ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Are spices or herbs added to claret during the process? Or is it just plain red wine without any added brandy or some other alcohol enhancements?

—Samuel G., Kaysville, Utah

Dear Samuel,

“Claret” is a generic term for red wines made in the traditional style of the Bordeaux region of France, usually referring to blends based on the Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot grapes. In that case, I’ve only seen it used to mean plain red wine, not what’s called a fortified wine, such as Sherry or Port, which have added spirits.

Are spices and herbs added? No, they aren’t. (That would be a mulled wine, which some people enjoy in the wintertime.) I know it can be strange to hear wine lovers talking about “a hint of herbs” or “a spicy finish,” but that doesn’t mean there are actual herbs or spices added. Rather, that’s a type of lingo used by wine lovers to communicate what they taste and smell. As the fermentation process turns grapes into wine, molecular compounds can give the wine complexity that evokes more than just “grapes.” Plus, wine lovers sometimes wax poetic about what wine reminds us of. Please be patient with us.

—Dr. Vinny


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