Mull It Over

Spicy Vines stirs up ancient enthusiasms

This wine sounds like trouble to me. Like every wine educator’s nightmare.

Tasting room staff regularly field such earnest questions as, “So, when do you put the spices in the wine?” With all the talk of cinnamon and clove, etc., it’s no wonder some newcomers to winespeak deduce that actual spices are added to the wine, instead of being analogs to the myriad compounds that originate in the grape itself, the oak barrel, the darned terroir. Now here comes Spicy Vines—they add the actual spices to the wine.

Co-founder and Healdsburg native Crystalyn Hoffman doesn’t think her Zinfandel-based, spiced concoction is a threat to all that is sacred in wine; in fact, response has been quite positive. Although adding spice to wine is an ancient practice, a new category had to be created to fit into today’s narrow market: “Grape wine with fruit and spices added.”

A tall, blonde millennial, Hoffman loved the spiced glühwein she found during a post-college stay in Germany, where she was considering a career in Olympic-level dressage. Served warm on cold fall nights, glühwein is a holiday tradition there, but nearly impossible to find back in the States. Finding a winery that wouldn’t hang up the phone on such an unconventional project was tough going, too. Today, winemaker Doug Hackett makes Hoffman’s wines at Owl Ridge custom crush in Sebastopol.

Most of the wines are not spiced at all and have few additions of any kind. When I drop by the tasting room on a recent morning, Hackett offers a still-cloudy but light-bodied sample of 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon and a Nouveau-style Pinot Noir that will be released in January.

The tasting lounge is furnished with a black upholstered bar and sofas, but an incongruous wood and wrought-iron door betrays another of Hoffman’s obsessions: she’s a big Game of Thrones fan, which explains the 2013 “Dragon’s Kiss” Dry Creek Valley Syrah ($38), animale but tamed, a plush, licorice-laced wine.

Get the 2012 “Zin Master” Sonoma County Zinfandel ($32) while you can—aromas of overripe figs, plum liqueur and olallieberry wine are winning. More on the savory side, the 2013 “Zin Master” ($35) hints of blooming mustard. If the 2015 “Joie de Vivre” Carneros Chardonnay ($38) is reminiscent of apple-pie spice, that’s just a bit of wine-aroma talk.

Spicy Vines Original Blend ($26) is, indeed, heady with actual cardamom and other chai spices. Spiked with brandy, it’s a ready-to-go mulled wine, and is offered hot on tap ($8 glass) during the holiday season—in the summer, as cool sangria—at the tasting room.

Spicy Vines, 441 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Daily, 11am–6pm. Tasting fee, $12. Acoustic music Saturdays. 707.927.1065.

Sonoma County Library