Will wine go bad if left unrefrigerated after opening?

In this brief article, we will answer the questions, “will wine go bad if left unrefrigerated after opening? And will also address the spoilage and shelf life of unrefrigerated wine after opening.

Will wine go bad if left unrefrigerated after opening?

Yes, wine can go bad if left unrefrigerated after opening. If you open a bottle of wine, it should be consumed within 3-5 days. Wine can go bad in a few days, especially if the temperature where you reside is too hot (1-2).

Some wines may spoil more quickly or last longer (1-4). The shelf life of an unrefrigerated bottle of wine after opening can vary depending on several factors, including the type of wine, the level of acidity, oxygen exposure,  and the storage conditions (light and heat) as it will be explained in the next section.

When you open a bottle of wine, you expose the wine to oxygen. With the initial touch, some wines will become more expressive (5), but all wines will become less expressive after a time and even they could taste awful after a long oxygen exposure (2, 6).

Because of the presence of air, any fresh fruit flavors will be destroyed, and the aromatics will be muted (7-8). Thus, to extend the shelf life of an open bottle of wine and keep the special flavors, it is always recommended to store it in the refrigerator and put the original cork back in, which can slow down the oxidation process (6,9). 

What factors could affect the quality of wine after opening?

Several factors can affect the quality of wine after opening. Some of the most important are:

  • Oxygen exposure: When wine is exposed to air (oxygen), it can lead to oxidation, which can change the flavor and aroma of the wine (6). Acetic acid bacteria in wine could also proliferate in opened wine and cause wine spoilage by oxidizing alcohol into acetic acid (vinegar-like) (10). The more air that comes into contact with the wine, the more quickly it will spoil.
  • Temperature: It is highly recommended to store your wine at a consistent temperature, ideally between 45-65°F. High temperatures or temperature fluctuations could affect the wine taste (2).
  • Light: Exposure to sun or fluorescent light could also spoil your wine (2).
  • Acidity and alcohol content: Weak acids and alcohol in wine could prevent bacterial growth and therefore has a preservative effect (1). The higher the alcohol and acid content the longer it will last after opening.
  • Sulphite content: Sulphite is present in almost every wine. It also prevents oxidation and secondary fermentation of the wine. Please always check for the sulphite concentration on the wine label as it is considered an allergenic substance (11). The limit for sulphite allergy is 10 ppm (12).
  • Storage: After opening a bottle of wine it is always recommended to store it upright in a cool, dark place to slow down the oxidation process.

As rule: once opened, it’s best to consume the wine within a few days and store it in the refrigerator!

How can you tell if a bottle of wine has gone bad?

Wine should be treated in the same way that food would not be left unattended on the counter all night. 

The color, smell, and taste of your wine may all indicate whether or not it has gone bad due to bacteria or other physico-chemical processes.

  • The color is the first thing to notice. It is dependent on the type of wine that the color of spoiled wine is determined (4).
  • Flush your red wine if the color has become brownish or if the taste has grown bitter. If the color of white wine has changed to a dark or deep yellow or even brownish, it indicates that the wine has gone rotten (2).
  • Yes, you should smell yourwine to check whether the leftover is still drinkable after it has been sitting out.
  • You’re searching for a moldy or musty odor (7-8). To get a more accurate representation of the smell, think of the smells of a musty basement, vinegar, damp cardboard, or raisin.
  • Last but not least, consider the flavor. This should be one of the most straightforward methods of detecting whether or not anything has gone wrong right immediately. 
  • Whenever a red wine has a sweet flavor, it is almost likely spoiled. White or rosé wine that seems sour or imbalanced in sections is almost always a bad sign.

Fortunately, you can generally tell when something is wrong, so go with your gut feelings while making decisions. 

If you’re unsure whether a bottle of wine is still good to drink, you can always do a taste test before consuming it. Always do it!

Does the type of wine impact how quickly it spoils after opening?

Yes, It makes a difference and the type of wine strongly influences how quickly it spoils after opening (1,3-4).

For example, fortified wines like port wine, have a higher alcohol content and therefore a longer shelf life after opening as compared to wines with a lower degree of alcohol (4).

As mentioned before,several factors could affect the quality of wine after opening. Thus, wines with high acidity and alcohol content may last longer after opening due to the antimicrobial effect of weak acids and alcohol (1). 

Red wines will last longer after opening when compared to white ones, as they contain a higher amount of tannins that prevent the oxidative phenomena  (3, 6, 7). However, there is not a general rule and this can vary depending on the type of wine and how it was prepared.

Many wine experts suggest leaving red wine to breathe uncorked for an hour to enhance its flavors, allowing it to breathe. While, white and rosé wines should be served chilled immediately after being opened.

If you’re drinking sparkling wine, you should also consume it as quickly as possible after opening the bottle (1-2, 4) (think of soda pop and the process of carbon dioxide dissolving after being opened). About sparkling wine, the same may be stated.

Please consider that regardless of the wine (as any other food), once opened, it will start to spoil. so, get your fill!

Can unrefrigerated wine after opening make you sick? 

Yes, it can potentially make you sick, even more if it has been left at higher temperatures for a long time and directly exposed to the air.

Once your wine is opened, I will interact with environmental microorganisms like harmful bacteria and spoilage yeast (1, 8, 13), which can potentially make you sick if consumed (1, 13, 14).

As mentioned before, the spoilage of wine depends on different factors. Thus, the risk of getting sick from drinking an unrefrigerated wine after opening will also depend on the type of wine and how you handle it after opening. 

In general, consuming a deteriorating wine because of oxidation after some hours or few days will not get you sick (6, 14); nevertheless, it will taste awful (7-8), making it less enjoyable to drink. Nevertheless, please always be careful!

If you are unsure about the safety of drinking your opened bottle of wine, it is always best to be on the safe side and toss it away!

Can I still use spoiled wine for cooking? 

It is not recommended to use spoiled wine for cooking. The off-flavors in spoiled wine could be transferred to your dish, thus affecting its quality (7-8).

In addition, spoiled wine could contain harmful microorganisms and toxins that could make you sick even if you are cooking with it (1, 14). So, if your wine was spoiled, it is always best to discard it and better use fresh cooking wine.

In the particular case that you want to use an opened wine that you still consider still safe to consume (i.e., was opened a few days before and retains positive organoleptic properties), you could still use it for cooking.

However, be careful and always look for a second evaluation!

How to preserve opened wine if refrigeration is not available?

You can use the following methods if you want to preserve an opened bottle of wine outside of the refrigerator:

The first thing to do is to re-cork the bottle to avoid oxidation. Then, you should store the bottle in a cool, dark place. If possible, use a vacuum pump to remove the air from the bottle or transfer the wine to a smaller bottle to reduce the amount of oxygen in the bottle.

Please remember that none of them will stop the spoilage process, they will just slow down the spoilage process and give you some extra time. So, it is always best to consume as soon as you can!


In this brief article, we answered the question, “will wine go bad if left unrefrigerated after opening? and also addressed the spoilage and shelf life of unrefrigerated wine after opening.


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