Whether you regularly enjoy a nice glass of chilled wine at the end of a hard workday, or you’re just an occasional wine drinker who will have a drink or two on special occasions, you must understand the basics of wine shelf life and freshness. Though wine can last a considerable deal of time on the shelf when properly stored, it can go bad in time and will then need to be tossed, as drinking “off” wine has the potential to lead to several issues. This article intends to explain the ins and outs of how long your wine should keep before you’ll need to throw it out and help you avoid the disappointment that comes with wasting any of your quality vintages. We’ll also explore the ways to know if your wine has finally gone bad, so you can prevent the unpleasant side effects that come with sipping a glass that will do much more than get you a little bit tipsy.
How Long Will Unopened Wine Last?
Unopened wines tend to have a relatively long shelf life that can vary in length depending on the type of wine in question. However, wine drinkers should never forget that even correctly sealed and stored wine will eventually go off, no matter its quality or how expensive it may have been when it was bought. That said, unopened wine can still often be enjoyed after the expiration date printed on the bottle or label, just so long as it smells and tastes alright.
In terms of range, unopened wine can last somewhere between 1-20 years, depending on its type. The following is a list of several common types of wine and how long they will usually last if left unopened, assuming their containers are properly sealed and stored.
Red Wine: Lasts 2-3 years beyond the provided expiration date
White Wine: Lasts 1-2 years beyond the provided expiration date
Fine Wine: Lasts 10-20 years, if stored correctly in a wine cellar
Light White & Rosé: Lasts about 1-3 years beyond their provided expiration date
Sparkling Wine: Lasts approximately 3 years beyond the given expiration date
Port: Can last for decades if properly sealed and stored
Sherry: Lasts 16-18 months if properly sealed
Cooking Wine: Lasts 3-5 years past the expiration date
Related: How to Open A Wine Bottle Like A Pro
How Long Will Open Wine Last?
There is a widespread misconception that all wines will improve with age. However, only about 5-10% of all wine will naturally improve with more than a single year of aging, and only about 1% of all wine will improve in quality with more than five years of aging. That means as much as 99% of all wine people buy is intended to be consumed relatively quickly and not stored for an extended period. While this doesn’t mean that the wine will expire quickly (as stated above, wine shelf life is relatively long no matter the type of wine in question), it does mean that people shouldn’t try to age it intentionally. It won’t cause any benefit to its quality or taste, and you do run the risk of it eventually going bad if stored for too long.
The following is a list of typical wines and how long they will usually last once they have been opened.
Red Wine: Lasts 3-6 days after opening
White Wine: Lasts 3-4 days after opening
Fine Wine: Lasts 1-5 days after opening
Light White & Rosé: Lasts 4-5 days after opening
Sparkling Wine: Lasts 1-2 days after opening
Port: Lasts 1-3 weeks after opening
Sherry: Lasts 2-3 weeks after opening
Cooking Wine: Lasts slightly more than one year after opening
How Long do Big Box and Liquor Store Wines Last?
As a general rule of thumb for wine drinkers, the vast majority of wines that can be purchased from liquor stores or big box stores are intended to be open and enjoyed right away, especially if they cost around $30 or less. While some of these wines can be safely stored for a bit and consumed within one or two years, it’s essential to note that they are not designed to be stored away for extended periods, and they will not get any better with age. It’s often best to purchase these wines, open them, and consume them within a relatively short timeframe to ensure that you will get as much enjoyable flavor out of them as possible without risking their integrity. It’s very disappointing to store wine away for a rainy day and forget about it until it has already gone off, even if you didn’t pay much for the bottle in the first place.
Expensive, Rich Red Wines
While the general length of time that red wine will last- whether opened or unopened- is provided in the lists in the above sections, we thought it would be best to give a few more details about high-quality, expensive, rich red wines. Typically, this is the kind of wine made to be aged long term, and buying them can almost be considered an investment. However, to ensure that this investment pays off, people need to store it correctly and in an appropriate environment. These wines should be carefully stored in a cool, dark environment that maintains a relatively consistent temperature of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average humidity somewhere between 70-90%.
Uncorked Wine Storage
A bottle of wine that someone has uncorked, as explained above, can be stored and enjoyed for a relatively short period, which is an excellent benefit for those who are unable to enjoy the entire contents in a single sitting. To ensure it lasts as long as possible, store the wine upright in the refrigerator after reinserting the cork in the bottle. You can also extend the amount of time the wine will last by using an effective wine preserver.
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Why Does Open Wine Go Bad?
Opened wine goes off due to several chemical reactions that begin to take place the second the cork is fully removed, which can change the wine flavor over time. When opened, oxygen rushes into the bottle, while sulfur dioxide- a chemical added into nearly all wines as a type of preservative- will dissolve in the air. While limited exposure to oxygen can make some wines taste more expressive and harmonious by smoothing the flavors and enhancing their volume, the clock ticks down once the bottle is opened. In as little as two days for some wine, oxidation will cause the wine to spoil and begin turning into vinegar. While this is the most common way for wine to go bad, it’s essential to know that this can also occur due to increased yeast and bacterial growth levels in the wine.
Time to Toss: Signs Your Wine Has Gone Bad
As stated above, once a bottle of wine is opened and the oxidation process begins, it’s a race against time to ensure that you drink the wine before it goes off and starts turning into vinegar. The first sign that wine is beginning to spoil is losing its delicious, fruity aroma. After the scent disappears, the flavor will start to take a turn for the worst, becoming flat and dull with a bitter, almost sharp edge that is often highly unpalatable. Once the aroma and flavor have changed, you’ll likely start to observe changes in the wine’s color as well. White wines will steadily darken and turn slightly brownish, while red wines will get lighter and also take on a brownish tint. Soon enough, the wine that once smelled like grapes, apples, cherries, or strawberries will start to smell like cider or vinegar and will taste just as bad.
There are a few other indications that your wine has gone bad that should be noted, however. Many people have reported the following scents, tastes, and visual changes in wine that have given up the ghost, so be sure to keep your nose, tongue, and eyes out for them.
Scents to Watch Out For
- Some off wine can produce a scent similar to a barnyard full of sweaty animals and manure. This scent is a sign that the bacteria Brettanomyces, or “Brett,” is present.
- If the wine develops a smell reminiscent of a wet basement, moldy cardboard, or a wet dog, that is an indication of TCA contamination, otherwise known as “cork taint.”
- If the wine starts to smell like cabbage, onions, burnt rubber, or rotten eggs, that indicates the wine received too little oxygen during the winemaking process. This caused the development of volatile sulfur compounds, including ones referred to as mercaptans.
Tastes to Watch Out For
- The taste of sauerkraut indicates that lactic acid bacteria are present in high levels.
- The distinct flavor of harsh chemicals, like paint thinner or acetone, indicates a flawed fermentation process.
Visuals to Watch Out For
- The sudden presence of bubbles or fizz in still wine indicates that the wine has started to re-ferment. This can occur if someone bottled the wine without ensuring proper sterilization, which allows the yeast to begin consuming excess sugars in the wine.
- If the cork in a wine bottle pushes up past the bottle’s rim, or if a leak is visible on the cork, the wine has likely received some heat damage. This damage can cause the wine to look and taste duller than it usually should.
The Dangers of Drinking Bad Wine
While tasting a small sip of off wine won’t cause the body any harm- aside from a potential bit of nausea from the flavor- it’s generally best not to drink any. Thankfully, this is rarely a problem that people will encounter; since off wine is so pungent and tastes so terrible, few people are likely to swallow it once they’ve put it in their mouth. On the off chance that someone does drink some off wine, there is no need for anyone to panic. However, there may be some rather unpleasant side effects that will follow soon after.
Generally speaking, drinking off wine will not make someone violently ill, as the wine itself has a low risk of ever harboring harmful microbial growth. This means that dangerous foodborne pathogens, such as B. cereus and E. coli- the two types of bacteria that can trigger food poisoning- are not a concern. However, as stated previously, one of the ways that wine goes off is due to bacterial growth. A study provided by the National Library of Medicine looking at survival rates for foodborne pathogens in alcohol has found that they can last anywhere from several days to multiple weeks. While consuming these foodborne pathogens may not cause outright food poisoning, they can cause a range of very similar symptomes, including abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and a generally upset stomach. Because of the potential for these uncomfortable side effects to occur, it’s typically best to discard any off wine that you may come across, whether it has been opened or not.
Related: How Many Glasses of Wine in a Box
Final Considerations to Keep in Mind
Now that you’ve learned the basics of how long wines can be safely stored before and after opening, you can be sure that you’ll never have to waste another drop of delicious wine that has gone bad. And if you’re a frequent wine drinker or are planning a lovely dinner party where you plan to serve up a delectable bottle to your guests, consider investing in some new top-quality wine glasses, stemware, and decanters presented by Taste of Purple. They will add a sense of style, class, and sophistication to your home and special events that are sure to leave all of your family and friends impressed.
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