I love wine. I love whiskey, too. But a recent mega-tasting for Wine Enthusiast tested those affections: Some of the least palatable were wine-finished whiskeys.
To be fair, as spirits reviewer for a wine magazine, I probably get more wine-finished samples than most. (“Finishing” here means matured whiskey is placed in a barrel that previously held another liquid— like wine—which can add nuanced flavor.)
Many have been outstanding: Finished in red wine casks from Bordeaux’s Pauillac region, peaty Port Charlotte Scotch took on lively dark chocolate and smoked chipotle. And Milam & Greene’s Port-finished rye was one of my favorites of 2022, layering peanut brittle and dried cherry tones.
But for every rave, I find myself with multiple wine-finished clunkers, like a Cab-finished bourbon that tasted like a stick of Big Red gum swirled in Robitussin.
What makes the difference?
“Experience,” says Milam & Greene CEO and master blender Heather Greene; that Port-finished rye I enjoyed was the culmination of years honing her palate and relentlessly tweaking the final blend, drawn from multiple barrels aged in various weather conditions. “A rookie would just throw it all in a port cask and wait.”