Posted on Leave a comment

FAQ’s Home Barrel Seasoning, Blending and Ageing

Keg Blend 5L Refill

Welcome to the world of port barrel ageing! This age-old tradition adds depth and character to fortified wines that will have you boasting about your homemade wine to all your mates.

Here you will find answers to some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about looking after a home wine barrel for port style wine.

Don’t see what you are looking for?? Visit the previous posts on maintaining a home barrel for more information.

Barrel Care Part 1: How to start a port keg

Barrel Care Part 2: How to maintain a home port keg?

FAQ?s Home Barrel Seasoning, Blending & Ageing

What is Tawny style Port wine?

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 or a combination of Ron’s Blend and 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 every 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 or Muscat 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).


To order bulk or rare old fortified wines, download the order form here.


Posted on 2 Comments

Barrel Care Part 2: How to Maintain a Fortified 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 Fortified 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 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 (Mouv?dre) ? 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 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.


  • 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

Posted on Leave a comment

Barrel Care Part 1: How to Start a Fortified 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 fact sheet answers common questions we get asked about starting your home barrel. We share our tips for looking after your barrel and maintaining a quality blend throughout the barrel?s life in Barrel Care Part 2: How to Maintain a Fortified Keg.

What type of barrel?

Size & Storage

The main shapes on offer are round or oval in a variety of sizes, most commonly 4.5L, 9L, 14L and 20L (all between AU$250-400 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 about a 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.

9L barrel with antique finish

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 about storage temperature?

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.

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