Ever opened a good bottle of wine and not finished it (or forgotten about it!)? If left too long, or in the wrong conditions, it can turn into undrinkable vinegar. What a waste!
If you’re wondering, “How long does wine last after opening?” you’ve come to the right place! We’ll explain why wine spoils, how long you can expect your wines to last once they have been opened, and how to store unopened bottles of wine so they last as long as possible.
Read on to find out the answer to the question, “How long does wine last?”
Why Wine Spoils
Before you can understand answer questions like “How long does red wine last after opening?” or “How long does white wine last after opening?”, you have to understand why wine spoils.
When food and drink is exposed to oxygen (in the air), it tends to break down and decay. It’s why the food that is hermetically sealed and packaged is the longest-lasting. Food in plastic packages can last for days or weeks, but food in metal cans and tins can last for years.
Light also plays a role in food and drink decay. The natural light of the sun can cause a buildup of heat inside the food and drink, speeding up the oxygenation process.
When it comes to wine, both light and oxygen are your enemies. The UV rays of the sun can degrade and age the wine, which is why most bottles of red wine come in those darker coloured glass bottles. The darker tint helps to protect your wine from the sun.
But if the cork is pulled or the screwcap unscrewed, you expose the contents of the wine bottle to the oxygen in the air around it. Oxygen turns your red wine into vinegar, meaning that it spoils the wine. If you want to reduce spoiling, you should limit contact with oxygen as much as possible. This is as true for organic wines, as much as for conventional wines.
How Long Does Wine Last Once Opened?
So, you’ve popped the cork on that bottle of wine and had that first glass. Now what? How long can you expect your wine to last? How can you help it last longer?
Here’s what you need to know about each type of wine and its average life expectancy once opened:
How Long Does Red Wine Last?
Life Expectancy: 3 to 5 Days
Red wine has tannins, which help to stave off the oxygenation process. The more tannins your red wine has, the longer it can last. The same goes for acidity.
The best way to store an open bottle of red wine is to replace the cork and put it in a cool, dark place. If you don’t have a red wine chiller (set to a specific temperature), you can either:
- Leave it out. This could be bad if the weather is hot and humidity is high, as heat will speed up the spoiling process.
- Store it in the fridge. Chilling a red wine isn’t the best solution, but it’s better than leaving it out in the heat where it will spoil.
How Long Does White Wine Last?
Life Expectancy: 3 to 7 Days
Full-bodied whites (such as Chardonnays) tend to have less acidity, which means that they will spoil much more quickly than lighter whites. To store the wine, replace the cork and put it in the fridge. You can expect a full-bodied white to last up to 5 days when stored properly.
For a lighter white or rosé wine, the life expectancy of a bottle that has been re-corked and stored in the fridge is up to 7 days. The flavours will change after the first day, possibly even improving!
How Long Does Sparkling Wine Last?
Life Expectancy: 1 to 3 Days
Sadly, sparkling wines won’t last as long as the other types of wine. Sparkling whites (like all carbonated drinks) will lose their carbonation quickly. The quicker you re-cork/cap the wine, the more carbonation it will retain. But the difference will be measured in a few hours rather than days.
You should re-cork/cap the wine and store it in the fridge.
Note: Sparkling wines made according to the traditional method (including Champagne and Cava and Franciacorta wines) will last longer than sparkling wines made using the tank method (such as Prosecco).
How Long Does Fortified Wine Last?
Life Expectancy: Up to 4 Weeks
Fortified wines like Port, Madeira, Sherry, and Marsala have a longer shelf life thanks to the fact that brandy has been added to the wine (hence the name “fortified”).
If you display these wines on a high shelf, light and heat can cause them to spoil. Once opened, the wine should be stored in a cool, dark place–such as a wine cellar or chiller. Replace the cork or cap, and store away from light.
The higher the sugar content (the sweeter the wine), the longer the life expectancy.
Note: Some fortified wines can last for up to years if stored properly.
Sweet dessert wines such as Sauternes or Icewein, can easily be kept for a few weeks if stored in cool conditions, which is useful as many of us do not want to drink too much dessert wine in one sitting.
How to Store Opened Wine
Here are some tips to help you store your opened wine in order to limit spoiling:
- Re-cork after every glass. This limits the amount of oxygen that gets into the bottle, reducing oxygenation. Don’t wait to re-cork until after you finish drinking, but replace it between each glass.
- Store wine in the right place. Put whites and light wines in the fridge, and keep reds and fortified wines in a cool, dark place. Limit light and heat exposure as much as possible. Sun and heat can degrade the wine.
- Store the bottles upright. When the wine is stored on its side, there is more liquid surface area to come in contact with the oxygen in the bottle. It’s better to store it upright where only a small surface area is oxygenated.
- Buy a wine preserver. If you drink a lot of wine, consider investing in a wine preserver. The wine preserver “sucks” all the air from the bottle, reducing oxygenation and extending the lifespan of your wine. Another type of preserver uses inert gas which you squirt into the opened bottle before sealing, the idea being that the heavier inert gas sits on top of the wine helping prevent oxygen contact.
- For those with a bigger budget you might consider a Coravin wine system. This clever device extracts the wine through the cork (without having to open the bottle) and replaces any air in bottle with argon gas. You can sample your expensive wines a glass at a time over months or years!
Follow these rules of thumb as soon as you finish drinking!
How to Store Unopened Wine
Did you know that storing your unopened bottles of red wine can affect how long they last once opened? Here’s how to store your unopened wine properly:
- Keep away from heat and light. This will help the wine to last much longer. Both heat and light will cause the wine to degrade and spoil (turn to vinegar) more quickly.
- Don’t store in the fridge. The cold temperatures can lead to degradation of the wine. Not even whites and light wines should be stored in the fridge. Keep all of your wines in a cool, dry place, then chill before drinking.
- Keep the temperature steady. Sudden changes in temperature can be bad for the wine, leading to wine degradation. Chill slowly (don’t place the wine in the freezer to speed-chill).
- Limit vibration. Vibration can shift the sediment in the wine, preventing them from settling and giving them a gritty texture. Make sure to avoid dropping the wine, or moving the crates or shelves suddenly. If you are going to store expensive wines in a part of the world prone to earthquakes, take steps to protect the bottles.
If you’re smart, you can keep your bottles of wine – both opened and unopened – in great shape for a whole lot longer!