How Long Does Red Wine Last Unopened?

Some things in life, such as wine, cheese, and even people, get better with age—even if the expiry dates vary. Although an unopened bottle of wine can still be good to drink after the expiry date, it won’t last forever. This begs the question how long does red wine last unopened?

You wouldn’t be the first person to wonder whether that dusty old bottle of red at the back of your cellar or wine cupboard is still OK to drink. And you certainly won’t be the last.

Find out how long you can keep red wine unopened, why unopened wine can go bad, and how to tell whether your old red wine is more suitable for tipping down the kitchen sink than down your throat.

Unopened Red Wine’s Shelf Life

Despite the expiry dates on bottles of red wine, the shelf life really depends on the type of wine and on how well you’ve stored it. Stored in the wrong location, a bottle of wine can go bad long before it reaches the expiry date. Stored in the right location, your wine will still be good to drink for some time after the expiry date.

A bottle of correctly stored decent red wine should still be good to drink for between two and three years after the expiration date. A properly cellared bottle of fine red wine should last for between 10 and 20 years.

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Why Unopened Wine Goes Bad

As you’re probably well aware, you should store wine by placing the bottle on its side to prevent the cork from drying out in cool, dark places. If the cork dries out, it shrinks or develops tiny holes and allows air into the bottle.

While exposure to some oxygen during the winemaking process is necessary, air entering the bottle through tiny gaps in a dry, shrunken cork leads to oxidation, which spoils the wine. Oxygen dissolves at a rate of 6ml of oxygen per liter.

The wine’s phenols react with oxygen to produce hydrogen peroxide, quinone, and other undesirable compounds. This chain reaction breaks down the wine’s appealing components, which then get replaced by reduced integrity and unpleasant aromas and colors. Bacteria and yeast can also enter the bottle through the cork, causing other chemical reactions that contribute to spoiling the wine.

Why Properly Stored Unopened Red Wine Lasts

Wine is made to last for a long time when stored properly. During the winemaking process, yeast gets added once the grapes have been fermented. The yeast breaks down the sugar elements in the grape juice, converting them into alcohol.

The alcohol in the wine makes it more difficult for most bacteria to survive, and the low sugar content means bacteria don’t have much to feed on. These factors are the reason why unopened red wine can last for years or decades before it goes bad.

Some Wines Aren’t Made For Aging

One of the biggest misconceptions among people who don’t know much about wine is that the beverage needs to age for a long time before it can be of good quality. The truth is that the quality of wine depends on the winemaking techniques the producers used and the type of wine. Some wines simply aren’t made for aging.

A young wine gets bottled as soon as the fermentation stage is complete. These wines are usually produced in the year of harvest, and one of their characteristics is the floral aroma of the vineyard in which the grapes grew.

Some young red wines are of very good quality— provided you drink them when they should be drunk. A good rule of thumb to follow is that wines bottled young should get consumed young.

When it comes to aged red wines, they’re left to rest in a wooden barrel for a year or more after the fermentation process is complete. From there, the wines get bottled and left to age for a few more years before they’re sold. This extended aging process results in lower levels of tannins and anthocyanin than you’d find in young wines.

With the exception of fine wines, most red wines are meant to get consumed shortly after bottling as they’ve reached their peak in terms of aroma and flavor. Younger wines are also higher in natural antioxidants like resveratrol as these compounds haven’t had time to break down. A wine is considered ‘young’ if it’s less than 2 years old.

How To Tell If Your Wine Has Gone Bad

Right, so you’ve opened that dusty old bottle of red wine and you’re not entirely sure whether you should drink it or not. Use these three ways to tell if your wine has gone bad:

1. Check the Appearance

Look for the following visual clues that indicate your wine has gone bad:

Cloudiness: If what was a clear wine has become cloudy or there’s a film in the bottle, it indicates that there is bacterial activity inside the bottle, so it’s probably best to throw it out.

Color Change: Aging fine wines usually results in a slight color change. However, if your wine wasn’t meant to age for several years and it has turned brown, it means chemical reactions have taken place, so it’s probably no longer good for consumption.

Bubbles: If there are bubbles in your wine, it means a second fermentation has begun, causing the wine to sour.

2. Check the Smell

The aroma of the wine is one of the most noticeable clues to whether the wine is still good or has gone bad. Common changes in the smell of the wine include:

  • Acetic acid (vinegar) scents
  • Reminiscent of sauerkraut
  • Sharp or tangy
  • Reminiscent of sweet applesauce
  • Unusually nutty
  • Sweet and smoky like caramel or burnt marshmallows
  • Burnt rubber
  • Cabbage
  • Garlic

3. Check the Taste

If you’re still unsure after checking the color and smell of the wine, check the taste. Wine that has gone bad has strong or unusual flavors such as:

  • Caramelized or sherried flavors
  • Horseradish-like flavors
  • Sour or sharp vinegar flavors

Don’t despair if you need to throw out red wine that went bad. The Monte Maggio Wines and Gourmet Shop has a tempting selection of wines ready to enjoy right now.

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