Log In / Join Now

Ask Dr. Vinny



Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I was told Cabernet has a spice to it—is that correct?

Jillina P., Smithtown, N.Y.

Dear Jillina,

Cabernet Sauvignons can absolutely taste spicy, but if you’re asking if Cabernet Sauvignon is typically infused with spice, no. All those crazy descriptors wine lovers use are a result of both the unique molecular composition of wine, where certain flavor compounds seem familiar because they also appear in other aromas and tastes (malic acid, for example, causes the pleasant tartness shared by both crisp Chardonnays and green apples), and simply the way language is used to describe the way things taste and smell.

While some wines grapes are known for being spicy (like Syrah and Grenache), when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, I think the spice notes would come primarily from the wine's exposure to oak barrels. Barrels can impart notes of spice, sometimes combined with details of cigar box, coffee, chocolate or toast. Sometimes the spice accent reminds me of baking spices, sometimes it’s more like a smoky cumin or paprika note. And while I might get a touch of chile pepper in a Cabernet, wine isn’t spicy the same way biting into a habanero pepper is.

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers


WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.