wine shelf life

Wine Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Wine is definitely one of the most popular alcoholic beverages. We don’t need a special occasion to drink it. Hence, keeping one or two bottles on hand is what many people do.

Perhaps, you just had a birthday party. Some guests brought bottles of wine. Next to that, you still have a few opened wine bottles in the refrigerator.

At this point, you’re wondering: How long can you keep wines after opening? What about the unopened wines? Does wine go bad?

Whether you are new to wine or have been drinking it from time to time, it’s useful to know the essential details of wine’s shelf life. Proper storage is also a key to preserve its quality. If you’re curious, keep reading!

Common Types of Wines

In general, wines are classified into several main categories:

Red wine

Still wine (non-sparkling) made from the fermentation of dark-colored grape varieties. Some of the most famous red wines are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, etc.

White wine

Still wine made from white grapes and sometimes colored grapes, provided the extracted liquid is not stained. Some varieties of white wine are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.

Rosé wine

A pink colored wine, it can be still or sparkling.

Sparkling wine

Still wine that undergoes second fermentation after bottling to form the carbonation. Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava are among the most popular sparkling wines.

Fortified wine

Wine added with distilled spirits, usually brandy. The most common fortified wines are Port, Madeira, vermouth, sherry, and marsala.

How To Store Unopened Wines

Storage guidelines for alcoholic beverages depend on their types. When it comes to wine storage, it’s quite straightforward regardless of the types.

The ideal place is, of course, a wine cellar or wine cooler. But, unless you are a wine collector, you probably don’t have a dedicated place like one. Fear not, a dark cupboard usually works well too. Check the tips below!

1. Cool, dark place, out of sunlight and heat

No matter which type of one you have, unopened wines can safely sit at a cool, dry, dark place, protected from heat and lights. Exposure to heat and lights alter the flavor and aroma of your valuable wines.

2. Pick a spot with constant temperature

Choose temperature around 55 to 59ºF (or 12 to 15ºC). The lighter the wine, the lower the storage temperature is. This range is considered safe for most types of wines. If it’s too hot, the aroma and flavor will go flat over time.

3. Avoid vibrations

Storing wines close to a refrigerator is not a good idea, mainly if it vibrates a lot.

4. Humidity matters

The ideal humidity is around 50 to 70%. If it’s too low, the cork dries out. When it’s too humid, the label can get moldy and affects the cork too.

5. Place the bottles horizontally

You’ve probably noticed that wines are commonly stored on their sides. This is not just a random practice or for aesthetic purposes only.

The reason is to keep the cork moist and prevent it from drying out. If the cork dries out and disintegrates, the particles contaminate the wine. On top of that, the air enters the bottle and speeds up the oxidation process.

If you plan to drink it shortly, storing vertically should be fine. Likewise, if the cork is artificial, from rubber, metal, or plastic.

How To Store Wines After Opening

After you pop the cork, you should keep any leftover wine refrigerated. Don’t forget to seal it tightly to minimize exposure to air.

If you lost the original cork, seal the bottle with a wine stopper or at least cover it with aluminum foil. Better yet, transfer it into a smaller container. This way, you can also keep the exposure to air minimal.

How Do You Tell If Wine Has Gone Bad?

Let’s start with unopened bottles. Check if the bottle is still perfectly sealed. Any damage to the cork or leakage may affect the wine. Uncork the bottle and check inside.

After opening the bottle, chemical and physical reactions take place. Hence, it is best to empty the bottle within a few days (of course, also in moderation). The following are some common signs of wine going bad.

1.  Discoloration. Oxidation is likely the culprit if your white wine turns yellow or red wine turns brownish. It’s not necessarily bad, but it is certainly a sign that your wine is on the way to going bad.

2.  Bubbling wine. Unless for sparkling wine, bubbles are unwanted. Bubbling or fizzy wine is a result of spontaneous fermentation.

3.  Off-odor. If the wine smells off in any way, chances are it won’t taste good either. When going bad, wine emits a broad spectrum of bad smells resembling fermented foods or sulfuric acid. Bad wine takes the smells of sauerkraut, rotten onion, cabbage, etc.

4.  Vinegary or nutty taste. If fermentation continues, the wine develops vinegary or nutty taste.

5.  Flat taste. If the wine tastes flat, it has lost its desirable flavor and aroma. Or, it’s just a bottle of bad quality wine, to begin with.

There is always a bright side of life. In this case, you can still take advantage of your vinegary-wine. One of the many options is to use it for recipes calling for wine vinegar. But, if you still doubt, better stay on the safe side.

How Long Does Wine Last?

You’ve probably heard that wine gets better with age. Is it true? Yes and no. The shelf life of wine depends on the types, quality, and storage conditions.

As a rule of thumb, fine wines (think of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot) are designed to improve with age. These premium wines can last for decades in your wine cellar. Vintage wine also lasts longer than non-vintage ones.

But, most cheap wines you get from the supermarket are meant to drink immediately. Generally speaking, full-bodied red wine lasts longer than white wine. Fortified wines, such as Marsala, Sherry, Port, or vermouth, also tend to last longer, thanks to the addition of distilled spirits. (*)

After opening, the shelf life is cut down to only a few days. Sparkling wine (such as Champagne, Prosecco, or Cava) tends to lose its carbonation within a day or two.

White or red wine lasts a little longer, usually up to 5 days to a week. Meanwhile, fortified wine can preserve its freshness up to a month, thanks to its higher alcohol content.

Wine typesWine cellar / wine rack/ dark cupboardRefrigerator
Fine wines (unopened)Decades–    
Sparkling wine (unopened)3 to 5 years
Sparkling wine (opened)1 to 5 days
White wine (unopened)1 to 2 years
White wine (opened)–    3 to 5 days
Red wine (unopened)3 to 5 years
Red wine (opened)3 to 5 days
Fortified wine (unopened)3 to 4 years
Fortified wine (opened)1 to 2 months

This table is a general estimate for each wine category. The actual shelf life depends on its specific variety, initial quality, aging, and storage conditions.


Can you get sick from drinking bad wine?

Studies show that wine doesn’t support the growth of most pathogenic bacteria that cause foodborne illness. You’re likely to suffer from unpleasant-tasting wine rather than food poisoning. Bad wine smells and tastes off that your nose can’t lie. Stay on the safe side, don’t drink bad wine even if you’re an adventurous person.

Does wine go bad in the heat?

Perhaps this question arises because you left a bottle of wine in the car during hot summer days. Heat doesn’t necessarily spoil the wine, but it affects the flavor and taste. It’s hard to tell how bad the damage can be. To figure out, you should pop the cork and check for yourself using our guidelines above.

Can I refrigerate an opened bottle of wine?

As with other liquid and foods, keeping wines in the refrigerator after opening can help keep it for longer. Be sure to re-cork the bottle of wine carefully after every pour.

Final Thoughts

Wine can go bad in the sense of degrading quality, but it’s not likely to harm your health. Aside from its initial quality, storage conditions play a big role in preserving its quality and shelf life.

Keep unopened wines in a cool, dry, dark place. It can be a wine cellar, wine rack, or inside a dark cupboard. For long term storage, place the bottles horizontally. After opening, keep the bottles tightly sealed and refrigerated.

Fine and vintage wines can stay for decades in your cellar. Cheap, supermarket wines aren’t meant to get better with age and best to drink within a few months to years.

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