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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Where do a wine's spice notes come from?

—Thomas, Savannah, Ga.

Dear Thomas,

Some wines are born spicy; others are made that way. That’s to say that some grapes naturally have a spicy taste, like Muscat or Gewürztraminer. Other grapes have herbal notes, like Cabernet Franc, or a floral personality, like Riesling.

Then there are decisions a winemaker can make to highlight a spicy note, or introduce one. Fermentation temperatures, types of yeast, and whole-cluster fermentations will affect a wine’s spiciness. But the biggest influence probably comes from oak barrels, which can add all kinds of spicy notes—everything from cedar to tobacco to vanilla to baking spices.

—Dr. Vinny

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