Bogey's Guide to Wine: Can Wine Go Bad?
Bogey’s Guide to Wine:
Can Wine Go Bad?
By Zach Glassman, Certified Specialist of Wine
TL;DR: Yes and no. Drink red wines within 3 days of opening, drink white wines within 5 days of opening. Older wines are more prone to flaws based on how long (and how) they've been stored, but they can also be some of the best wines. If something happens to a bottle of wine and you suspect it's gone bad, take it back to the store you purchased it from and most stores will exchange it for you!
One of the most common questions I get, whether it be from family or customers, is how to tell if a wine has gone bad. Though there are general rules to follow regarding how long after popping a cork a wine will “go bad”, the specifics are a little more nuanced and come down to flavor changes, chemical changes, and, in rarer cases, actual spoilage. Here’s a handy guide to follow to tell if your wine has, indeed, gone bad!
The general “rules” about when a wine will “go bad” varies from professional to professional, but in most cases follows like this: red wines should be consumed within 3 days of opening the bottle and white wines within 5 days. Sparkling should be consumed day of (to prevent it from going flat), or within 2 days if you have the proper closure for the bottle. If a wine hasn’t been opened, most every day wines will last a few years, provided they’re kept out of direct sunlight and away from extreme temperatures. Some higher-end wines can last decades - the oldest wine I ever drank was from 1954 ( I drank that in 2014) and it was beautiful! The best ways to figure out when to drink your wines are to check the internet, or to ask a wine professional.
So what does “going bad” mean in a wine? Unlike milk, where spoilage is readily apparent, it might not be as obvious that a wine is past its prime. And, unlike spoiled milk, drinking wine that’s beyond its best flavors isn’t harmful. Rather, wine that’s past its best usually has diminished flavor and, at its worst, turns to vinegar. Like vinegar, you wouldn’t want to drink it, but cooking with it is always an option!
That said, there are certain ways that wines can actually “go bad” before you even open the bottle. The most common is a fault known colloquially as a wine “being corked”. This will lead the wine to have a wet newspaper smell or flavor and is the result of a natural byproduct of natural cork called TCA (scientifically 2,4,6-trichloroanisole). This isn’t all that common - 1 bottle in every 12 cases of wine tends to see this fault (or 1 in every 144 bottles), so you may never experience it in your lifetime. If you do, you’re free to drink the wine or cook with it; TCA isn’t harmful, it just doesn’t taste great. Of course, if you find it in your wine purchased from your neighborhood wine shop, most shops will take the bottle back and exchange it.
To sum up, your wine drinking experience will most likely be free of flaws. Drink your wine in a timely manner after opening them, or use what's left to cook with if you don't!