanks to hot temperatures.

Vine Age

Older vines produce grapes with more concentrated, spicy flavors. Their extensive root systems allow them to thrive, developing grapes with optimal spice compounds. Old-vine Zinfandel and Syrah shine with pepper intensity.


Certain yeast strains can either heighten or minimize spicy notes during fermentation. Winemakers may select specific yeasts to highlight or downplay spicy complexity in the finished wine.


Leaving the grape skins and seeds to soak in the wine juice for an extended time intensifies spicy notes. Longer maceration extracts more spice-imparting tannins and compounds like rotundone.

Whole Cluster

Fermenting intact grape clusters along with individual berries boosts spiciness. Stems contribute sappy, peppery compounds as they break down during fermentation. Syrah, in particular, benefits from whole cluster.

Oak Aging

New oak introduces spicy flavors like clove, vanilla, and pepper. Time spent in oak along with the oak origin and toast level all affect the spice contribution.


Some spicy grapes like Syrah may be blended with other varieties to either highlight or rein in their peppery nature. Grenache, for example, can soften Syrah’s spice.

Zero Manipulation

Minimal intervention wines see little to no oak and reflect terroir transparency. These “naked” wines best display the inherent spicy qualities of the grape and place.

Understanding what accounts for spicy notes helps guide wine lovers towards bolder, peppery wines that satisfy the craving. Next up, we’ll recommend some specific spicy red wines to try.

Recommended Spicy Reds

Based on the influential factors above, here are some red wines celebrated for their racy spice:

1. E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde

– Syrah-based Rhône blend
– Notes of white pepper, clove, roses
– Minerally, meaty, and perfectly spiced

2. Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz

– Intense Barossa Valley Shiraz
– Packed with black pepper, blueberry, and mocha
– Concentrated yet smooth

3. Estancia Paso Robles Zinfandel

– Ripe, juicy Paso Zinfandel
– Chili pepper bite with jammy raspberry
– Full-bodied but easy drinking

4. Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet

– Iconic, oak-aged Cabernet
– Vanilla, cedar, and black currant
– Silky texture with clove spice

5. Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas

– Rhône red blend from Paso Robles
– Blackberry, violet, and white pepper
– Lush tannins, bright acidity

6. Allegrini Valpolicella Classico

– Light-bodied Italian red blend
– Cherry, cinnamon, and almond flavors
– Racy acidity and faint pepper spice

7. Schrader Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

– Dense, concentrated Napa Cab
– Blackberry, graphite, and vanilla
– Velvety texture with a touch of cloves

8. Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape

– Iconic Grenache-based southern Rhône blend
– Raspberry, leather, and black pepper
– Rich yet elegant with spice complexity

9. Opus One Napa Valley Red

– Bordeaux-style Cabernet blend
– Cedar, currant, and subtle vanilla
– Concentrated fruit and integrated spice

10. Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel Blend

– Zinfandel/Petite Sirah blend from dry farmed vines
– Brambly berries, peppercorn, and violets
– Lively acidity and black pepper spice

This selection highlights benchmark examples of spicy reds from major regions. They display complex, peppery characters thanks to expert winemaking and ideal terroir conditions. Sourcing wines from renowned vineyards and appellations helps ensure spicy appeal in the glass.

Besides enjoying them on their own, how should one pair these spicy, full-flavored wines? Matching them with food requires some thought.

Pairing Food with Spicy Reds

The spiciness and bold tannins of these wines call for equally intense flavors from food:

Grilled and Smoked Meats

Savor peppery Syrah or Zinfandel with grilled steak, sausages, or barbecue brisket to complement the meaty flavors. The char plays off the black pepper notes.


Meaty, umami-rich mushrooms make an ideal pairing for spice-driven reds like Nebbiolo and Shiraz. Sautéed or roasted mushrooms work nicely.

Aged Cheeses

The creamy fattiness of hard, aged cheeses calms tannic reds. Try peppery Syrah with nutty Manchego or Gruyere for contrasting tastes.

Herbs and Spices

The aromas of fragrant, woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano beautifully echo spicy red wine notes.

Pizza and Tomato Sauces

The acidity of tomatoes offsets tannins while complementing spicy red fruit flavors. Pizza, pasta, or lasagna are stellar pairings.


The rich, meaty flavor of lamb makes it a darling pairing for Syrah. The gaminess and spice mirror each other.


Eggplant has a natural meatiness that responds well to peppery wines. Try eggplant parmigiana with a Barolo or Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Dark Chocolate

Spicy reds also play perfectly alongside the slight bitterness and cocoa richness of dark chocolate.

In general, the weight and spice of these wines call for bold, savory, and umami-forward pairings. Embracing contrast helps the wine and food complement instead of clash with each other. Of course, personal taste rules all – if spice isn’t your thing, no sweat! There are plenty of smooth, mellow reds out there instead.


For wine lovers enamored with spicy complexity instead of just oak or fruit, knowing which red wines bring the heat is key. Syrah, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese based wines from warm regions invariably emerge as peppery standouts, as do oak-aged Cabernet and Grenache blends. Understanding terroir and production factors provides even greater guidance. Savoring spicy reds with equally robust meats, mushrooms, tomatoes, and chocolate provides out-of-this-world pairing pleasure. There’s nothing quite like a red that finishes with a sizzling, mouth-tingling rush of spice.