Does Wine Expire?

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For wine lovers wondering if it’s safe to store their favorite vintage for later use, here’s the good news: Wine Spectator magazine reminds us that “only a small percentage of fine wines on the market benefit from long-term aging. Most wines are best enjoyed within a few years of release.” 

In other words, there are several precautions you can take to maintain the quality of your wine, but you needn’t be overly concerned that the wine will go bad. That is, unless, you make one or two critical mistakes (as noted below). 

Which Wines Go Bad?

The primary reason red wines ever go bad is oxidation. Too much exposure to oxygen turns red wine into vinegar. While proper care will generally ensure that some red wines can be safely stored open for up to seven days, the key is minimizing how much oxygen touches the surface when you store red wine. 

Pinot Noir is considered among the most sensitive wines when exposed to air. Other reds most likely to go bad include wine over 8-10 years old. (“Shame on you for not finishing a 10-year-old bottle,” says Madeline Puckette, a self-admitted “wine geek.”) Puckette also singles out organic or sulfite-free wine as “typically more fragile,” along with Grenache, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Nebbiolo. 

White wine’s fresh fruit flavors depends on freshness, which quickly fades after the bottle is opened. Experts agree the best time frame for drinking white wine is one to three days after opening. Heavier wines, such as Chardonnay, generally last longer than Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. 

Certain telltale signs will always let you know when a good wine has turned and should not be consumed. The experts at Solis Winery say, “The oxidation process can cause your wine to change color to a more tawny hue, taste different like teriyaki sauce, or even smell like ‘old gym socks.'” They caution wine drinkers to watch for these signs:

  • Red wine that turns brown or white wine that becomes yellowish brown
  • A cork slightly pushed out from the top of the bottle (meaning it was incorrectly corked or has become overheated)
  • A distinctively unpleasant smell (musty, vinegary, like wet cardboard)
  • Wine that tastes like mold or mildew

Your best bet? Always start by examining and smelling wine that appears suspicious in any way. 

Tips on Proper Storage

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The negative affects of oxidation can be avoided by proper storage. An open wine bottle should be kept away from direct sunlight because, as Wine Spectator notes, “The sun’s UV rays can degrade and prematurely age wine.” 

What about temperature? Rapid aging also occurs when wine is stored in rooms with temperatures higher than 70 degrees Farenheit. Minor changes in temperature present no real threat; instead, aim for an ideal range between 45-65 degrees. 

Is it OK to store wine in your refrigerator for a long period of time? The freshness of wine stored by the cork generally stays intact for three to five days (some say even a couple of months is acceptable), but the sooner it’s consumed, the better.

By the way, according to Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, authors of the wine column “Tastings” in The Wall Street Journal, “A great majority of the wines that most of us drink every day—Pinot Grigio, Beaujolais, many lower-priced Merlots, and Chardonnays, for instance—are meant to be drunk right away anyway.”

Other useful storage tips include:

  • Store bottles on their side (this keeps the wine up against the cork).
  • Store in a location between 50-80% humidity (this excludes your kitchen or laundry room).
  • Purchase a small, inexpensive wine cooler.
For more helpful wine storage information, consult the experts during your next wine tasting trip. They can offer the best insider tips on how to store and preserve your wine.
Main Image Source: Flickr