Q: Why wine goes bad?
A: Wines stored after opening can go bad in two major ways. The first way is when acetic acid bacteria consume the alcohol in wine and metabolize it into acetic acid and acetaldehyde. This causes the wine to have a sharp, vinegar-like smell. Additionally, the alcohol can oxidize, causing a nutty, bruised fruit taste, that robs the wine of fresh, fruity flavors. These are both chemical reactions, and so the lower the temperature you keep a wine, the more slowly this will happen.
Q: How long does wine last after it’s opened? And… does wine go bad?
A: Most wines last open for only about 3–5 days before they start to go bad. Of course, this greatly depends on the type of wine! Find out more about this below.
Don’t worry though, “spoiled” wine is essentially just vinegar, so it’s not going to harm you. Here’s how long different styles of wine last open.
How Long Does an Open Bottle of Wine Last?
- 1–3 days in the fridge with a sparkling wine stopper – Sparkling wines lose their carbonation quickly after opening. A traditional method of sparkling wine, such as Cava or Champagne, will last a little longer than a tank method of sparkling wine like Prosecco. The traditional method wines have more atmospheres of pressure (more bubbles) in them when they’re bottled, which is why they tend to last longer.
Light White, Sweet White and Rosé Wine
- 5–7 days in the fridge with a cork – Most light white and rosé wines will be drinkable for up to a week when stored in your refrigerator. You’ll notice the taste will change subtly after the first day, as the wine oxidizes. The overall fruit character of the wine will often diminish, becoming less vibrant.
Full-Bodied White Wine
- 3–5 days in the fridge with a cork – Full-bodied white wines, like oaked Chardonnay and Viognier, tend to oxidize more quickly because they saw more oxygen during their pre-bottling aging process. Be certain to always keep them corked and in the fridge. If you drink a lot of this type of wine, it’s a really smart idea to invest in vacuum caps.
- 3–5 days in a cool dark place with a cork – The more tannin and acidity the red wine has, the longer it tends to last after opening. So, a light red with very little tannin, such as Pinot Noir, won’t last open as long as a rich red like Petite Sirah. Some wines will even improve after the first day opens. Store open red wines in a chiller or a dark cool place after opening them. If you don’t have a chiller, your fridge is better than letting the wine sit out in a 21°C (70°F) room.
- 28 days in a cool dark place with a cork – Fortified wines like Port, Sherry, and Marsala have very long shelf lives because of the addition of brandy. While these wines do look marvelous displayed on a high shelf, they will lose their vibrant flavors more quickly from exposure to light and heat. The only wines which will keep forever when open are Madeira and Marsala–they’re already oxidized and cooked! Just so you know, the sweeter the dessert wine, the longer it will last open. The same temperature-based rules apply here: best to keep them stored in the fridge.
2–3 weeks stored in the fridge (red and white wine) Bag-in-a-Box is a wonderful thing for daily drinkers since the bag is an anaerobic environment. A few producers even have decent-tasting box wines without any flaws. Still, you won’t want to keep these wines for longer than a month because box wines have expiration dates, due to regulations on food stored in plastics.
Follow the same rules for bottled wines.
Is my opened wine still good?
The key to storing open red wine and keeping open white wine fresh is to keep oxygen away from the remaining wine while doing so at a cool temperature to slow the oxidation reactions. The best way to tell if your open bottle of wine – screw top or cork closed – is still good is to give it a sniff then, if the aroma seems pleasing, taste it. If you like the aromas and flavors, the opened wine is still good! Personal preferences play a big part here, just as they do when a wine bottle is first opened. If you want to be more methodical, follow these steps:
- Take a look at the wine’s color. Opened red wines will turn brickish or brown while open white wines turn darker yellow or even gold.
- Sniff the wine and see if the fruit character is as lively as the last time you tasted the wine. Also, check to see if the wine is starting to smell like the vinegar in your pantry.
- If the wine smells appealing, give it a sip. But, make it a small sip! Sometimes a wine smells fine, but it tastes terrible. I love balsamic vinegar as a condiment, but I will never pour a glass to drink.
- Turn your geek on, if you want! Jot some quick notes of your observations of the wine the first night it is opened and also note how much you like it. Then, compare your second night’s tasting back to that note. As you collect experiences doing this, you’ll develop a good feel for how long opened wine can last!