Wine enthusiasts often wonder if an opened bottle of wine can go bad, and if so, how long it will stay drinkable after opening. The short answer is yes, wine can spoil after opening, but there are many factors that determine how long it will stay fresh and enjoyable.
What causes wine to go bad once opened?
Once a wine bottle is opened and exposed to oxygen, a process called oxidation begins. Oxidation causes chemical changes in wine that affect its aroma, flavor, and overall quality. The primary culprits behind wine oxidation are:
- Exposure to oxygen – When a wine bottle is first opened, oxygen can interact with compounds like pigments and tannins.
- Exposure to light – Light, especially UV rays, can accelerate the oxidation process.
- Heat fluctuations – Big temperature swings can disrupt the wine’s delicate chemistry.
- Contamination – Bacteria and wild yeasts can infect and spoil wine.
These factors promote oxidation and eventually degrade the wine’s flavors and aromas, causing it to go bad.
Does red or white wine go bad faster once opened?
There are significant chemical differences between red and white wines that affect their oxidation rates. Some key points of comparison:
- Tannins – Red wines are higher in tannins, which help preserve them.
- Pigments – Red wine pigments help prevent oxidation.
- Acidity – Whites’ high acidity makes them prone to oxidation.
- Aroma – White wines’ delicate aromas are more easily lost.
So in general, red wines last longer after opening than whites due to their higher tannin and pigment content. But there can be variation between specific red and white wine styles and qualities. Simple white wines with low acidity may outlast some light-bodied reds. For the most part though, red wine holds up better over time once exposed to air.
How long does red wine last after opening?
The lifespan of an opened red wine depends on its style, quality, and the storage conditions:
- Lower quality red wines last only 1-2 days before declining in quality.
- Medium-bodied red wines like Pinot Noir can stay fresh for 3-5 days if recorked and refrigerated.
- Full-bodied red wines like Cabernet have the longest shelf life, lasting 4-7 days or longer.
- Rich fortified wines like Port may stay drinkable for 4 weeks or more.
Higher quality red wines tend to have more tannins, pigments, and compounds that prevent oxidation and microbial growth. So the better the wine, the longer it will retain its sensory qualities after opening.
How long does white wine last after opening?
Here are the general guidelines for how long different types of white wines last after opening:
- Basic white wines last only 1-2 days before rapid decline.
- Light, fruity whites like Riesling or Vinho Verde may last 3-5 days if stored properly.
- Oaked whites like Chardonnay can maintain quality for 5-7 days when recorked.
- Dessert wines with high residual sugar can last up to 2 weeks due to their preservative effect.
As with reds, higher end whites with more intense flavors and structural components tend to resist oxidation longer than simpler, more delicate wines. But in general, white wines should be consumed much sooner after opening than most reds.
How to tell if opened wine has gone bad
There are a few clear visual and aromatic signs that opened wine has started to spoil and lose freshness:
- Cloudiness – Wine develops floaty particles or haziness.
- Faded color – Reds turn more orange, whites get darker.
- Diminished aromas – Loss of fruitiness and liveliness.
- Off aromas – Vinegar, acetone (nail polish remover), and Sherry-like notes.
- Off flavors – Tastes maderized, nutty, or bitter.
If your wine shows fading aromas, non-appealing new scents, or any unpleasant flavors, it has likely oxidized past the point of enjoyment and should be discarded.
How to store opened wine to prolong freshness
You can extend the drinkability window of an opened bottle using proper wine storage methods:
- Re-cork and refrigerate – Colder temps dramatically slow oxidation.
- Use a vacuum wine stopper – Removes oxygen from the bottle.
- Store upright to keep wine in contact with the cork.
- Fill any remaining air space with inert gas like Argon.
- Keep white wines closer to 45°F, reds at 55-65°F.
With recorking and refrigeration, most wines can maintain quality for at least 3-5 days after opening. Vacuum stoppers can extend high-end red wine life to 1-2 weeks.
Can you reseal a wine bottle with the original cork?
It is possible to reseal an opened bottle using the original cork, but it is not very effective. Normal corks are not designed to go back into the neck once removed, and will often not form an airtight seal again.
Using the original cork gives exposed wine a fighting chance, but it will still oxidize faster than with purpose-made stoppers that create a tight seal. Specialized vacuum and pressurized wine stoppers do the best job keeping oxygen away from the remaining wine.
Should you store red wine on its side after opening?
Yes, red wines should be stored on their side after opening, just as they would be when sealed. Horizontal storage keeps the wine in contact with the cork, which helps minimize the amount of oxygen that can access the wine.
Upright storage pulls the wine away from the cork as it absorbs oxygen. This leaves more surface area exposed to oxygen which accelerates oxidation and spoilage.
As long as there is still enough wine in the bottle to reach the bottom of the cork, lay it on its side. If there is not enough liquid left, it’s best to transfer it to a smaller container.
Can you freeze and reseal leftover wine?
Freezing leftover wine to halt oxidation is not recommended. Putting wine in the freezer can cause it to expand and crack the bottle or cork. Freezing and thawing also ruptures the wine’s cell structures leading to permanent textural and flavor damage.
It’s best to transfer any remaining wine you can’t finish into a smaller bottle with minimal ullage (extra air space). Finish within a few days, or reseal it with Argon or a vacuum stopper and store in the fridge.
Does putting wine back in the fridge fix it?
No, refrigerating opened wine does not reverse or remove oxidation if it has already occurred. However, colder temperatures dramatically slow down the oxidation rate. This can help maintain the wine’s present condition for longer.
The key is getting the wine into the fridge quickly after opening, not waiting until it tastes flat or stale. Refrigerating immediately ensures the remaining wine stays as close to its originally tasted condition as possible. But it does not restore oxidized wine back to peak quality.
Can opened wine be frozen and thawed?
Freezing opened wine is risky business and not recommended. The freezing and thawing processes degrade wine in several ways:
- Bottle may crack due to wine expanding as it freezes.
- Thawing causes chemical separation between water and alcohol.
- Ice crystals can rupture cell structures irreparably.
- Oxidation accelerates during freezer burn.
- Flavors and aromas are diminished.
- Wine will taste flat, watery, and metallic.
Freezing is an unreliable preservation method. Wine is best stored chilled and consumed within 3-5 days, or sealed with Argon/CO2 and kept refrigerated if extending its drinkable life up to 2 weeks.
Can you refrigerate and re-chill opened red wine?
Yes, it is perfectly fine to refrigerate red wine after initially opening and pouring a glass. Sticking the bottle in the fridge helps slow oxidative reactions and extend the wine’s shelf life by several days.
Many people balk at chilling red wine again, fearing it will “kill” the aromas and flavors. However, a brief chill down to 55-60°F will simply make the wine mildly cooler, without muting its sensory qualities. A slight chill emphasizes fruity red wine flavors.
The key is not to over-chill and get the wine too cold. Cool it down just 5-10 degrees below “cellar temperature” of around 65°F. Let it warm back up slightly before serving. Then feel free to pop it back in the fridge as needed to maintain the chill.
How long can expensive wine last after opening?
High-end wines generally have more intense flavors, structural components like tannins, and concentration from extended skin contact. This gives them better stability and the potential to last longer once opened. Here are some guidelines:
- Aged red wines (10+ years) may last 5-7 days or longer if recorked.
- Fine Cabernet and Nebbiolo can maintain for 5-14 days.
- Top vintage Port lasts 2-4 weeks.
- Aged Vintage Champagne lasts 3-5 days.
- Sauternes and Tokaji Aszú (3-5% sugar) 2-3 weeks.
Expensive Old World wines with high acidity tend to hold up better than lower acid New World wines. Still, it’s ideal to finish premium bottles within 3-4 days if possible. Using Argon spray and vacuum stoppers extends the window longer when needed.
Can old wine go bad?
Yes, very old wines can eventually go over the hill and lose their positive qualities, even if stored well. Most wines are meant to be enjoyed within 5-25 years of bottling. General guidelines for wine longevity:
- White wines: 1-6 years
- Light red wines: 2-8 years
- Full red wines: 8-25 years
- Fortified & dessert wines: 10-50+ years
After these timeframes, bottles may develop oxidized, maderized, or vinegary flavors. The best indicators are examining the fill level, color, and tasting. If the wine is undrinkable, it has exceeded its lifespan. But well-stored bottles can surprise even decades past typical aging windows.
Can old wine make you sick?
It’s unlikely that truly wine would make someone sick, unless it was contaminated or counterfeit. However, wine that is very old and past prime can have high levels of compounds that cause unpleasant symptoms:
- Ethyl acetate – Vinegar-like sting.
- Acetobacter – Converts alcohol to acetic acid.
- Butyric acid – Rancid butter smell.
- Ethyl butyrate – Vomit-inducing aroma.
- Mercaptans – Rotten egg sulfurous stink.
These flaws emerge over time in bottles past their aging potential. The powerful smells can irritate sensitive individuals. But any actual toxicity or illness is rare. At worst, an old, spoiled wine might cause a headache. When in doubt, it’s safest to simply not drink it.
Can TCA-tainted wine make you sick?
Wine contaminated with cork taint compound TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) does not pose any health risks. But it does create some unpleasant symptoms if consumed:
- Numbing sensation in mouth
- Loss of smell and taste
- Stomach pain
These effects are temporary and caused by TCA binding to smell/taste receptors. TCA itself is non-toxic and not dangerous at the extremely low levels found in corked wine. But the symptoms it causes are disagreeable enough that tainted wine should not be consumed.
Can old wine turn to vinegar?
Yes, wines that are excessively aged beyond their lifespan often take on vinegary notes or turn entirely to vinegar. This is due to a bacteria called acetobacter that converts the wine’s alcohol into acetic acid, the key component of vinegar.
Red wines are less prone to acetobacter contamination than whites since the tannins help inhibit bacterial growth. But very old bottles whose filling levels have shrunk significantly can become exposed to oxygen, allowing vinegar spoilage to occur.
Vinegar development is a sign that the wine has outlived its drinking window and should not be consumed. The rest of the bottle’s contents are best discarded.
Does cooking with bad wine make it safe?
Cooking with spoiled or flawed wine will not mitigate any potential health risks or make the wine safe to ingest. However, the heat from cooking does help reduce or mask some of the compounds that cause notable off-flavors and odors.
When using questionable wine for cooking:
- Bring the dish to a full boil to help blow off acids.
- Use small amounts relative to other ingredients.
- Add acidic, sweet, or other strong flavors to help conceal flaws.
- Opt for recipes that pair well with oxidized wine like stews or sauces.
Cooking gives bad wine purpose, but it does not eliminate potential contaminants or make it recommended for drinking. Discard any remaining cooked wine after finishing the dish.
Can stale wine be returned?
Most wine merchants will not accept returns or provide refunds on bottles that have been opened. However, if the wine seems spoiled or defective without ever being opened, you can try returning it:
- If corked or otherwise flawed, return ASAP once detected.
- Bring back the sealed bottle with receipt/invoice.
- Be prepared to show/describe the issue.
- Unopened sparkling wine may qualify if gone flat.
- May only get store credit rather than cash back.
To avoid hassles, inspect bottles carefully before leaving the store and open them promptly to catch problems early. But for seemly sound wines that simply fade after opening, you’ll unfortunately be out of luck. That’s the gamble we take by popping the cork.
Like any perishable food or beverage, wine inevitably degrades in quality if not consumed within a certain timeframe after opening. How long an opened bottle can last depends on many factors, but red wines generally maintain their properties longer than whites. With proper storage methods, most wines stay enjoyable for at least a few days post opening. Mastering the art of preserving wine gives us more opportunities to indulge in a glass without wasting the remainder of a special bottle.
|Wine Type||Expected Open-Bottle Longevity|
|Basic white wine||1-2 days|
|Basic red wine||2-3 days|
|Medium-bodied white||3-5 days|
|Medium-bodied red||5-7 days|
|Full-bodied red||7-10 days|
|Aged red||7-14 days|