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Wine can go bad when it is opened too long, when it isn’t stored properly or has a wine fault.

In this article, you will learn how to tell when wine is okay to drink and when wine has gone off.


Why wine goes bad

Wine primarily goes bad due to exposure to oxygen, which causes oxidation that can spoil the flavor and aroma.

Extended exposure to light, particularly sunlight, can also degrade the quality of wine over time.

Improper storage conditions, such as high temperatures or temperature fluctuations can also affect the quality of wine.

Inadequate bottle sealing, whether from a faulty cork or poor seal, allows air to enter the bottle and spoil the wine.

Microbial contamination, such as harmful bacteria or yeast, can lead to off-flavors and unpleasant aromas.

Visual signs that wine has gone bad

There are many clues that you can look for to determine if wine has gone bad.

Wine that has gone bad can change in appearance from when you first opened it.

Wine is cloudy

When a clear wine goes cloudy it can be an indicator of bacteria in the wine and that it has gone bad.

Change in wine color after opening

Wine can go brown similar to how an apple browns from oxidation.

So, for example, if your wine was ruby red when opened and now looks brown, it can be an indication of oxidative stress.

Note: Wine ‘browning’ in itself is not bad – lots of ‘tawny’ wines have a brown tinge to begin with and taste wonderful.

Wine develops bubbles

A flat wine developing bubbles can mean the wine has soured due to a second fermentation in the bottle.

Aromatic signs that wine has gone bad

Wines that have gone bad will often develop unpleasant or different smells such as:

Sharp, vinegar-like smell

A strong vinegar or acetic acid smell can indicate that the wine has oxidized, meaning it has had too much contact with oxygen.

It’s likely the wine has turned and is no longer suitable for drinking, but it may still be usable in cooking applications.

Musty or moldy odor

Cork taint, caused by a compound called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), can produce a musty or damp cardboard smell in wine.

Flavor changes in wine gone bad

Wine that has gone bad is safe to taste, but it probably won’t be a pleasant experience.

An off wine may have:

  • a sharp, vinegar-like flavor.
  • a sweet, caramelized flavor.

Faulty wine

Unopened wines can also go bad if they have a wine fault.

A fault is a defect that occurs from natural issues, incorrect winemaking practices, or storage errors.

You can detect wine faults from unusual flavors or aromas, similar to how you would in a wine that has already been opened. 

Faulty wines can also smell musty or like damp cardboard.

Does drinking bad wine make you sick?

No, bad wine won’t make you sick. It just won’t taste very nice.

How long opened wine lasts

Once a bottle of wine is opened, its lifespan can vary depending on factors such as the type of wine, storage conditions, and exposure to oxygen.

In general:

  • White wines last around 3-5 days when stored in the fridge with a cork or wine stopper.
  • Full-bodied red wines can last up to 5-7 days due to their higher tannin content and lower susceptibility to oxidation.
  • Sparkling wines should be consumed within 1-3 days to preserve their effervescence and freshness.
  • Fortified wines, such as Port or Sherry, can last several weeks or even months after opening due to their higher alcohol content and oxidative stability.

Using wine preservation systems can help to keep wine fresher for longer by minimizing the amount of oxygen that comes into contact with the wine.