The shelf life of wines in your cellar, when properly stored, can be many years. However, while some bottles get better with age, that doesn’t necessarily apply to an opened one. This fact holds for all wine varieties, be it reds, whites, or roses. This article covers wine expiry - how long wine lasts, as well as how to tell if your wine has gone bad.

Unopened wine shelf life

Firstly, how long does wine last unopened? Well, the ultimate answer to the shelf life of unopened boxed wine largely depends on two main factors: the type of wine and the storage conditions. In general, the wine expiry time of an unopened bottle is much longer than an opened one. 

Reasons why wines can be stored for a long time

We all know that wine is designed to last for a long time. And that’s the whole point of the fermenting stage and alcoholization in the first place. When grapes are fermented, yeast is added to break down sugar elements and convert them into alcohol. This process helps preserve the drink in two ways: 

  • The lowered sugar content in the liquor doesn’t give bacteria as much to feed on. That is why the spoiling process is much slower. 
  • Alcohol elements in the liquor make it much harder for most bacteria to survive, which also helps to keep spoilage at bay. 

Unopened wine expiry

Even though wine is designed to last longer than other beverages such as plain grapes or grape juice, it will still break down eventually. In general, here’s shelf life wine that you can expect from the most common types if they’re stored unopened:

  • Unopened white wine: around 1-2 years past the wine expiry date
  • Unopened red wine shelf life: 2-3 years past the expiration date
  • Cooking wine shelf life: 3-5 years past the expiration date
  • Fine wine: up to 10 - 20 years

Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that a wine can only be of good quality if it has been aged for a long time. In fact, the quality of a good wine depends on the type of wine and the various techniques that wine producers have used to create it. So, what are the differences between a young wine and aged wine?

Simply explained, young wine is the one that, once the fermentation stage has finished, is immediately bottled. That’s why this type is usually produced in the harvest of the year. Furthermore, it is characterized by having a typical floral aroma of the vineyard in which it has grown. The simple rule of thumb is that if the wine is bottled young, it should also be consumed young.

On the other hand, aged wine, after the fermentation process, is left to rest in a wooden barrel for a year or so. After spending at least a year stored in the barrel, it is then bottled and left to age a few more years before going on sale. And that’s the reason why it has a low level of tannins and anthocyanin compared to the young cousin.

Unopened wine expiry

It should be noted that most types of wines are meant to be drunk shortly after being bottled, usually within two years of the expiration date. That is because they are at the peak of flavor and aroma. 

However, fine wines are a bit different. When it comes to aging a fine wine, it generally means rich, red wines. You can think of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon - two drinking options that are designed to get more mellow over time, for instance. Usually, wine lovers have to make sure that they provide the perfect storage conditions to allow these finest wines to develop their best flavor over the years. This is the only exception to the aforementioned general rule. 

How to store unopened wine bottles if it has exceeded its wine expiry date

  • Wine cellar

The perfect conditions for proper wine storage are in a wine cellar. This might be a cool, dark place and should be kept at a constant temperature of 50-55°F (13°C). 

  • DIY storage choices
DIY storage choices

Since most of us can not create such a prominent environment, just remember that the best wine storage is under cool, dark, and somewhat humid conditions. Storing unopened wine above the fridge, under the stove, or next to the dishwasher is the worst possible storage choice. Simply explained, the wine will be heated whenever these appliances are on. Instead, a small and inexpensive wine cooler can save the day. Also, keep all bottles away from direct light as well. 

Furthermore, storing wine horizontally is the perfect way to keep the cork moist. This practice preserves the seal, prevents air from seeping into the bottle, and keeps the cork from drying out and crumbling upon opening. 

For example, let’s assume that you’re stocking Champagne bottles - the decent drink for the upcoming grand anniversary. The best way to preserve Champagne is by putting it in a cool basement, or a wine cooler and store Champagne horizontally until opened. 

Wine expiry: Opened wine shelf life

If you want to know how long different types of wine will stay fresh after being opened, here is a handy guide of wine expiry to help you determine whether your bottle is still good or not.

Red wine expiry: up to 5 days

Red wine expiry: up to 5 days

If you are the kind of person who likes to savor wines slowly, then red wines are the to-go options. Normally, the opened red wine shelf life is about 3 to 5 days. However, to reach the potential red wine expiry date, you have to store the bottle sensibly – in a cool place out of direct light.

As time passes, the acids and tannins building up the structure and body of the red wines will start to break down after the bottle is opened. However, this is not totally a bad thing. Many astringent bottles of red wine, especially young, full-bodied reds, will probably be much more palatable the day after being uncorked. You’ll notice there are fewer harsher notes and a more enjoyable drinking experience to come forward. And that’s why the red wine shelf life opened can be up to 5 days.  

When it comes to lighter-bodied red wine shelf life, such as Burgundy and other Sangiovese-based or Pinot Noir wines, the situation is different. These options lose their structure far more quickly and can not remain their original flavors. As such, the red wine shelf life after opening is shorter compared to full-bodied ones. Hence, it's advisable to drink the wines within two or three days.

Full-body white wine expiry date: 2 to 3 days

Full-body white wine expiry date: 2 to 3 days

Full-bodied, stronger white wines are rather less flexible when it comes to wine shelf life after opening. This is because they already come across a fair amount of oxygen during the aging process before being released.

Most people would suggest the opened white wine shelf life of this variety is within three days, as to leave them longer would defeat the point of purchasing them in the first place, and they are likely to become rather unpleasant. If you enjoy whites, you can effectively buy an extra day or two by investing in a preserver or vacuum cap stopper. These tools will effectively help you to increase your white wine shelf life after opening.

Rose and lighter white wine shelf life: 5 to 7 days

If you’re on the hunt for something light and zesty, fresh and zingy, lighter white and rosé wines are your companion. The whole point of these beverages is to offer something springy and acidic, full of life with sharp fruit and mineral notes.

Normally, light rosé wines and white wines will be absolutely fine in your fridge for up to five or seven days. This means that you can dip into them over a long weekend, and they’ll continue to be pleasant to the palate. 

In detail, after the first three days or so, the wine's character will begin to change. You’ll see that the notes on the palate deadened somewhat. Having said that, this again might not be a bad thing, and it surely won’t do you any harm to carry on drinking.

Rose and lighter white wine shelf life: 5 to 7 days

Champagne and other sparkling wine expiry date: 36 hours

A traditional method of making sparkling wine, such as in Jacobs Creek Chardonnay, Chandon Brut, or Champagne, will last a little longer than a modern tank method of sparkling cousins like Prosecco. The traditional wines have more atmospheres of pressure (more bubbles) in them when they’re bottled, which is why they tend to last longer.

Compared to the shelf life of rose wine or other white options, the shelf life of sparkling wine and Champagne is much shorter. The drinks can even lose their fizz quickly and probably they shouldn’t be bothered after being opened for more than 36 hours. Simply put, these wines get their character from their fine bubbles.  After a long period of time, all the bubbles are gone, and to drink a dead sparkling wine is never going to be much fun.

Champagne and other sparkling wine expiry date: 36 hours

Fortified wine expiration date: 4 to 5 weeks

Fortified wines, like Sherry and Port, are the toughest on the list. The very obvious reason is that they have higher alcohol and sugar content and are ‘fortified’ with grape spirits in the first place. Both of these factors mean their opened wine bottle shelf life can easily outstrip any other wine choice. However, again, they won’t last forever.

Fortified wine expiration date: 4 to 5 weeks

Realistically, 4 to 5 weeks is the maximum amount of time that you can expect to keep a bottle of fortified wine once it has been opened. After that, if you still keep the wine, it surely begins to degrade and lose all the complex, deep flavors.

Box wine shelf life

Box wine shelf life

Wine boxes, although they generally contain cheaper products, last longer once opened. This is because they are in aseptic packaging that does not allow air to get in and further ferment the wine inside. 

So, depending on the type of wine in the box, you can decide to go 1 or 2 extra days for each opened bottle.

Signs your wine bottle has gone bad

Signs your wine bottle has gone bad

Besides looking at the printed expiration date, there are signs that your wine — both opened and unopened bottles have gone bad.

  • Change in color: The first way to check the quality of the wine is the color change. It means that the wine has been exposed to too much oxygen. For the most part, reds that turn a brownish color, as well as light whites that change to a golden or opaque hue, should be discarded.
  • Unwanted tiny bubbles: This is due to unplanned fermentation which negatively affects the quality of your wine.
  • Sharp, vinegar-like smell: Smelling your wine is also a good way to tell whether your wine has gone bad or not. A wine bottle that has been left open for too long will have a sharp, sour, vinegar-like smell. On the other hand, the wine that has never been opened but has gone bad will smell like garlic or burnt rubber.
  • Undesired tasting experience: Tasting a bit of your wine is also a good way to tell whether or not it has gone bad. The wine that has gone bad usually has a sharp sour or burnt unpleasant flavor. Just a small amount of bad wine will not cause any harm to your health. 
  • Visible in the cork: Looking at the wine cork can also give you a hint to determine your wine’s quality. A wine leak that is visible in the cork or a cork pushing past the bottle rim could be a sign that your wine has undergone heat damage.

Deal with an opened wine 

Once you’re having an open bottle of wine, the clock is ticking. If you can’t finish it in just one sitting, white wine will be kept in the refrigerator for a few days, while reds will last for a few weeks. You have to keep it sealed with the cork and store the bottle in an upright position to help it last as long as possible. 

If you want to keep your wine for a long and extended period of time, then it’s a good idea to invest in a vacuum pump wine preservation. And most importantly, drink it soon -  opened wines deteriorate fairly quickly! 

Deal with an opened wine

Health concerns when drinking bad wine

Health concerns when drinking bad wine

While tasting a small sip of bad wine will not cause you any harm, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should or can drink the leftover. Wine can turn bad not only from the over-exposure to oxygen but also an increase in yeast elements and bacterial growth.

Drinking bad wine not only brings about an unpleasant experience but may also expose you to harmful foodborne pathogens that can cause food poisoning. Symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.

Therefore, if you come across bad wine, regardless of whether it has been opened or not, the best practice is to discard it.

So, there you have it, a quick guide to wine expiry - how long those bottles are going to last after you’ve popped their corks. Keep these tips in mind, and you no longer have to go back and forth to decide whether or not you should get rid of your favorite wine.