When we think about the longevity of wine, most of us probably imagine spacious wine cellars full of hundred-year old bottles and conclude that wine stays good for decades.
But does this image apply to all kinds of wine? Can wine go bad, and how can we tell?
Unfortunately, only a very small percentage of wine is designed to sit for year after year in a wine cellar and get better with age.
The average shelf wine is designed to be consumed soon after purchasing and will only last around two years when stored correctly in the bottle.
Once opened, the longevity reduces drastically. Even when re-sealed and stored in the refrigerator, the average wines will only stay drinkable from a few days to a week.
Shelf Life of Wine & Expiration Dates
The shelf life of wine can vary widely, depending on many different factors – including the year of production, how the wine was prepared, and how it is stored. The biggest culprit for causing wine to go bad is oxygen, closely followed by heat and sunlight.
Since the majority of wine is sold ready to drink, the clock is ticking as soon as you buy the bottle. Additionally, if your retailer has not kept the bottles at a consistent temperature, the expiration date may be fast approaching.
- Red Wine – For a general recommendation, most red wines can last 2-3 years while still sealed. Once opened, a bottle of red may last you for one to two weeks stored in the fridge. Pinot noir is one of the more sensitive red wines and will go bad more rapidly than other varieties. Red wines are considerably more hardy than white wines, due to the higher presence of tannins which act as a preservative.
- White Wine/ Rose/ Moscato – Generally, bottled white wines can last around 1-2 years when stored correctly. Once opened, times can vary – some versions lasting up to 7 days in the refrigerator, while others only stay good for 1-2 days. To be on the safe side, we recommend consuming your white wine sooner rather than later.
- Dessert Wine – Dessert wine has a higher alcohol content and more sugar than regular wine, meaning it will last longer. A quality dessert wine can last for 10 years stored correctly, but, like other wines, will only maintain its taste and aroma for a few days once opened. If stored correctly, you may get a week or two out of it.
- Sparkling Wine – In storage, the average sparkling wine can last for 1-2 years. Once opened, this will only stay good for 1-3 days in the fridge. It will go flat within 1-2 days.
- Chardonnay – Chardonnay is a fuller-bodied white wine that should stay good for around 3-5 days in the fridge.
- Sangria – The shelf life of sangria can vary, depending on the fruit used in the concoction. As a general guideline, sangria will stay good in the fridge for up to three days.
- Cooking Wine – Like other wines, cooking wine can last 2-3 years when stored correctly. Once opened, it will last for around 1-2 months in the fridge.
- Boxed Wine – Boxed wine can still be consumed up to one year after the expiry date. Even after opening, it should last 6-12 months in the fridge. Although boxed wine is lower quality, it has a longer life due to the “bladder” it is stored in, which reduces the entry of air.
- Fine Wine – The rare and expensive fine wines that are designed to “age” will last for many decades when stored correctly in a wine cellar – even beyond a century. However, once opened, they will rapidly deteriorate – better to enjoy their distinctive qualities as soon as possible after uncorking.
Unlike hard liquors that have a high enough alcohol content to be extremely stable, even the very best wines will eventually spoil. If exposed to extreme heat, any wine can be destroyed in just a few hours.
SEE ALSO: Does Alcohol Go Bad?
How To Tell If Wine Is Bad
Often, you can tell if your wine is bad before you even open the bottle. If the cork or lid is loose or dislodged, it’s likely that your wine will already have turned. Here are some sure-fire ways to determine if your wine has gone bad.
- Look at the liquid. All varieties of wine should be clear. If it appears cloudy or you can spot sediment at the bottom, it’s most likely bad. If your wine has bubbles but isn’t meant to be a sparkling wine, it’s a definite sign that something is not right!
- Check the color. Red wine that has gone bad will become brownish. White wine will also take on a brown tint.
- Smell your wine. When wine turns, it essentially becomes vinegar. Old or bad wine will have a sour, vinegar-like odor. Other common aromas that indicate that your wine has turned include wet dog, wet cardboard or nail-polish remover.
- Taste test your wine. Take a little sip of your wine, it won’t hurt you even if it is rancid. Bad wine will have a distinctly vinegary taste. Before that stage, it may lose the fruity flavors or taste slightly nutty.
How Long Does Wine Last After Opened?
Wine has such a wide array of types, even within the categories such as white or red. The bottle you purchase can have wildly different tastes and qualities.
If a wine is higher in tannins – such as red wine, it will last longer, even when opened. Tannins provide antioxidants that protect wines for long-term cellaring. White wines have almost no tannin. See more about tannins in wine here.
Wines higher in sugar or alcohol content, such as dessert wines, will last longer, as these factors can help preserve the liquids.
When storing uncorked wine, be aware that the less acidic the wine is, the shorter the time you have to drink it.
Opened wine must be stored in the fridge. If it is exposed to sunlight, heat or air, it will turn rapidly and be undrinkable within a day or so.
As a general guideline, red wine may last you up to two weeks when sealed and stored in the refrigerator, while white wine up to one week.
To get the optimal tastes and flavors from your wine, we recommend consuming it within one to two days of opening.
What Happens If You Drink Bad Wine?
When wine spoils, it will not suffer from the bacterial overgrowth that can cause food poisoning. Because wine in itself is a preservative, it can’t grow any nasty microbes that will make you sick.
The bacteria that does ferment your wine is the same kind used to ferment yoghurt and pickles, so won’t cause any health issues.
The worst thing that can happen if you drink bad wine is that it will taste awful and you’ll have to dispose of it.
If for some reason you persist in drinking wine that has turned into vinegar, the highly acidic liquid will not be kind to your stomach.
What Happens If You Drink Old Wine?
There’s an important distinction to make between aged wine and old wine.
The aging of fine wine is done in sealed, corked bottles that are correctly stored in a cellar for long periods. These wines are highly valued and have distinctive tastes.
Old wine is simply wine that is past its prime. If it hasn’t yet turned “bad,” with the qualities outlined above, your wine will probably just lack in the delicious fruity flavors that make it so desirable. Old wine that has not yet soured into vinegar may taste nutty.
Drinking old wine can’t make you ill, it’s just less pleasant to drink. You can use old wine in your cooking with no concerns. It’s great for using in marinades, sauces or soups.
The production of wine is a centuries old art that is both complex and variable. With so many considerations and factors coming into play, there is no single answer to suit every wine.
If you stick to our guidelines for shelf life and learn how to identify “bad” wine, you’re well on your way to enjoying a quality glass or two.
The way you store your wine – both before and after opening – is important in lengthening its life. Remember that sunlight, heat, and exposure to air will all speed up the process of deterioration, and that keeping opened wine in the fridge will help you get a few extra days out of it.