Wine oxidizes when exposed to air, causing it to lose flavor and aromas over time. However, refrigeration slows down the oxidation process dramatically. An opened bottle of wine will usually last 3-5 days in the refrigerator if stored properly. However, there are many factors that affect how long an opened bottle of wine will stay fresh and drinkable.
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 the wine’s chemical compounds, flavors, and aromas to breakdown and dissipate. The wine will start to taste flat, faded, or vinegary. White wines are most susceptible to oxidation because they lack the tannins and pigments that help red wines retain their structure.
Certain characteristics make some wines more prone to early oxidation. Wines with very delicate aromas and flavors, like light-bodied white wines, deteriorate more rapidly. Older wines or those with lower acidity also tend to oxidize quicker. Fortified and sparkling wines have longer shelf lives due to their higher alcohol and sugar content.
How does refrigeration slow oxidation?
Cooler temperatures dramatically slow down the chemical reactions behind oxidation. This is why storing an opened bottle in the refrigerator can extend its drinkability window from just a couple days to up to a week.
The cold environment of a refrigerator slows ethanol oxidation, tastes changes from reactions with oxygen, and microbiological growth. It gives you more time to enjoy the wine before undesirable flavor changes set in.
Proper wine storage tips
To maximize an opened bottle’s shelf life, proper wine storage is key. Here are some tips:
- Finish the bottle within 2-3 days for delicate white wines or 5 days for robust reds
- Store the wine upright so the cork or cap stays moist and sealed
- Use a vacuum wine saver, inert gas spray, or wine pump to remove oxygen if storing for more than a couple days
- Keep refrigerated between 40-50°F (colder temps risk muting the flavors)
- Store white wines on lower shelves and reds on top shelves since they prefer slightly warmer temps
- Avoid the refrigerator door which exposes wine to more temperature fluctuations and vibration
- Wrap the bottle in a wine foil bag or aluminum foil to block out light if storing more than 1-2 days
Factors impacting opened bottle shelf life
Many different factors impact how long an opened bottle of wine will stay fresh and palatable:
Wine variety and style
- Delicate wines with subtle flavors like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc deteriorate faster than fuller-bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec
- Light rosés also have shorter shelf lives than dry rosés
- Sweeter wines high in residual sugar like Riesling or Moscato hold up better due to sugar’s preservative effects
- High-acid wines maintain freshness longer since acidity balances oxidation
- Lower-quality wines decline faster while better wines last longer due to more compounds that slow oxidation
- Younger wines have more antioxidant compounds and robust tannins/acid that prevent early oxidation
- Older wines generally degrade quicker after opening
Wine closure type
- Natural cork allows minimal oxygen exposure, keeping wine fresh longer
- Screw caps seal tighter than corks
- Synthetic corks and glass stoppers offer less of a seal than natural cork
Amount of oxygen exposure
- The more full the bottle is, the less oxygen present to oxidize the wine
- More frequent bottle opening exposes wine to more oxygen
- Heat drastically accelerates oxidation. Store opened wine between 40-50°F
- Consistent cool temps prolong shelf life. Temperature fluctuation hastens degradation
- Light causes reactions that break down wine compounds. Store wine in dark places.
- Low humidity can dry out corks and diminish the seal over time
- Higher humidity keeps corks moister and more expanded for a tighter seal
How long does various types of wine last refrigerated after opening?
Here are some general guidelines on how long you can expect different types of wine to stay fresh and drinkable after opening if stored properly in the refrigerator:
- Delicate whites like Pinot Grigio: 3-5 days
- Fuller whites like Chardonnay: 5-7 days
- Sweet whites like Riesling: 5-10 days
- Sparkling wines: 2-3 days
- Dry rosé: 3-5 days
- Sweet rosé: 5-7 days
- Light reds like Pinot Noir: 5-7 days
- Full-bodied reds like Cabernet: 7-10 days
- Madeira: 4-6 weeks
- Port: 2-4 weeks
- Sherry: 2-3 weeks
Of course, these guidelines assume proper refrigerated storage. Higher quality wines stored with extra precautions like vacuum sealers or inert gas can potentially last a bit longer.
Signs your refrigerated wine has gone bad
Even with refrigeration, opened wines can eventually go bad. Watch for these warning signs that indicate your wine is no longer enjoyable to drink:
- Foul odors – Aromas smell vinegary, nail polish remover-like, rotten, or stale
- Changed color – Whites turn deep golden and reds turn brown
- Fizziness – Bubbles form which make the wine slightly effervescent
- Sediment – Gritty solids form in the bottom of the bottle
- Off tastes – Flavors taste flat, metallic, bitter, or acidic
If you notice any of these traits in your opened bottle of wine, it’s time to properly dispose of it.
Does putting wine back in the fridge after serving extend its shelf life?
Yes, putting unfinished wine back into the fridge after pouring a glass helps extend its drinkability window. The cold fridge temperatures slow down oxidation and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
However, it’s ideal to minimize temperature fluctuations. Letting wine repeatedly warm up to room temp then cooling back down can accelerate degredation.
After opening a bottle, your best bet is to keeping it refrigerated consistently. Only take it out right before pouring a glass, then immediately return the bottle to the fridge.
Does topping off an opened bottle with nitrogen or argon gas help it last longer?
Yes, topping off the ullage (empty space in a wine bottle) with an inert gas can significantly prolong the life of an opened bottle. Unlike oxygen, inert gases like nitrogen and argon do not react with wine and prevent oxidation.
Special wine preserving kits allow you to spray inert gases into the bottle after pouring a glass. The gas displaces oxygen, blanketing the wine’s surface and slowing down aerobic reactions.
This is an excellent way to save the remaining wine for a week or more. Just be sure to immediately seal the bottle with the original cork after gassing.
Do vacuum wine stoppers actually work?
Vacuum wine stoppers or pump systems are an effective way to remove oxygen from an opened bottle to extend its shelf life. They work by sealing the bottle then extracting the internal air.
Vacuum seals prevent oxygen from re-entering and oxidizing the wine. Storing the wine in the fridge combined with vacuum sealing can prolong the life of an opened bottle up to 4-6 weeks.
Vacuum seals slow down oxidation far better than simply recorking. They create an anaerobic environment ideal for short to medium-term wine preservation.
Will fortifying wine with brandy help it last longer after opening?
Yes, fortifying an opened bottle of wine with some added brandy can increase the wine’s oxidation resistance. Brandy is distilled wine with an alcohol content around 35-60% ABV.
Adding 1-2 ounces of brandy per 750ml bottle creates a fortified wine less prone to oxidation and microbial spoilage. The higher alcohol content also allows fortified wines to be stored longer term.
Just keep in mind that the brandy will also alter the wine’s flavor profile a bit. A tsp or two is often plenty to prolong the wine’s life without overwhelming its natural aromas and tastes.
What’s the best way to store wine long-term after opening?
For long-term storage spanning months to years after opening, wine is best preserved through bottle maturation. This involves topping off, corking, and aging the wine in optimal cellar-like conditions.
Essential steps for bottle maturation include:
- Top off – Fill to within 1-2 inches of the cork to minimize ullage/oxygen
- Fresh natural cork – A new high-grade cork ensures an airtight seal for the long haul
- Cool climate – Store at 50-59°F with 60-75% humidity
- Dark storage – Block light exposure to prevent reactions
- Undisturbed storage – Keep bottles untouched on their sides to avoid rousing sediment
- Proper racking – Wine racks keep bottles immobilized, humidified, and angled
Following these guidelines, fine wines can evolve beautifully in the bottle for many years. Red wines generally age better than whites given their tannins, pigments, and oak barrel aging.
What are the best wine fridge temperature settings for opened wine?
The ideal wine fridge temperature settings for storing opened bottles are:
- Whites: 45-50°F
- Reds: 50-55°F
- Sparkling: 38-42°F
The slightly warmer temperature for reds allows their flavors to open up while preventing premature oxidation. Whites do best slightly cooler to maintain their crisp, bright qualities.
Sparkling wines should be chilled below 45°F to preserve their bubbles and cut any bitterness. Having separate fridge zones for each style ensures optimal tasting wine.
Just avoid keeping open bottles right on the refrigerator door which sees more temperature fluctuations. Place open bottles on the main shelves towards the back.
Does recorking and freezing wine prolong how long it lasts?
Freezing opened wine with the intent to store it long term is not recommended. Freezing causes wine to expand which pushes the cork out. Oxygen then seeps back in as it thaws.
Repeatedly freezing and thawing wine also causes chemical instabilities which degrade the wine over time. The low temperatures rupture cell structures leading to accelerated oxidation later on.
At best, freezing can preserve lighter white wines for up to a few months. But for anything over a couple weeks, refrigeration is a far better option. Freezing should only be done as a last resort.
An opened bottle of wine exposed to oxygen will eventually degrade over time. However, proper refrigerated storage can dramatically extend the shelf life of wine from a couple days to up to 4 weeks.
How long an opened bottle lasts depends on the wine varietal, closure type, storage conditions, and how it’s handled. More delicate whites may last only 3-5 days, while fuller reds can remain drinkable for up to 10 days if properly stored.
Fortified wines have the longest refrigerated shelf lives of 4-6 weeks. Sparkling wines deteriorate most rapidly within just 2-3 days.
Utilizing vacuum pumps, inert gas sprays, and antioxidants helps prolong opened bottle freshness further. But refrigeration remains the simplest, most effective way to save leftover wine.