If you’ve ever wondered whether a leftover or old bottle of wine is still OK to drink, you’re not alone.
While some things get better with age, that doesn’t necessarily apply to an opened bottle of wine.
Food and beverages do not last forever, which also holds true for wine.
This article covers how long wine lasts and how to tell if your wine has gone bad.
How long does unopened wine last?
Though unopened wine has a longer shelf life than opened wine, it can go bad.
Unopened wine can be consumed past its printed expiration date if it smells and tastes OK.
It’s important to remember that the shelf life of unopened wine depends on the type of wine and how well it’s stored.
Here is a list of common types of wine and how long they will last unopened:
- White wine: 1–2 years past the printed expiration date
- Red wine: 2–3 years past the printed expiration date
- Cooking wine: 3–5 years past the printed expiration date
- Fine wine: 10–20 years, stored properly in a wine cellar
Generally, wine should be kept in cool, dark places with bottles on their sides to prevent the cork from drying out.
Summary: The shelf life of unopened wine can last 1–20 years depending on the type of wine.
How long does opened wine last, and why does it go bad?
The shelf life of an opened bottle of wine varies depending on the type. In general, lighter wines go bad a lot faster than darker varieties.
Once the wine is opened, it’s exposed to more oxygen, heat, light, yeast, and bacteria, all of which can cause chemical reactions that alter the quality of the wine.
Storing wine at lower temperatures will help slow these chemical reactions and keep open wine fresher for longer.
Here is a list of common wines and an estimation of how long they will last once they are opened:
- Sparkling: 1–2 days
- Light white and rosé: 4–5 days
- Rich white: 3–5 days
- Red wine: 3–6 days
- Dessert wine: 3–7 days
- Port: 1–3 weeks
The best way to store opened wine is tightly sealed in the refrigerator.
Bottles of still, or non-sparkling, wine should always be decanted before storing.
Summary: Opened wine goes bad due to a series of chemical reactions that can change the flavor of the wine. In general, lighter wines go bad faster than darker wines. Opening wine should be tightly sealed and stored in the refrigerator to prolong the shelf life.
Signs your wine has gone bad
Besides looking at the printed expiration date, there are signs that your wine — both opened and unopened — has gone bad.
The first way to check is to look for any change of color.
For the most part, dark wines, such as purple and red, that turn a brownish color, and light white wines that change to a golden or opaque color should be discarded.
The color change typically means the wine has been exposed to too much oxygen.
Unplanned fermentation can also occur, creating unwanted tiny bubbles in the wine.
Smelling your wine is also a good indicator of whether your wine has gone bad.
A wine that has been left open for too long will have a sharp, vinegar-like smell similar to that of sauerkraut.
A wine that has gone stale will start to have a nut-like odor or smell like applesauce or burnt marshmallows.
On the other hand, a wine that has never been opened but has gone bad will smell like garlic, cabbage, or burnt rubber.
If you are feeling adventurous, tasting your wine is also a good way to tell whether it has gone bad. Tasting a small amount of bad wine will not cause any harm.
A wine that has gone bad will have a sharp sour or burnt applesauce flavor.
Looking at the wine cork can also give you an idea.
A wine leak visible in the cork or a cork pushing past the wine bottle rim could be a sign that your wine has undergone heat damage, which can cause the wine to smell and taste duller.
Summary: There are several ways to check whether your opened and unopened wine has gone bad. A wine that has experienced color changes, emits a sour, vinegar-like smell, or has a sharp, sour flavor has gone bad.
Health concerns about drinking bad wine
While tasting a small amount of bad wine will not cause you any harm, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should drink it.
Suggested read: Does alcohol expire? Shelf life of alcohol
Wine can turn bad from over exposure to oxygen and an increase in yeast and bacterial growth.
Chances are drinking bad wine may only be very unpleasant, as wine has a low risk of harboring microbial growth. As such, harmful foodborne pathogens like E. coli and B. cereus — two types of bacteria that can cause food poisoning — are not often a problem.
That said, bacterial growth is still possible. A study examining the survival rates of foodborne pathogens in alcoholic beverages found that they can last from several days to weeks.
That said, this study only looked at beer and refined rice wine.
Symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
Therefore, if you come across bad wine, regardless of whether it has been opened, the best practice is to discard it.
Summary: Drinking bad wine is unpleasant and may expose you to harmful foodborne pathogens, though the risk is relatively low. It’s best to throw out bad wine, regardless of whether it has been opened.
Similarly to any other food or beverage, wine has a shelf life.
The best way to enjoy your wine fresh is to drink it shortly after you purchase it.
However, you can still enjoy unopened wine about 1–5 years after the expiration date, while leftover wine can be enjoyed 1–5 days after it has been opened, depending on the type of wine.
You can also increase your wine’s freshness by storing it properly.
The next time you find leftover or old wine in your kitchen, check whether it has gone bad before you throw it out or drink it.