Can unopened wine go bad?
In this brief article, we are going to answer the question “can unopened wine go bad?”. Moreover, we will also discuss the shelf life of unopened wine, the health consequences of drinking spoiled wine, and how to store unopened wine correctly to avoid its spoilage.
Can unopened wine go bad?
Yes, unopened wine can go bad. Unopened wine has a longer shelf life compared to wine that has already been opened but it is still capable of going bad (1).
Different wines have different expiration dates. However, if you plan to consume unopened wine past its expiration date, you still can, but make sure that it does not smell or taste different.
It is interesting to note that wines that are darker have a longer shelf life compared to the light ones (1).
How long does unopened wine last?
The shelf life of unopened wine varies depending on the type of wine and how it is stored (1).
The process of fermenting grapes to produce alcohol eliminates the growth of harmful bacteria. Yeast converts the sugar in grapes into alcohol, and since sugar is a medium for bacterial growth, reducing the sugar content in wine lowers the likelihood of spoilage.
While unopened wines generally have an expiration date, the specific duration can differ based on the type of wine. Here, we summarize the approximate shelf life of different types of unopened wines:
|Wine Type||Shelf Life|
|White Wine||1-2 years|
|Chardonnay||Up to 3 years|
|Red Wine||2-3 years|
|Cooking Wine||3-5 years|
|Fine Wine||10-20+ years (when stored properly)|
Please note that these are general estimates, and the actual shelf life can vary depending on factors such as the winemaking techniques, grape variety, vintage, and storage conditions.
To ensure the best quality and longevity of your unopened wines, it is recommended to store them in a cool, dark place with a consistent temperature, away from sources of heat, light, and fluctuations.
Signs your wine has gone bad?
There are 3 main ways to test if your wine has gone bad:
- If it visually does not look appealing. Oxidized wine loses color and becomes brown, thus altering the look of the wine. Another possibility is that the cork has slightly protruded out of the bottle due to high temperatures. If you notice this, it is time to throw out the bottle.
- If it smells funny, it should be discarded immediately. You will smell either of these things if your wine has gone bad- it smells like vinegar and it has a strong acidic smell or it might smell musty.
- If you decide to taste the wine as a final resort, it might either taste bland or flat or it might taste acidic or sour like vinegar.
If you have doubts about the wine, it is a cue for you to discard it.
What are the health concerns related to drinking bad wine?
Drinking bad wine can potentially pose some health concerns (2-3). When wine goes bad, it may develop off-flavors and aromas, indicating that it has undergone spoilage or oxidation.
While consuming a small amount of spoiled wine is unlikely to cause severe health problems, it may lead to unpleasant experiences and discomfort. Here, we summarize the main health concerns associated with drinking bad wine:
- Taste and Digestive Discomfort: Spoiled wine can taste unpleasant, with flavors ranging from vinegar-like, musty, or flat. Consuming such wine may result in digestive discomfort, including stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhea (2,4).
- Acetic Acid and Bacteria: In some cases, spoiled wine may contain elevated levels of acetic acid, which is produced by certain bacteria during the spoilage process (5).
Consuming wine with high levels of acetic acid can cause irritation to the digestive system and may lead to heartburn or acid reflux symptoms (6).
- Allergic Reactions: Bad wine can trigger allergic reactions in individuals who are sensitive to specific compounds. This includes histamines, sulfites, or other allergenic substances that might develop or increase in concentration during wine spoilage.
Allergic reactions can range from mild symptoms like headaches, congestion, or skin rashes to more severe reactions in individuals with allergies or sensitivities (7).
To ensure your safety and enjoyment, it is always best to inspect and taste wine before consuming it. If the wine exhibits strong off-putting odors, flavors, or signs of spoilage, it is advisable to avoid drinking it and opt for a different bottle.
How to store unopened wine correctly to avoid its spoilage?
If you are planning to keep the unopened wine for a few years to age it, you need to keep a few things in mind, for example:
- Temperature: Wine should be stored in a cool and consistent environment. The ideal temperature range is typically between 45°F (7°C) and 65°F (18°C).
Avoid storing wine in areas prone to temperature fluctuations, such as near windows, heaters, or appliances that emit heat.
- Darkness: Wine should be protected from light, especially ultraviolet (UV) rays, as they can degrade the wine and lead to premature aging. Store wine in a dark or dimly lit area, away from direct sunlight or strong artificial light sources.
- Humidity: Maintain a moderate level of humidity, preferably between 50% and 80%. This helps prevent the cork from drying out and the wine from oxidizing. Extremely low humidity levels can cause corks to shrink and allow air to enter the bottle, potentially spoiling the wine.
- Stability: Keep the wine bottles in a stable position to minimize agitation or movement. Avoid excessive vibrations or jostling, as they can disrupt the sediment in aged wines or disturb the overall quality of the wine.
- Proper Positioning: Store wine bottles horizontally or at a slight angle to keep the cork moist. This helps prevent air from entering the bottle and ensures a proper seal. However, wines with alternative closures such as screw caps or synthetic corks can be stored upright as well.
- Odor-free Environment: Wine can absorb odors from its surroundings, which can affect its flavor. Store wine away from strong-smelling substances such as cleaning agents, chemicals, or strong spices.
- Avoid Extreme Conditions: Avoid storing wine in extreme environments, such as areas with excessive heat or cold, as this can damage the wine. Freezing temperatures can cause the wine to expand and potentially push the cork out.
- Consistent Temperature: Aim for a stable and consistent temperature for storing wine. Frequent temperature fluctuations can harm the wine’s flavor and overall quality.
- Cellar or Wine Cooler: If you have a collection of wines or plan to store them long-term, consider investing in a wine cellar or a wine cooler with temperature and humidity controls. These specialized storage solutions provide an optimal environment for wine storage.
Finally, remember that it is best to purchase wines from vineyards if you want to age them because then they can provide you with one accordingly.
In this brief article, we answered the question “can unopened wine go bad?”. Moreover, we discussed the shelf life of unopened wine, the health consequences of drinking spoiled wine, and how to store unopened wine correctly to avoid its spoilage.
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6. Bartowsky EJ, Henschke PA. Acetic acid bacteria spoilage of bottled red wine—A review. Int J Food Microbiol. 2008 Jun 30;125(1):60–70. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S016816050700685X
7. Patel P, Komorowski AS, Mack DP. An allergist’s approach to food poisoning. Ann Allergy, Asthma Immunol [Internet]. 2023 Apr 1 [cited 2023 May 5];130(4):444–51. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36334721/