Every year Liebichwein put the call out for the best home barrel blend. All amateur wine blenders around Australia are invited to submit their personal fortified wines for the chance to be crowned ‘best fortified blend’ in a competition organised by Barossa winery Liebichwein. The winner receives an engraved wooden dipstick trophy they can use to measure how much is in their barrel.
Fortified wines have a long history in the Barossa Valley and winemaker Ron Liebich certainly knows a thing or two about them. Ron has completed over 50 vintages growing and producing a range of wines with a special focus on fortifieds which have a widespread fan base across Australia.
Liebichwein cellar door offers varied fortified styles and blends made from red and white varietals including Muscat, Semillon, Frontignac and Grenache. Many customers come in to get regular refills of bulk fortifieds for aging and blending in their home barrel.
Having a home barrel to age your own fortified blend is one of life’s little luxuries. By running this competition, Liebichwein aim to reward the patience in taking on this challenge. Budding winemakers blenders are encouraged to enter one or more samples of their own blend for professional evaluation by Ron and an experienced judging panel.
During judging, an experienced panel taste all wine samples in a blind tasting. Tasting notes are written and quality scores given for overall flavour and balance. Judges look for wines that are in balance and provide a good drink no matter how old the wine is or what stage of development it is. All entrants receive feedback from the panel and blending advice from Ron which we know is greatly appreciated.
The competition was held in August-September. Entrants submitted a 200mL wine sample. A wide range of barrel-aged fortified wines was on show of all varieties and ages. There were five gold medals awarded to three different people who all received a prize of rare fortified samples over 20 years old. The winners were announced at an event for entrants at Liebichwein in mid September.
Filling fortified wine straight from the barrel at Liebichwein, Barossa Valley
Fortified wines have a long history in the Barossa Valley which is one of the most historic wine producing regions in Australia. Here at Liebichwein we certainly have a soft spot for fortified styles and love the fact that so many customers have home barrels for that extra touch of luxury at home. We pride ourselves on our extensive range of bulk fortified wines suitable for drinking now or further ageing in your own barrel. There are very few Barossa Valley wineries that offer the range we do for fortified wine lovers to taste, buy or refill containers of fortified wines.
There are six fortified wine styles sold by the litre for customers to taste and choose from. Many fortified wine lovers return with their own container and we sell reusable plastic containers (2, 5, 10, 20 litre). The wine you choose will ultimately depend on your taste preference and whether it is used to season a new keg, as a base wine or for topping up a barrel.
Ron Liebich continually makes large batches of bulk blends to keep up with demand by masterfully blending fresher vintage fortified wines with old museum stocks stored in the depths of the barrel shed. All fortified wines are produced from estate grown grapes left to fully ripen naturally in the vineyard. Ron loves the flavours of different grapes growing on the Liebich property so he makes his blends using four different varieties to produce flavour profiles ranging from aromatic, floral and sweet to spicy and nutty. Grenache, Semillon, Muscat, and Red Frontignac are all perfectly suited to fortified wine styles.
Bulk Fortified Wines
Ruby Grenache – youthful unwooded Tawny is a light fruity style that is recommended to freshen up old syrupy or over-oaked barrel blends. It’s also pretty tasty on its own, a bit like concentrated berry cordial for adults.
Ron’s Blend – smooth youthful Tawny style 2-3 years old, ideal for topping up barrels or freshening over-oaked or excessively aged barrel ports.
Barrel Blend – rich semi-aged tawny with a balance of fruit and hints of woody notes (2/3 Ron’s + 1/3 Ben’s Blend). Only available at cellar door.
Ben’s Blend – mature style aged 5 years with woody notes and spiced dried fruit. Ideal for adding to a newly seasoned barrel or adding complexity to a youthful base blend where more developed characters are preferred.
Semillon – luscious white fortified with raisin and toffee flavours. Light youthful style for drinking now or adding to a barrel blend for sweetness and depth.
Muscat – luscious white fortified with floral and citrus flavours. Light youthful style for drinking now or adding to a barrel blend for sweetness and depth (Muscat Gordo grapes)
Frontignac– luscious fruity wine with aromatic, tropical and musk flavours to add sweetness and depth to a barrel (Red Frontignac grapes).
We invite you to visit cellar door to taste these wines in addition to a wide range of premium bottled fortified wines ranging in age from one to thirty years old. You can sit down and enjoy a fortified tasting experience to compare flavours, impact of barrel ageing and even taste rare museum fortifieds straight from the barrel. These unctuous, syrupy wines are certainly memorable and a sweet treat indeed!
The Liebichwein barrel shed has collected many oak casks of various sizes which house liquid gold. Ron and Janet Liebich are proud to continue the great tradition of ageing and blending fortified wines. Only a few decades ago, Muscat and Tawny used to dominate the Barossa wine scene.
Hosting a Home Barrel Competition to celebrate these classic styles and recognises our passionate customer base continues to be a fantastic and engaging experience. The 2019 competition entries included super-syrupy rare tawny, rare sweet Tokay-like flavours and quite young Tawny blends. All the wines (24 in total) gained approval and judges were really impressed with overall quality.
There were so many high quality wines, that 5 Gold Medals were awarded to 4 different homebarrel owners who each won a prize of a Rare Museum Fortified and a bottle of The Darkie Shiraz. Congratulations to the 2019 Home Barrel Competition winner Filippo Pizzino from South Australia who entered two outstanding fortifieds that claimed first and second prize.
A local highly experienced judging panel was put together and entrants came from all over Australia. All entrants were happy and proud to receive tasting notes and feedback from Ron about their personalised blends and improving them for the next judging competition. Stay tuned to hear about dates for the 2020 competition.
Tawny style wine actually starts out like a Ruby or unwooded fortified, but then spends an extended period in oak barrels to soften and round out its character. As wooden staves allow oxygen to enter, this allows some of the wine to evaporate which concentrates flavours in the remaining wine. The slight gap of air at the top of the barrel increases the surface area exposed so the wine is basically slowly oxidising inside the barrel. The wine deepens in colour changing slowly from red-purple eventually to a dark amber or reddish-brown. The longer time in wood, the more complex the wine flavour profile and the smoother the wine becomes.
What do I fill a new barrel with?
Firstly, you need to know if the new keg is made from older red wine barrels or old fortified wood. Both keg types need initial warm to hot water treatment to lessen wood tannin impact on the new wine. The red wine oak barrel should have younger wine such as Ruby Grenache or Ron’s Blend to start with to help soak up the greater wood tannins, known as ‘seasoning’. An oak barrel previously used for fortified wine is best started with Ron’s Blend,as the barrel usually retains some wood tannins which will complement the fruit-foward wine.If wine remains a little woody, keep topping up with youthful Tawny, until the wine seems balanced with fruit and wood characters.
How often should I top up my barrel?
Top barrel according to usage; for infrequent use, it’s best to top with younger wine and if wine is poured frequently, a more mature Tawny such as Keg Blend is recommended. The barrel should not be emptied below 1/3 total volume. ?Note that a new barrel will absorb quite a bit of wine in the beginning.
How often should I taste my barrel wine?
Taste often, especially when using a new barrel as oak flavour can build up quickly in a wine. This will of course vary according to barrel size and cellar conditions (temperature and humidity) and whether the barrel wood was used for red wine or fortified wine. A smaller barrel will need more frequent tasting than a large barrel.
What is the typical lifespan of a barrel?
Well it depends on the purpose of the barrel. If you are looking to impart both flavours from the wood and structure in the form of tannins, a new oak barrel will continue to enhance wine for 4-5 years. After this the barrel becomes neutral and its main purpose becomes a storage vessel. The wine quality can still develop and improve as flavours will concentrate due to evaporation of some water content of the wine and also through exposure to oxygen. Generally, any barrel can last a lifetime and even generations if it never runs dry of good quality wine and is kept away from extreme heat, high humidity and sunlight.
How do I restore an old barrel?
A barrel that has been dry for some time and is loose is best taken to a Cooper to “knock up”, otherwise a handy person can use a hammer and blunt metal object to tighten the rings Then do a water treatment. A?second hand barrel with unknown history, it is wise to empty the barrel and start over again. Rinse out the barrel with hot water (1/10 volume of the barrel) at least twice so the top and bottom interior surfaces are covered and soaked for at least 30 minutes. Then fill with cold water and allow swelling for up to 3 days to check for any slow leaks. If barrel still leaks after 3 days then drain and refill. If any off-odours are present (e.g. vinegar, medicinal) the barrel can be rejuvenated by fermenting sugar and water in it, followed by a hot water rinse before filling with fortified wine. Check with a cooper or keg supplier if in doubt.
I’m moving house. How do I transport my barrel?
A barrel that will be empty for more than a few days needs some preparation to be stored correctly. Empty the wine into well-sealed containers (glass or plastic is fine). A little wine can remain in the bottom to keep the barrel from drying out. Wine barrels can be left empty for a week or so, even in warm temperatures, before drying out completely. To transport, the bung should be securely taped on.
How do I store an empty barrel for long periods?
Empty the wine into well-sealed containers (glass or plastic is fine). Rinse the barrel with hot water then drain it, and allow it to dry completely. To prevent any contamination, a dose of sulfur dioxide (SO2) is needed to protect the barrel. Firstly fill the barrel 2/3 with cold water. A storage solution can be made by adding 1 gram of citric acid and 2 grams of SO2 for very litre of barrel volume. Mix this solution in a separate container with a small quantity of hot water so that everything becomes completely dissolved into the liquid. Add the solution to the barrel, roll the barrel to mix, and top it up the rest of the way and insert the bung. You will need to top up the barrel with more of the holding solution every 4 – 6 weeks, but the barrel can be stored like this indefinitely.
An important safety consideration is that SO2 is fairly safe to handle but you should wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing its fumes when handling it. Note that SO2 can be purchased from any brew shop as Sodium or Potassium Metabisulphite.
My wine has a medicinal off-flavour. How can I fix it?
Commonly medicinal flavour can occur as a combination of wood character and fruit flavours from the wine. It can be blended out by keeping the barrel topped with younger fault-free wine and having a little patience.
My wine has a vinegar-like off-flavour. How can I fix it?
The wine is probably infected with acetobacter (vinegar bacteria) or wild yeasts. The vinegary off-flavours can be blended out by keeping the barrel topped with younger fault-free wine and having a little patience.
My wine has a mouldy/musty off-flavour. How can I fix it?
If a barrel or its contents has or develops a mouldy, mushroom-like taste or odour, then this is quite difficult to fix. It’s best to empty the barrel, sterilize and start again with fresh wine refill. A fermentation of sugar water is a good solution to rejuvenate a barrel with off-flavours.
My wine is thick and syrupy. How can I make it more drinkable?
If wine is thick, viscous and syrupy it is a sign of old age. It will need topping up with fresh young wine such as Ruby Grenache or Ron’s Blend to dilute aged oak flavours. There is no need to wait as adding younger wine will make it more drinkable straight away.
What does turn barrel mean?
This is done when treating a new barrel to season it. By using a few litres of wine you can season more surface area of the barrel. Every few days, turn the barrel a little on its cradle. This can be done over a period of two weeks. Check how the port tastes before deciding to empty the initial wine or keeping it with some woody flavours and topping up with fresh wine. Now for a little patience before having a nip.
Can you blend sweet/dry sherry in a port keg?
Yes, you would add dry sherry to make a drier wine blend. By adding a sweet sherry style (Apera), Semillon,Frontignac orMuscat you would end up with a sweeter blend. Blend according to your preferred taste.
Can you blend fortified wines of different ages in a port keg?
Yes, in fact we recommend it to build complexity of the wine. To help give a keg a dramatic lead on the road to complexity we sell very old wines we call ‘rancio’ premium aged fortifieds. Sold in 100mL wax-sealed bottles in four different varieties; Muscat, Frontignac, Semillon and Tawny (Grenache).
Announcing the winners of the prestigious “Best Home Barrel Blend” for the 2018 competition. Judging took place in September with three expert judges deliberating samples of Tawny and white fortified wines sent in from our customer base.
Wines were very high standard with very little to pick on in terms of faults. All entries were worthy of medals. The winning wines showed complex flavours, great depth and balance. Entrants gained Ron?s specialist advice on how to improve their blend, which we believe is the most important outcome of this event.
Thanks to everyone who entered and helps support our business. We are only too happy to help you with our complete range of fortifieds to achieve the best results for your barrels.
Congratulations to all winners!
First Place: John Ridenour
Second Place: Martin Kennedy
Third Place: Filippo Pizzino
Ron Liebich’s winemaking comments:
Smaller barrels need to be “worked” to achieve best results. It is ok to have great rancio characters, the high ratio of wood in small barrels to wine means adding younger wine at times, preferably with minimum wood age (such as Ruby Fortified) as a portion of the addition. Youthful fortifieds are perfect for blending out excess wood tannin and maintaining fruit wood balance. The gold winners had the best balance of fruit and oak integration, indicating good management and? patience.