Wine finishes are a growing staple in the whiskey world as a way to add nuanced layers of fruit and spice to the spirit without artificial flavorings. Yet, the taste of a favorite wine can present very differently when it shows up in a whiskey glass. A telltale hint of dark chocolate can signal a Port-finished whiskey, while cherry-like notes may point to a Cabernet cask.\r\n\r\nHere\u2019s how to decode wine-finished whiskey.\r\nWhat is a \u201cwine finish\u201d?\r\nProducers age whiskey, and sometimes other spirits, in barrels that once held wine. After the wine is dumped out of the barrel, a small amount remains soaked into its wood. When the barrel is refilled with whiskey, the wine\u2019s aromas and flavors release into the spirit over time. Usually, the process starts with already mature whiskey, which is allowed to rest for days, months or even years in the ex-wine cask, a process known as \u201cfinishing.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cOur first exploration into wine finishes I did [was] with Cabernet, because that\u2019s what I like to drink when I\u2019m not drinking Bourbon.\u201d \u2014Trey Zoeller, founder, Jefferson\u2019s Bourbon\r\n\r\nWhy do whiskey makers use wine barrels?\r\nIn general, the point of wine-finishing is to add subtle layers of flavor.\r\n\r\n\u201cHistorically, [casks from] fortified wines and high residual sugar content wines have been used for finishing whiskey,\u201d says Dave Pickerell, master distiller for Hillrock Estate Distillery and WhistlePig. Sherry, Port and Madeira casks are all widely used as finishes.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nExperiments with non-fortified wines, like those at Hillrock, which has released Cabernet Sauvignon- and Pinot Noir-finished Bourbons, are a more recent development. Pickerell says that wine finishes should \u201csupplement the taste of the underlying whiskey, not supplant it.\u201d\r\n\r\nThere are also practical reasons for using this technique. Some types of whiskey, like Scotch, are strictly regulated, which prevents or minimizes the addition of caramel or other flavorings. Wine finishes are one of the few permitted ways to play with flavor. It also helps that many liquor conglomerates own both distillery and winery properties, so the reuse of a Sherry barrel can save money.\r\n\r\n"[Matching wine and whiskey is] a lot like a game of Clue\u2026Colonel Mustard in the observatory with the lead pipe\u2026Lail Cabernet in Hillrock Solera Bourbon for six weeks.\u201d \u2014Dave Pickerell, master distiller, Hillrock Estate Distillery and WhistlePig\r\n\r\nHow do whiskey producers decide which wine finishes to use?\r\nShort answer: it involves a lot of trial and error.\r\n\r\nPickerell describes the process of matching wine and whiskey as \u201ca lot like a game of Clue\u2026Colonel Mustard in the observatory with the lead pipe\u2026Lail Cabernet in Hillrock Solera Bourbon for six weeks.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe\u2019ll start with a glass of whiskey and a few drops of the proposed wine as a test. \u201cNot all finishes work well,\u201d he says. For example, Pickerell found that while Cabernet worked well with Bourbon, it was less successful with rye whiskey.\r\n\r\nIn addition, some whiskey makers turn to wine finishes as a way to combine two of their favorite sips.\r\n\r\n\u201cOur first exploration into wine finishes I did [was] with Cabernet, because that\u2019s what I like to drink when I\u2019m not drinking Bourbon,\u201d says Trey Zoeller, founder of Jefferson\u2019s Bourbon. He\u2019s zigzagged through California wine country to procure Cab barrels from Napa wineries like Groth and Pritchard Hill\u2019s Chappellet.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe Cab finishes were as different as the wines,\u201d says Zoeller. However, he does point out that both barrels contributed distinct black cherry notes.\r\n\r\n\r\nWhat do wine-finished whiskeys taste like?\r\nThat depends on the flavor of the base whiskey, whether it\u2019s caramel-forward Bourbon, spicy rye, fruity Irish whiskey or complex Scotch. It\u2019s also contingent on the type of wine used and how long the whiskey rests in the barrel. Fortified wines are a particularly popular finishing choice. Their flavors can be relatively pronounced and usually are harmonious with a wide range of distilled spirits.\r\n\r\n\r\nA Fine Finish\r\nHere are seven wine categories, fortified and otherwise, that whiskey producers are working with right now, and a guide to how their flavors affect a wine-finished whiskey.\r\nCabernet Sauvignon \r\nLook for \u201cberries, cherries and currants\u201d in Cab-finished Bourbons, says Pickerell. As a result, some of these whiskeys taste almost like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned cocktail.\r\n\r\nTry it\r\nHillrock Solera Aged Bourbon Napa Cabernet Finished; $100, 90 points.\r\nTeeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey; $50, 90 points.\r\nJefferson\u2019s Reserve Pritchard Hill Cabernet Finish.\r\n\r\nMadeira\r\nThis fortified wine enriches whiskey with layers of honey and sweet spice or hints of stone fruit. It can produce a delicious spice cake-like effect.\r\n\r\nTry it\r\nTullamore Dew Single Malt 18 Years Old; $110, 94 points. (finished in a quartet of casks: Bourbon, Sherry, Port and Madeira)\r\nThe Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Madeira Cask; $75, 91 points.\r\n\r\nPinot Noir \r\nGrown in regions like France, Germany, California and Oregon, this wine tends to contribute subtle fruit and tannic structure to a whiskey\u2019s finish, which makes its influence one of the harder to detect.\r\n\r\nTry it\r\nHillrock Solera Aged Bourbon Pinot Noir Finished; $100, 93 points.\r\n\r\nPort \r\nAlthough this finish can change depending on what style of Port is used, Pickerell points to tawny Port as a popular choice to add notes that can range from dark chocolate to lush \u201cwinter fruit.\u201d\r\n\r\nTry it \r\nThe Balvenie Portwood Aged 21 Years; $220, 94 points.\r\nGlenmorangie The Quinta Ruban; $55, 93 points.\r\nIsaac Bowman Port-Finished Bourbon Whiskey; $40, 92 points.\r\n\r\nSauternes \r\nThis finish of this French dessert wine is easy to identify, as it offers golden raisin, honey, stone fruit and orange blossom notes. Pickerell favors it as a rye whiskey finish, though it adds elegance to Highland Scotch as well.\r\n\r\nTry it\r\nGlenmorangie Nectar D\u2019Or; $75, 96 points.\r\nWhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey Old World Series: Sauternes; $118, 92 points.\r\n\r\nSherry \r\nYou\u2019ll find no shortage of Sherry-finished whiskeys. The practice has been in use for centuries, particularly to add nutty richness to Scotch, and it\u2019s employed widely across all whiskey types. But what it adds to your dram depends on which style of Sherry was used.\r\n\r\nPickerell says: \u201cManzanilla Sherry adds a fun minerality as well as winter fruits to whiskey. Oloroso Sherry adds top notes of nuttiness and dry fruitiness. Pedro Xim\u00e9nez adds a rich plum or fig note.\u201d\r\n\r\nTry it\r\nThe Macallan Sherry Oak 12; $65, 93 points.\r\nCompass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend; $45, 91 points. Best Buy.\r\nRedbreast Lustau Edition; $70, 91 points.\r\n\r\nSyrah\r\nNot seen very often as a whiskey finish, this complex, savory red can add a measure of earthy red fruit and peppery spice.\r\n\r\nTry it\r\nHigh West Yippee Ki-Yay; $65, 96 points.