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Does Wine Go Bad?

Erin O'Reilly - Certified Specialist of Wine

The wine in your glass exists in a temporary state, somewhere between grape juice and vinegar. All wine will eventually go bad, but there are a few tricks you can use to keep it fresh longer.

glass of red wine with woman holding and looking at the label in the background

How to tell if wine is bad.

Wine goes bad as exposure to oxygen starts to interact with its natural chemical compounds. A bottle that’s been open for several days and that’s starting to turn will lose its freshness. What used to be aromas of ripe strawberries or zesty lemon become muted. White wines even begin to express nutty, or oxidized aromas.

Does unopened wine go bad?

Unopened wine can go bad, though this is rare. Typically, the wine closure, whether a cork or a screw top, failed for some reason, letting small amounts of air into the bottle. How do you know if your wine went bad in the bottle? You’ll have the same muted aromas that you get if you leave a bottle open for several days and you’ll also see peculiar coloration. White wines may take on a darker yellow appearance and red wines will have a brick-red or brownish hue. You expect these colors in aged wines, but not in a recent vintage.

Can bad wine make you sick?

What happens if you drink bad wine? Good news! Nothing. Bad wine cannot make you sick. The beautiful thing about spoiled wine is that there are no pathogens harmful to humans. You’ll have an unpleasant drinking experience, but it is perfectly safe.

glass of red wine on a table with the open bottle behind it

How long is wine good for after you open it?

How long it takes for a wine to go bad after opening depends on alcohol levels, acid levels, and tannin. Alcohol is a preservative. Think of the liquor shelf behind a bar. Those bottles sit open until they’re made into cocktails, no one worries about spoilage with hard liquor. Wine has a lower percentage of alcohol by volume than liquor, so it won’t last forever, but the higher the alcohol level, the longer its shelf life.

Acid is another natural preservative. Very high-acid wines, like some early-harvest Sémillons, can last for weeks without any noticeable differences in quality. Tannin, found in grape skins and oak barrels, acts as another natural preservative. Your big, chewy reds will last longer than your soft reds and delicate whites.

In general, if the only wine-related paraphernalia you have in your house consists of nothing more than a corkscrew and wine glasses, you can store open wine for about 3-4 days and still find the bottle enjoyable! The math works out beautifully for couples who drink a glass each day. For solo drinkers who pour a glass with dinner every night, you will get 3-4 glasses with heavy pours of around 7 oz. Good for sipping while cooking, and then savoring with your meal.

Does sparkling wine go bad?

Just like red and white wines, Sparkling Wine can and will go bad. Most drinkers are interested in preserving the bubbles. Storing an open Sparkling Sine is a little trickier. I’ve heard several quirky "how-to's" involving spoons and plastic wrap. You can purchase special Sparkling Wine caps to prevent the wine from going flat. These work reasonably well. Keep the bottle chilled after opening. CO2 is more soluble at cooler temperatures. The colder your Sparkling Wine, the longer the bubbles will stay in solution.

Warning: Never freeze sparkling wines!

Storing wine in the fridge.

Move over salad dressing! The best place for your open wine bottle is the fridge. Open the bottle, pour a glass, re-cork and stick the bottle immediately in the refrigerator. Even if it’s a red wine, put it in the fridge. If does happen to be a red wine, you will want to pour your next glass about 20 minutes before you’re ready to drink to allow the wine to return to room temperature. You can put a small plate, coaster, lid, or something similar on top of the glass to keep the aromas from blowing off. Remember, the wine will still go bad even if it’s in the fridge, so don’t forget that it’s there!

P.S. If you want to save the opened wine just a little bit longer, you can always try the ArT Wine Preserver from our wine accessories! It's a natural Argon gas that can be sprayed into the bottle before putting the cork or stopper back in and will happily preserve your wine until you decide to open it back up.


Erin O'Reilly Author Bio Image Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators and a long-time lover of all things fermented grape. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers crafting wines that transcend time. Portions of this post were also shared in the article, All about Wine Storage and Preservation at Home: Tips from the Experts.