At What Point Does Wine Go Bad?

While many bottled wines get better with age, this isn’t necessarily the case with opened wines. And even bottled wines go bad eventually, as all food and drinks do. But at what point do wines actually go bad? Are expired wines safe to drink? And how do you know if a wine has gone bad?

How long does unopened wine last?

Yes, unopened wines last longer than opened wines. However, they will eventually go bad. Unopened wines usually have an expiration date printed on their bottles, but they are safe to drink after they’ve technically expired, as long as they taste and smell okay.

The shelf life of unopened wines depends on the type of wine and how well they’re stored. Some wines are manufactured for aging, while other wines are made to be consumed almost immediately. In general, white wines last around one to two years past their expiration dates, and red wines last about two to three years past their expiration date. Cooking wines will last around three to five years after their printed expiration dates, and fine wines can age for 10 to 20, as long as they’re properly stored in a wine cellar.

How long does opened wine last?

Once a bottle of wine has been opened, the window you have to drink it before it goes bad shrinks rapidly. Once a bottle of wine is opened, it’s exposed to more oxygen, light, heat, yeast, and bacteria, all of which alter the quality of the wine and make it go bad more quickly. Storing opened wines covered and chilled helps them last longer, but you should still try to drink them as quickly as possible.

In general sparkling wines last one to two days after opening, light wines and rosé last four to five days after opening, and rich white wines last three to five days after opening. Red wines last slightly longer after being opened, around three to six days. Dessert wines last three to seven days and ports will last one to three weeks.

How to tell if your wine has gone bad

Wines will have a printed expiration on them, and after that point, they are technically expired. However, most wines are safe to drink after their expiration dates, as long as they taste okay and smell fine. Here are some warning signs that your wine has gone bad and should not be consumed.

The wine is cloudy

One of the major warning signs that wine has gone bad is its cloudy appearance. Yes, some wines are cloudy, to begin with, but if you’ve noticed a major shift in the opacity of your wine since you purchased or opened it, chances are, it’s gone bad. Cloudiness is an indication that there may be microbial activity occurring within the bottle.

The wine begins to turn brown

Much like an apple, some wines can begin to turn brown when exposed to too much oxygen. This is a process called oxidation. While brown-colored wines aren’t inherently bad (some wines are intended to be brown or tawny-colored, such as a Tawny Port), if your wine has changed colors rapidly, chances are it has oxidized and gone bad.

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The wine has tiny bubbles

This visual signifier only works for still wines or wines that aren’t intentionally bubbly. If you notice tiny bubbles inside your bottle of still wine, this may indicate unplanned fermentation and yeast activity inside the bottle. Unfortunately, your wine won’t taste delicious like Champagne at this point. Rather, it will most likely be oddly sour.

The cork looks strange

Looking at a wine bottle’s cork is another way to tell if your wine has been tainted. If the cork shows wine leak or has crumbled, this is a sign that your wine has been exposed to the elements, and oxygen, light, yeast, and bacteria may have entered the bottle. If you notice your cork pushing up past the rim of the bottle, this may be a sign that your wine has undergone heat damage and shouldn’t be consumed.

The wine smells funny

If you can’t tell if your wine is bad by sight, the smell is another powerful indicator. Different smells indicate different reactions happening within the wine. For example, if your wine has oxidized and become stale, it may smell nutty, like applesauce, or like burnt marshmallows.

If your wine smells sharp and acidic, like vinegar or sauerkraut, this indicates bacteria growth inside the bottle. You may also notice sour medicinal aromas, like nail polish remover or paint thinner. These aromas are caused by chemical reactions from being exposed to too much oxygen or heat within the bottle. These chemical reactions can cause bacteria to grow and produce acetic acid and acetaldehyde.

Some wines may have funny smells before you even open them. These are usually caused by faults within the wine faults, which are present at bottling. Wine faults are surprisingly common and affect about one in every 75 bottles of wine. Faulty wines may smell like cabbage, burnt rubber, or garlic.

The wine tastes bad

Obviously, you’d ideally like to avoid drinking bad wine. However, sometimes the other indicators don’t provide a conclusive answer, so you have to taste the wine. Drinking a small amount of expired wine most likely won’t hurt you or cause any ill effects on your health, as wine is considered a very low food safety risk. However, it’s never recommended to drink expired wines, just in case.

A wine that has gone bad may have a sharp, sour flavor, similar to vinegar. It also may burn your nasal passages as you swallow, like horseradish. If a wine has gone bad from oxidation, it may taste like caramelized applesauce. If you notice any funky flavors of any type, we recommend not drinking the wine (and why would you want to?)

How to store wine to keep it fresh

Eventually, all wine goes bad, no matter how you store it. But, there are some ways you can store your wine that will help to keep them fresh as long as possible. In general, wines should be kept in cool, dark places to mimic the environment of a wine cellar. Not everyone is lucky to have a wine cellar in their house, but if you’re trying to keep an unopened bottle of wine fresh, storing it in a basement or a cool closet is a good idea.

Unopened wine bottles should always be stored on their side. This prevents the cork from drying out. Corks play an essential role in keeping wine fresh, as they allow in a tiny amount of oxygen but not enough to allow the wine to oxidize. If corks get too old or dry, they can crumble, exposing your wine to the elements.

Once a wine bottle has been opened, storing it upright is better. Since opened wine doesn’t typically last more than a week or two, you don’t need to worry about the cork drying out. Storing wine bottles upright helps reduce the surface area of the wine that has been exposed to oxygen, which helps to slow down the oxidation process.

After a bottle of wine has been opened, it’s a good idea to keep it stored in the refrigerator. When stored at cold temperatures, the chemical processes within the bottle slow down. This means the wine can’t oxidize as quickly, and bacteria can’t grow as fast. Wines stored in the fridge after being opened can last around three days to a week, depending on the type of wine.

Try to avoid exposing your wine to as much light and heat as possible. This can damage your wine and speed up the processes that cause it to go bad. Also, try to avoid drastic temperature changes to your bottle of wine, such as quickly going from cold to hot. When taking a bottle of wine out of the fridge, you can slowly bring it back up to room temperature by submerging it in lukewarm water. 

The takeaway

Like all food and beverages, wine does eventually expire. However, most wines are safe to drink after their technical expiration date. Wines that have gone bad have various visual indicators or expiration and may taste funny or smell bad. While drinking a small amount of expired wine likely won’t hurt you, we don’t recommend it.

If your wine is expired and you’re left without a bottle, call Saucey to come to the rescue. We offer speedy delivery and no order minimums on a huge variety of wines, beers, and spirits. Order from us today and get your favorite adult beverages delivered without ever having to leave your couch.

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