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Barrel Care Part 2: How to Maintain a Port Keg

Your personal blend of fortified can be a luxurious addition to any home. With a little time and attention, you can meld your special ingredients into a complex mixture that you can sip with satisfaction.

This article follows on from Barrel Care Part 1: How to Start a Port Keg and answers common questions we get asked about how to maintain a quality fortified blend throughout the barrel’s life.

What do I fill my barrel with?

Wines that mature in wooden barrels experience what is known as “oxidative” aging. They tend to lose colour quite quickly. They also lose volume to evaporation (commonly called “the angel’s share”), leaving behind a wine that is slightly more viscous. The base wine you choose will depend on your taste preference. Fortified wines made from different grape varieties produce different flavour profiles ranging from aromatic, floral and sweet to spicy and nutty.

There are three types of fortified available that suit barrel ageing; ruby, tawny, and white styles and they all have unique features, colours and flavours.

Ruby

Ruby is brightly coloured red, light brown or purple and is a youthful style, ideal for freshening up over-oaked or excessively aged barrel wine. It can be a recent vintage or a blend of 2-3 vintages. Different grape varieties will yield different flavour profiles.

Grenache – red berry fruits, sweet spice, confection          

Mataro (Mouvèdre) – blackcurrant, perfumed, aniseed

Tawny

Made from red grapes and aged in wooden barrels to give gradual exposure to air and evaporation. Wood exposure imparts mellow golden-brown colours, “raisin” and”nutty” flavours. Liebichwein offer two popular tawny blends read

y to enjoy now or further age in your own barrel. Tawny’s can be

blended with other vintages and are ready to drink immedi

ately and remain stable after opening.

Ron’s Blend – average 3 years old, youthful & smooth

Keg Blend – more wood age up to 5 years, rich & ripe  

White ‘Port’

Tawny-style but made from white grapes offer a softer and sweeter finish. This is the wine style that got Ron hooked on fortified winemaking in the 60’s!

Muscat – orange, musk, floral

Frontignac – tropical, musk, honey

Semillon – dates, toffee, nutty

Where do I buy bulk fortified for my keg?

Liebichwein of course! We have built up a strong reputation for selling bulk fortifieds over the last 20 years. Ron is a master fortified blender which is a dying art in the wine trade. We grows grapes especially for fortified production so we let them ripen slowly and make sure they are the last ones picked during vintage when the Baume has reached at least 15°Baume.  A hot Aussie summer really suits fortified winemaking. Each year we make a fresh vintage of different varieties which are eventually blended with small amounts of our old family stocks dating far back into the 1920’s.

Youthful Tawny made from Grenache is the base for Ruby (little or no oak), Ron’s and Keg blend. We also stock Muscat, Frontignac and Semillon as individual varietal wines. We find that an approximate age of 3-5 years makes a suitable starter for a home barrel.

We sell all bulk fortifieds in inert plastic containers in sizes 2L, 5L, 10L and 20L. They cost a few extra dollars and are reusable and recyclable. Customers are welcome to bring their own cleaned containers into cellar door. In the early days of selling in bulk we would get requests to fill all kinds of containers and drink bottles!

Can I keep fortified in plastic containers?

Once you have filled or topped up your keg and you still have left over, there is no drama in leaving the excess in the plastic container until you need it. As the wines are already fortified and “semi-oxidised” they do not pick up any taints or off-flavours. Just store the container out of direct sunlight and below 30°C.

How do I maintain my barrel?

Remember from Part 1 that wine develops more rapidly in smaller barrels so the first fill should be for a short time (1-4 weeks). Keep in mind that the oak source also has an effect on flavour and will be a lot stronger in a new barrel. You can taste test your personal blend weekly at first, making adjustments to the addition to help achieve desired result. If you notice strong oaky flavours, you can bottle off half of the keg and top it up with young wine (unoaked or lightly oaked is preferable as the barrel does the work). Experimenting with different batches and refilling at different times allows you to blend wine to your liking.

KEY TIPS

  • Keep your barrel topped up when 1/3 full
  • Be patient – it may take a couple of months before the desired taste is achieved

What about adding a mix of wines or spirits?

Our personal view is never to mix fortified and spirit such as cognac or brandy in a barrel. A good base fortified already contain spirit, either brandy or neutral grape spirit and anything stronger than these is very difficult to blend out if you change your mind. We believe that the only things to add, if you wish to blend and tinker, are oak and age. Complexity is added by ageing slowly in oak and adding old and fresh wine.

How much aged wine can be added?

Adding quality aged fortified is a practice that we highly recommend, but the question of how much a

nd when depends greatly on what your blend is like and the barrel type. It’s

not wise to go overboard with aged material, particularly when the barrel port is young (i.e. the initial fill of the barrel). Before adding anything at all, play with blending small amounts in your

 bar/shed/kitchen (20-30mL in 9L is usually plenty). As the barrel port gets

a few years on it, it can then take a greater amount of aged material.

To help give a new keg a dramatic head start on the road to complexity, Liebichwein is able to offer small quantities of very old blending stock. We call them “rancio” premium aged fortifieds and we bottle them off in 100mL wax-sealed bottles in four different varieties; Muscat, Frontignac, Semillon and Tawny (Grenache). It’s difficult to control the urge to drink such aged and complex wines, but you will be rewarded by throwing it into your personal blend.

More questions?   Contact Ron Liebich for a qualified assessment of your personal blend

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2 thoughts on “Barrel Care Part 2: How to Maintain a Port Keg

  1. Can you tell me once you add more port how long should it be left

  2. Hi Ron Scott here from Black Rock Victoria just purchased a new 20 L Oke Port Barrell
    Was wondering where I can purchase some of your aged premium rancio fortified I’m on 0408 173 174 or the below email regards Scott Mcintosh

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