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Does Wine Go Bad?

What are “Wine Faults”? 

Wines often go bad as a result of old age or being open for too long. However, unopened wines can also go bad if they have a wine fault. About 1 in 75 bottles has a common wine fault. A fault is a defect that occurs from natural issues, incorrect winemaking practices, or errors in the storage process. You can often detect wine faults from unusual flavors or aromas, just as you would in a wine that has already been opened. We’ll talk more specifically about wine faults in a next post, so don’t miss it ;).

How Can You Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad?

Many wine aficionados can tell immediately if a wine is no longer good. They are attuned to qualities of the wine that give way its overripe state to the drinker. Three ways to tell if your wine has gone bad include:

1. Appearance

Once a wine has passed its prime state, there are several visual cues that will give it away. These include:


This rule applies to wines that were originally clear. When a wine grows cloudy or creates a film within the bottle, it’s probably time to get rid of it. The cloudiness points to bacterial activity beginning within the bottle.

Change in Color

 Similar to fruit, wines often brown over time when exposed to oxygen. Color changes happen naturally as an unopened wine ages, and do not always indicate that your wine has gone bad. But it is certainly worth noting that chemical changes have begun in your wine. So, if the bottle was not really meant to age and you note a change in color, it’s probably no longer any good.

Development of Bubbles

The appearance of bubbles in your wine indicates the beginning of a second fermentation. Unlike in champagne, these bubbles mean that your wine has likely soured and needs to be thrown out.

2. Smell

Smell is often one of the most noticeable ways your wine will let you know that it’s time to move on. These scents are often unpleasant and medicinal — like chemicals or vinegar — but they can also be sweet, depending on the way your wine reacts to external elements. Common changes in smell include:

Acetic Acid Scents

When bacteria in your wine starts to form acetic acid, you might notice smells that are:

  • Similar to sauerkraut
  • Reminiscent of vinegar
  • Sharp or tangy 

Oxidation Smells

Oxidation is one of the most common defects and occurs when a wine is old or improperly stored. When oxidation occurs, wine becomes stale and yields scents that are:

  • Unusually nutty
  • Similar to apples or sweet applesauce
  • Smoky and sweet like burnt marshmallows or caramel

Reduction Odors

Due to wine faults, some wines go bad before they are ever opened. Common in wines aged for a long time in the bottle is a “closed” smell, but this can fade after aeration if the wine has good structure. Technically, it is an opposite defect to oxidation.When this occurs, you might notice odors like:

  • Cabbage
  • Garlic 
  • Burnt rubber or garbage

3. Taste

If you miss the cues of changed appearance and scents, you may notice strong or unusual flavors in wine that has gone bad. These flavors often include:

  • Sharp or sour vinegar flavors
  • Horseradish-like taste
  • Sherried or caramelized flavors

Is Bad Wine Dangerous?

While wine that has gone bad won’t necessarily hurt you, it is best to throw it away and start fresh with a new bottle. A great way to train your senses to detect bad wine is to take a minute to observe the qualities of a bottle you are sure has gone bad. Look at the color and clarity, give it a smell, and — if you feel comfortable — taste a drop. This will help you quickly identify overmature wine if you encounter it in the future. Any way …don’t worry if you drink “Expired or Bad Wine” ! You won’t end up with wine poisoning, just a disappointing drinking experience.

How Long Does Wine Typically Last?

When stored properly and kept unopened, white wines can often outlive their recommended drinking window by 1-2 years, red wines by 2-3 years, and cooking wines by 3-5 years. Fine wine — as you may have guessed — can typically be consumed for decades. Wine storage best practices dictate that you keep your wine in a cool, dark space. Bottles should be placed on their sides in order to prevent overdrying the cork.

And what about opened wine bottles?

Opened wine, however, is another matter. When you open a bottle of wine, its contents are exposed to heat, light, bacteria, and oxygen. These elements cause a variety of chemical reactions that quickly work to affect your wine. Although storing wine in a cooler temperature can help mitigate these reactions, opened wines will inevitably go bad. In general, white wines go downhill quicker than reds. As a rule of thumb, once opened:

  • Red and rich white wines last roughly 3-6 days
  • Lighter white wines last 4 or 5 days
  • Sparkling wines go quickly, with only 1-2 days to enjoy

To make the most of your opened wine, seal it tightly and store it in the refrigerator. Or better yet, keep a smaller glass vessel (such as an empty 375ml half bottle) on hand to pour the remainder into where there will be less oxygen in contact with the liquid. Just make sure it’s completely clean or sanitized so there is not any cross-contamination.

The importance of storing

Most reds can withstand a few years tucked away on their sides in a cool, dark space. This ensures the corks don’t dry out, preventing excess air from getting in and spoiling the wines. Other red wines are created specifically to be aged, allowing more complex, layered flavors to develop and the tannins to better integrate. These wines are more expensive and often tout their ageability on the back label.

When buying wine, whether at a winery, wine shop, or grocery store, ask how long it can be aged. Cellar it in a cool, dark location, like a closet, or invest in a wine refrigerator. Be sure to lay your aging wine on its side or upside down so the liquid touches the cork. Otherwise, the cork will dry out and crack, allowing air into the bottle, slowly turning your precious wine into vinegar.

The temperature of the wine should be “never below 50°F (10°C), never above 64°F (18°C)”. Very important factor is humidity, which should be between 50 and 80%.

On how to properly store wines in your home we will devote an article in the coming months…so don’t miss it 😉

Cellaring wines for a special occasion can be addictive so don’t be surprised if your wine collection begins to grow!

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