Review: Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish

Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish
Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish Whiskey

Chris Morris’ Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection has always been a sandbox of experimentation for the brand. Each year, Morris riffs on the core Woodford whiskey by altering one of their “five sources of flavor“, including changing up the grain, water, fermentation, distillation, and aging.

Some years the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection is a grand slam home run (i.e. Maple Wood Finish and 4 Grain) while others miss the mark (Woodford’s Classic Malt). Hit or miss, the Master’s Collection provides a feedback loop for the brand, press, and Woodford’s most loyal consumers, which has been invaluable to the brand and has served as the foundation for Woodford’s biggest innovation, Woodford Double Oaked.

When Woodford announced this year’s Master’s Collection release, we did a little bit of a double take. One of Chris Morris’ more controversial releases in the Master’s Collection was a whiskey finished in Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay barrels. Although initially slammed by the media and rejected by the whiskey faithful, Woodford’s Sonoma-Cutrer, according to Morris, has become one of the most requested releases in the history of the collection.

Since Morris has a long standing policy of not repeating his experiments, this year’s Master’s Collection release uses a Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir barrel instead of Chardonnay to finish this Woodford Reserve whiskey. The brand points out that this year’s Master’s Collection isn’t technically a bourbon, as it doesn’t meet the requirement that bourbon be aged in “new, charred, oak barrels”.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Finish (45.2% ABV / 90.4 Proof, $99.99 for 750ml) –  dark amber in color,  the nose on this year’s Master’s Collection leads with solid oak. Beyond the oak is marzipan, tart black cherry, cinnamon, and strong black pepper.

The entry is bursting with flavor and leads with unmistakable pinot noir wine notes, including tart cherry, slightly sour grape, and blackberry. Although the impact of the pinot noir finishing barrel is strong, the flavor notes are very well balanced by Woodford’s core notes of cinnamon, caramel, marzipan, and oak.

As we move towards the midpalate the character shifts from fruity towards spicy with clove, allspice, strong cinnamon, and black pepper. Underneath this spice is a strong tartness from the pinot noir finish that reads as tart cherry. The finish for this year’s Master’s Collection is long, slightly sour, and dry with oak and spice lingering on the palate.

Like Chris Morris’ last adventures with wine barrel finishing, the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish whiskey is unique. The combination between Woodford’s Reserve Whiskey and Pinot Noir wine is an interesting one, and honestly one that we didn’t love right out of the gate. Unlike last year’s Classic Malt release, which was nothing short of a train wreck, the craftsmanship here is unmistakable with fantastic balance and integration of flavors. This release is absolutely the kind of whiskey that grows on you, and after spending a good hour with the spirit, it did finally win us over. 87 points.

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+Geoff Kleinman, is the founder, and managing editor of He is a nationally recognized spirits columnist and staff reviewer for Whisky Advocate Magazine. Geoff's work has appeared in dozens of major magazines including Playboy Magazine, Black Book, and Mixology Magazine. He is a current sitting judge for the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, the founder of the Society of Modern Journalists, holds BAR certification from the Beverage Alcohol Resource Group, is a Certified Cognac Educator, and a Kentucky Colonel
  • Barry

    Hm. At $100.00 and an “It’s ok” & “It grew on me” review, I may have to pass on this one. Being a wine drinker this type of whiskey appeals to me. I think it would have been interesting to see a side by side tasting with some more affordable wine barrel finished whiskeys like Angels Envy and some of the offerings from Dry Fly and Big Bottom.

    • Fair point. Both Angel’s Envy and Big Bottom are good, but they are port finished. The thing here is that Chris has gone and explored pinot noir and bourbon, it’s an odd pairing that ultimately works, but isn’t for everyone.

      • Barry

        Yeah, I get that. There is a definite difference in flavor profiles between a pinot and a port so maybe not a fair comparison.

        That brings up a couple of odd questions. Is there any measurable quantity of wine in the finished product? At what point do these ‘experiments’ become blended whiskeys? Is there a specific percentage number that demands it be labeled a blended whiskey?

  • I didn’t dig it… I suppose the problem was the pinot noir.. it was Cali-Centric Pinot.. The stuff I don’t drink- as a rule because it’s just bursting with fruit and alcohol.. which soaks into the casks and renders them a candy-like sweetness…. Isn’t bourbon sweet enough to begin with? Sugar when added to sugar only becomes sweeter. Not to say I don’t like sweet things- but in my glass of whiskey?

    I passed on reviewing it because it was not at all unlikeable, just not $ 100.00 of sugary sweetness…

    • Barry

      Warren, I agree. I’m not looking for a cloyingly sweet flavor profile in my whiskey. No offense to anyone, to me this is the problem with Jack Daniels. I wonder how the flavor profile would have been with a more earthy Pinot. Maybe a barrel from Argyle or King Estates.

  • Gorplee

    As I look at the bottle I got this weekend on the Trail, I’m a bit confused. You say the distillery asserts this isn’t technically a bourbon due to not being aged in new charred oak. But the label on the bottle says “Kentucky straight bourbon finished in Sonoma-Cutrer barrels”. Wouldn’t the aging be in new oak, or they couldn’t call it straight bourbon? Even their website says “mature spirit”. So which is it?

    By the way, I had some of the Straight Malt from last year’s release. I tried it at a bar, and while it wasn’t worth what my local store had priced it at(I passed), I didn’t think it was a “train wreck”.

    • Here’s their statement from the press release

      ” Because industry definitions require that bourbons be aged in new, charred oak barrels, the Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish is not technically a bourbon. Rather, it represents the overall direction of the category, one that sees inspiration stemming from ingenuity, passion and creativity. The Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish is a release that is inspired by, and pays tribute to, the original commitment to ingenuity that have been constant throughout the history of both brands.”

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