Does Wine Go Bad?
Anish Patel @ 2022-03-21 05:53:02 -0700
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end—but is that really the case for wine?
Doesn’t wine last until the end of time? The answer is sometimes. It really depends not only on the grape but also on the style of wine. All wine does go bad eventually. However, this famed alcoholic beverage has a superpower, so to speak, one that other beverages and foods don’t have: longevity.
Many table wines can keep for 1-5 years. After that, they’ll start tasting a little worse with each passing year. Even then, it doesn’t mean you can’t drink the wine. You can; it just won’t taste as good. On the other hand, high-quality, fine wine can age for decades — some for 100 years! In the case of these wines (no pun intended), you can expect the flavor to improve with time.
If you’re curious about how wine evolves with age or how to know when your wine is starting to lose its character, this guide is for you. We’re going to demystify the expiration dates on wine so you can make sure that you will enjoy every bottle you buy.
Does Wine Ever Expire?
Wine is safe to drink for years, so the wine in your cellar will technically not go “bad.”
However, that wine will reach a point where it is in its prime and go downhill from there. After that, it will start to taste one-noted rather than complex. Too-old wine might become bitter, taste like vinegar, or lose its fruitiness. So, it’s good to know when to drink your wine, even though it doesn’t technically go bad.
Unopened, some wines can stay fresh for decades in your cellar, developing a more complex flavor and a smoother mouthfeel. To ensure that your wines stay as fresh as they were the day they were bottled, store them in a relatively cool, dark place in your home.
When wine gets really old (say, older than 15 years), it becomes a little more fragile — just like a person. Direct sunlight or heat from your vent could “shock” the flavors out of the bottle.
Old Wines Sometimes Become “Faulted”
It’s a harsh statement, especially considering it’s not the wine’s fault, but about 2% of bottled wines get “contaminated.”
That word is in quotes because you won’t get sick from drinking these wines, but they won’t taste great. Furthermore, some of them will smell pretty putrid. A wine develops a fault from chemical reactions that happen in the winery. However, these faults can also develop when the wine is bottled improperly, gets too hot, or gets jostled in transit.
For this reason, importers have to take great care to make sure that their wine gets to its destination safely. If they don’t, their customers might open the wine to find that it smells like vinegar, damp cardboard, or even rotten cabbage.
Luckily, this is very rare.
Which Wines Last the Longest?
The answer to this question is a little bit complicated.
Typically, every wine region has vineyards that consistently produce age-worthy fruit and fruit that just doesn’t have the quality to last more than 5-7 years. This is still the case if the vineyards are growing the same grape. Climate, sun exposure, and soil type all contribute to the longevity of wine as well — it all goes back to the vineyard.
It’s very common for the vineyards that produce long-lasting wines to be located on a slope or a hillside where they get optimal sun exposure. On the other hand, the vineyards that make youthful wines might be on plains or lowlands.
These wines are called “entry-level” wines or table wines. They have their own noble place on the dinner table — so don’t knock them.
A wine has two qualities that give it what it needs to last decades in the bottle: tannins and acidity.
How Tannins Help Wine Age
Tannins are chemical compounds found on the skins of grapes. They’re also found in the seeds and on the stems. They impart a drying, astringent mouthfeel, and you can detect them in red wine (white wines don’t have them).
Tannins have different “personalities” and roles in a wine’s flavor profile. Some are gritty and sandy, and some are silky. The tannins actually change as you age your wine.
As a bottle of red wine ages, a chemical reaction takes place. A tiny amount of oxygen enters the bottle through the cork and this changes the molecular structure of the tannins. They soften, smooth out, and allow the wine to develop even more complex flavors. The wine literally “opens up” to reveal more and more layers.
Tannins are also preservatives. They keep the wine fresh and help it last longer. Thus, grapes with naturally high levels of tannins are suited for long-term aging. Some of these grapes are:
Acidity Helps a Wine Last Longer, Too
Acidity also acts as a preservative, keeping the wine fresh for long periods of time. Acidity forms in the pulp of the grape. Over time, the wine’s acidity has the same softening quality that tannins do.
Wines with too-low levels of acidity won’t make it. They’ll taste flabby or flat after too much time. However, almost all wines have enough acidity to last 2-4 years, so don’t worry. Even the cheapest wine has plenty of time.
What about wines with the highest acidity? Some of them can stay fresh for up to 100 years. The grapes that make up these kinds of wines are:
You Should Drink Most Wines “Young”
Contrary to what you may think, most wine is meant to be enjoyed in its youth — within 1 to 5 years. This is a good thing; you can afford great wine and don’t have to wait until you’re retired to drink it.
Some examples of excellent table wines — wines that don’t need too long to age — are:
Cotes du Rhone
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if the wine is under $20, drink it within a year or two of the vintage on the label. If it’s in the $20-$30 range, you can probably push it a few more years. Nevertheless, enjoy it relatively quickly if you want to taste it in its prime.
Drink Your Wine as Soon as It’s Open
Once you pop that cork, you don’t have too much time. Wine is at its best when you first open it and let it breathe a little bit. After that, it slowly starts to make its descent downhill.
When you open a bottle of wine, it gets a little burst of oxygen that initiates a chemical reaction. It’s very similar to what happens when you leave fruit out on the counter. Unripe fruit ripens when exposed to oxygen. Then it reaches a point where it's perfectly ripe—this is the best time to eat it. But if you miss that window, it starts going bad. It browns a bit, goes soft, loses its delicious flavor, and generally isn’t pleasant to eat.
Wine also goes through this process when you open it. At first, exposure to oxygen opens its flavors up. By the next day, you might start to notice a vinegar note, one tha you can’t miss by day three. By day four, it’s time to drink up or pour it down the drain.
Here’s some general rules for the shelf life of an open bottle of wine after it’s open:
Red wine: 2-4 days
White wine: 3-5 days in the fridge
Sparkling wine: 24-48 hours in the fridge
How To Make Your Wine Last Longer
Once you’ve opened your wine, time will do its thing no matter what. However, there are a few steps you can take to lengthen the time you have with your precious bottle.
First, cork the bottle between glasses. This can be especially helpful when drinking entry-level wines, which won’t benefit from decanting on the first day. Keep that cork on to minimize the contact with oxygen.
Second, store your wine in the refrigerator. It lasts a little longer in there, and you might find that your light reds actually taste quite pleasant with a little chill to them.
Lastly, get a vacuum sealer. They cost about as much as a bottle of table wine — not much at all. While they don’t necessarily make the wine last longer, vacuum sealers preserve the wine’s freshness within the ideal drinking window.
Every wine is different. Some age, some don’t, and occasionally you find a unicorn that actually tastes better the day after you opened it. These are wines to be cherished, so enjoy!
Want a wine that will last forever? Try our canned Spanish wine cocktail, Rebuijto. Made from natural ingredients, gluten-free, and will stay good on your shelf until you’re ready for it.