Home Barrel Advice

FAQs on starting and caring for your home barrel

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Here we answer the most common questions we get asked about starting a home barrel and we also share our experience on how you can look after you barrel and maintain a quality blend throughout the barrel’s life.

Starting a Fortified Keg

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 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


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 ready to enjoy now or further age in your own barrel. Tawny’s can be blended with other vintages and are ready to drink immediately 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 25 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 can arrange refills in their own containers upon request.

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?

The main thing to remember is 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.

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 and 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 Grenache Tawny (available at cellar door only). 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.

Starting a Fortified Keg

What type of barrel should I get?

The main shapes on offer are round or oval in a variety of sizes, most commonly 4.5L, 9L, 14L and 20L (generally between AU$300-500 per keg). Basically, the smaller the barrel and the warmer storage area, the more rapidly wine development will take place.

Most customers with moderate port-drinking tendencies are happy with the 9L size which provides adequate time for the wine to age and for the owner to notice its development. Evaporation in barrels less than 9L size is quite dramatic – 1/3 lost over 2 years!

At the other end of the scale, anything over than 20L needs a LOT of drinking in order to make room for new additions (if changing the blend). If you are only going to have one barrel and you are in for the long haul, then 14L is ideal.

Where do I find a good keg supplier or cooper?
We recommend purchasing your barrel from a reputable supplier with access to a good supply of aged oak and a range of quality accessories. The basics required are a stand or cradle and a tap that starts easily and doesn’t leak. Check that the stopper (bung) fits snugly and there are no chips or cracks in the barrel. Other useful bits of kit are a measuring jug, funnel and some kind of dipstick to monitor the wine level.

When it comes to oak age the older wood the better and as for oak type, we prefer to use old fortified barrels as this aids faster maturation of new fortified wines. Old red wine barrels are still fine to use, but will but take longer to mature. From our experience, we tend to achieve softer, fuller tannins in our fortifieds from using Amercian oak rather than French oak barrels.

Keg suppliers in South Australia include The Keg Factory, AP John Coopers, SA Cooperage Workshop, A.Stiller Coopers and Tubbies. We cannot recommend one supplier over an another as it depends on your requirements, sources of timber and craftsmanship of the final product. It goes without saying that you really do get what you pay for.

What is the best custom finish?

There are many finishes and stains to choose from. The binding metal hoops can be antique brass, black or a shiny steel look. Some people ask if the external finish will affect the evaporation rate, but we believe it’s the internal treatment that should be your main focus. A quick note on cleaning the outside surface – do not polish or clean the barrel with chemical polisher but use water or a gentle dishwashing solution to remove dust or staining. A perfect gift idea is to personalise the barrel by engraving your unique image or special text onto the keg face.

How do I start my home fortified barrel?
Most times the supplier will provide instructions, but if they do not here are some basics:

1.Rinse barrel with hot water with the bung in tight. Then fill with cold or warm water to see if it leaks. Make sure the barrel is left somewhere where leaking water will not do any damage and NEVER immerse the barrel in water.

2. You can rinse 3-4 times with water to help remove woody flavours, but remember to change water each day. It is important to never keep water in a barrel or it will go off! Rinse barrel well and check for any troubling smells. If off-odours persist, you may have to have the barrel re-fired, which also sterilises it.

3. We advise filling barrel with cheaper youthful fortified to extract initial wood flavours, or you can fill with blend of your choice and then turn barrel for a fortnight. We don’t advise using any spirit as that then stays with the wood flavour (unless you like spirit flavour!)

If using a second hand barrel, it can be rejuvenated by fermenting sugar and water in it. Then rinse with hot water before using with fortified wine. If in doubt, check with a cooper or keg supplier.

What's the best temperature to store my barrel?
Higher storage temperatures contribute to faster wine development. Kegs can handle being stored in a shed in the southern and eastern parts of Australia. In the tropics we recommend finding a spot between 20-30°C.

Have more questions?

Contact Ron (via contact form below) and he can give you a qualified assessment of your personal blend and answer more questions to help you with your home barrel.

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