Wine is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages and you probably heard stories, of how people found centuries-old wines and they were still ok. Stories like this make you wonder, how long does wine stay fresh? Does wine expire?
Unopened wine can stay fresh for many years, but it can also go bad very quickly if not stored right. There are many reasons why wine can go bad. In this article, we will answer all of your questions on how long wine lasts, about spoiled wine, and how to prevent it.
How to Tell if Wine has Gone Bad
The winemaking process is complex and a lot can go wrong, one of the prominent problems is cork taint. Even though spoilage incidents and wine faults are rare, they can happen. But wine can also go bad because of faulty storage or after opening the bottle.
Perhaps you’re worried that you won’t be able to tell if an unopened wine has gone bad since it is such a complex beverage with many nuances of taste, color, and smell. But these three senses are exactly what you have to observe if you want to tell if wine inside the bottle is still ok to drink.
Use Taste, Sight, and Smell
The primary advice is, if the wine smells funny or the color has changed, you should probably get rid of it. The same goes if it doesn’t taste the same anymore.
When talking about appearance, spoiled wine usually develops a more tawny hue, is cloudy, and sometimes even sediment appears at the bottom. Newer or relatively newer vintages of red wine typically tend to go brownish, whereas white wine tends to become yellowish brown. Wine is similar to fruit when it is exposed to oxygen for too long the oxidized wine starts turning brown.
If you observe the bottle, you should be careful if the cork is slightly pushed out, this can happen if the bottle wasn’t corked correctly or the bottle was overheated (read more about corks here). Another sign of a spoiled wine is the development of bubbles, well this is a sign of still wines, not sparkling wines.
A bad wine also has an off smell, it can have a musty or moldy odor, like smelly socks, wet cardboard, or vinegar. Acetic scents develop because of bacteria and stale scents are the consequence of oxidation. If the wine has gone bad even before you opened it, it usually develops a garlic or garbage-like smell.
A change in the wine taste itself can also indicate that wine has gone bad. Usually, bad wine tastes like mold, vinegar, or horseradish.
Factors that Affect the Shelf Life of Wine
Every wine can go bad, this is true for opened wines and unopened bottles of wine. A general rule is that unopened bottles of wine can last for years if the bottle is stored properly and the wine is of good quality. This process is called aging and helps a fine wine develop a specific aroma.
On the other hand, cheap wines are not meant to be stored for that long, you should drink them in two years.
The best way to check how long wine lasts is to look at the printed expiration date on the bottle. Well, you will find it on most wines, some wineries only put on the bottling date.
But wines that were stored correctly can be still ok to drink also after the expiration date. With red wines, you can prolong their life if you stored the wine well for about 2-3 years, on the other hand, white wines should be safe to drink about a year or two after the expiry date.
But why can some wines stay fresh for years and others don’t? There are a few factors to it.
Wine has naturally occurring preservatives
The extract is one of the more important parts, that can influence the longevity of the wine already before the harvest. If there weren’t a lot of grapes on the vine, the extract is higher and this results in a storable wine.
Well-known preservatives are also alcohol, sugar, acids, and salts, all of which occur naturally in wines. If the levels of these preservatives are high, the wine will more likely age well. Other preservatives found in red wines are tannins. This is why the most known aged wines are red wines.
But you can also find external preservatives, such as sulfites, that are added after fermentation.
How Long Does an Open Bottle of Wine last?
One of the main factors of how long wine lasts is its alcohol content. The stronger the wine, the more likely it will be to last a couple of days after opening it. Light-bodied wines with about 12.5 percent alcohol content will usually go bad after two or three days if the opened wine bottles were stored in a cool and dark place.
Full-bodied wines with an alcohol content of 13.5 percent and more are usually fine to drink also after about five days after opening. Some can stay fresh even longer, like fortified wines and wines for cooking.
Generally, the recommended drinking window for open common wines is about three days.
How to Store Wine to Prolong its Shelf Life
If you follow some basic rules, you can prolong wine’s longevity for months or even years, depending on your desires. The key to keeping your bottle of good quality wine fresh is proper storage.
Wines hate the sunlight, which means you should store them in a dim place. If unopened wine bottles are exposed to light for too long it can expedite the spoilage. The main enemy is UV rays, which can prematurely age the wine.
Another important factor for a longer shelf life of unopened wines is the temperature. If you store your unopened bottle at room temperature the wine can get bad a couple of times faster than if stored in a cool place.
Storing temperature in the wine cellar or other type of storage should be steady, preferably between 45 °F and 65 °F (7 and 18 °C), ideally 55 °F (13 °C). Storing wine in the fridge is acceptable for some weeks, but not months or even years.
The wine should be stored horizontally to keep the cork wet and prevent it from drying out, which can lead to air getting in and spoiling the wine.
All of the above recommendations can be followed if you store your wine in the cellar or cool basement. If you don’t have this option but still want to store wine for a longer period, try buying a wine cooler.
How to Keep an Opened Bottle of Wine Fresh?
Once the bottle of wine is opened you can’t prevent it from getting spoiled. Well, you can if you drink it in time. But there are some easy steps to keep leftover wine fresh.
The main enemy of opened wine bottle is oxygen, which will slowly turn the wine into vinegar. You can prevent this by removing excess air from the wine bottle or at least preventing more air from getting in by putting the cork back in. If the wine cork no longer fits, you can use plastic wrap and rubber bands.
A good piece of advice that most wine lovers follow is to transfer your wine into a smaller vessel. With this step, you ensure the smallest amount of wine is in contact with air; usually, you can better seal or cork the smaller vessel.
A thing that is the same as with a closed bottle, keep your opened wine in a cool and dark space. The easiest way to store opened wine is to pop it in your fridge.
Take a look at our article “Does wine freeze“.
It is normal for wine to spoil if it’s not stored correctly before and after opening the bottle. But there are some simple rules on how to keep your bottle of wine fresh. The main is, to keep your bottle in a cool and dim place and prevent oxygen from getting to it.
With this in mind, you shouldn’t be afraid that the bottle of old wine will still be the life of the party after you open it. You can be sure it won’t scare everyone off because of some musty smell and taste.
But even if you observe all of the advice, something can still go wrong, maybe it isn’t even your fault. So if you find yourself with a bottle of bad wine, it’s probably best to discard it and purchase a new bottle.