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How Long Does Red Wine Last?

How Long Does Red Wine Last?

iLoveWine Staff
Clear wine glass overlooking an orchard.

Have you ever opened a bottle of wine after a long day, only to drink a glass or two and forget about the rest? Or maybe you’ve bought a few delicious bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, and want to know how long you can keep it in your wine cellar. Every wine enthusiast needs to know how long their bottles of wine last, to avoid disappointment after waiting too long. Although many wines have a shelf life of years, an unopened bottle can still go bad. Opened bottles of wine go bad much quicker, if you aren’t careful then a delicious wine one day can taste like vinegar the next. 

We will share everything you need to know about why wine spoils, how long an open bottle lasts, and the best way to store your wine so it lasts for time to come. It comes down to the type of wine, and your method of storage. Read on to find out if you can salvage that half-drunk bottle of wine, or find out how to prevent an unwanted vinegary result in the future. 


A collection of wine bottles.
Red wine can last a long time if stored in the correct conditions.


Why does wine go bad?

We all know that barrels and bottles of wine last for years when stored properly, so why doesn’t it last that long in your fridge? Once you open a bottle of wine, you expose the contents to oxygen in the air. Once this happens, food and drink begin to break down and decay. Food, drinks, and wine that is properly sealed can last indefinitely longer than opened products. Just take a look at canned food: it lasts for years unopened, whereas the same food in a plastic package would last a few weeks at best. 

Oxygen isn’t the only element that causes your wine to spoil; light also has a part in ruining your delicious drinks. Light from the sun will warm the contents of your wine bottle, speeding up the oxygenation process. That’s why you always want to avoid both light and oxygen when it comes to conserving your wine. Red wine most often comes in dark-colored glass bottles, as the darker tint helps block UV rays. These harmful rays can degrade and age your wine, so darker colored glass gives your bottle of wine more protection. 

When the cork is pulled, or screw-top un-twisted, your bottle of wine is sealed no longer and its contents exposed to the world. The oxygen in the air around will rush in and make contact with the wine, already it will start to degrade. With red wine, oxygen can process it into vinegar, spoiling the whole bottle. Whether your bottle of wine is organic, conventional, store-bought, or homemade, the less contact it has with oxygen the better. You should always aim to limit a wine’s exposure to oxygen and light as much as possible, right up until you’re ready to enjoy it. 


What happens to spoiled wine?

In order to fully understand how different wine lasts, it’s good to have a grasp of what happens when you leave your wine too long before drinking it. An opened bottle of red wine not finished within a few days will undergo oxidation, making the contents taste sour and vinegary. As unprotected wine comes into contact with the air, the liquid begins to oxidize. This leads to loss of flavor, then results in a highly unpleasant sour and bitter taste. Oxidization also affects the appearance of red wine, turning vibrant reds into subdued brown colors. 

Sniff the glass of wine like a professional and look for a sharp scent like vinegar. After using your sense of smell and sight, the only thing left is to taste the wine. You’ll be able to tell easily at this point if the wine is drinkable, or if it’s time to select a new bottle. When sampling a glass of red, there are a few warning signs that the bottle has turned. If you notice a fizzy taste or feeling, your bottle of wine might have gone through a second fermentation, at which point it’s pretty much undrinkable. A flat or lifeless flavor also indicated that the wine has gone bad. Many red wines can be drunk on a second or third night after opening the bottle. At this point, the bottle of wine is past it’s prime, but can still be savored and enjoyed. 


Is spoiled red wine safe to drink?

So, you’ve noticed that the bottle you opened a few nights ago has a strange taste or a funny smell. You might suspect that the wine has gone off, but you don’t know if it’s still okay to consume. Luckily, oxidized wine has an unpleasant taste, but it won’t make you sick. Although you’re unlikely to enjoy the rest of the bottle, an opened red wine won’t do you any harm if you drink it after a few days. 


A person pouring champagne into a glass.
When a wine bottle is unsealed, oxygen enters and the degradation process begins.


How long does red wine last after opening?

On average, you can expect an opened bottle of red wine to last three to five days. Although it isn’t unsafe to drink after this period, you can expect an unpleasant vinegary taste. The great thing about red wine is that it contains a lot of tannins, which help stave off the oxygenation process. The more tannins in your bottle of wine, the better fighting chance it has left after opening. 

Paler red wines, such as Pinot Noir, have fewer tannins, so they don’t last as long. On the other hand, the darkest and richest reds like Shiraz can last much longer. Additionally, acidity will also help your wine last longer, so red wines with higher acid content might make it past a few days. As time passes, the tannins and acids in an opened bottle of wine begin to break down. 

This isn’t always a bad thing, as many full-bodied red wines actually taste much better the day after they’ve been opened. Certain red wine can taste harsh straight out of the bottle, and after waiting, more subtle flavors are noticeable. Conversely, lighter red wines lose their structure more rapidly. It’s best to drink this type of red wine within a few days, otherwise, the flavors could go flat. 


How to make your bottle of red last longer once it’s open

When it comes to wine-drinkers, many who enjoy red prefer to savor a bottle over the course of a few days. If you plan to open a bottle of red wine, but know you won’t finish it all, there are a few ways you can increase the lifetime and ensure it retains flavor until the end. For example, you could use a wine preserving tool to stretch an opened bottle a week or more. 

Wine preserving tools create a vacuum seal on your bottle, slowing down the oxidization process. The vacuum sucks the air out of the bottle once stoppered, reducing the amount of oxygen available to react with the wine. The less air left inside an open bottle of wine, the slower it will oxidize. Recorking or sealing an opened bottle of red is always helpful in increasing the lifetime. We recommend investing in an airtight stopper for your opened bottles, they’re definitely worthwhile in the long run. Using a wine preserving tool can make a bottle of wine last a week instead of two days, so the money you save on spoiled wine will more than make up for the cost of the gadget. 

If you don’t have a special tool, you can still re-cork the bottle, or replace the screw top. Reseal your bottle of wine after pouring every glass, limiting the amount of oxygen that can enter. Never leave your bottle of wine unsealed when it isn’t necessary, as every second of oxygen exposure further degrades the contents. Reds and fortified wines should be stored in a cool, dark place, away from any sunlight. Red wine is faster spoiled by outside light and heat, so if you protect your opened bottle then you can extend its life. 

Always store bottles of wine uptight, this reduces the liquid surface area. When stored horizontally, more oxygen can make contact with the wine, allowing for reactions and degradation to take place. Storing your bottles upright greatly reduces the available surface area of your wine, slowing down the oxidation process. 

If you’re a serious wine lover with a budget for fancy gadgets, you could consider a Coravin wine system. This high-tech device extracts wine from bottles through the cork, replacing it with argon gas. This means you can sample a wine without even opening the bottle, so you can drink a glass and leave the rest for months or even years! When the device replaces wine with argon gas, it prevents any oxygen from entering so the oxidization process cannot begin. All you need to do with these still-sealed bottles is store them in a cool temperature, out of destructive sunlight and UV rays. 


Darker colored red wines last longer, as the higher levels of tannins protect from oxidization.


How long does red wine last unopened?

Unlike opened bottles of wine, a sealed red can last for years or even decades when stored correctly. The safe duration of a red wine’s storage life is largely dependant on the type and quality of the wine, so there’s no sure answer to how long an unopened bottle will last. The highest quality (and most expensive) bottles of wine are aged for years in sealed bottles, long before they ever go on sale. However, standard red wines can still last years in your possession, although the flavors may change. 

Aging wines will develop fuller flavors and more complex tastes, some of the most sought-after bottles of wine in the world have been aged for eternities. It’s important to remember that not all wine is suited for this process; bottles of lesser quality don’t last as well for this length of time. The flavor profile of an unopened bottle of red wine may change over the course of a few years, but it will still be good to drink.


How to tell if unopened red wine has spoiled

When making an assessment of an unopened bottle of wine, you have fewer options to test it. Obviously, you won’t be able to taste the wine, but you can still look for other clues that it’s gone off. If your wine becomes too warm in storage, it may maderize, a form of oxidization. If you see that the cork has been pushed out of your bottle slightly, this is a sign that the bottle has been exposed to too high of a temperature, and could have gone bad. If a bottle of wine is “corked”, you may notice a musty smell like wet cardboard. This is a sign that wood fungus from the cork has made it into the wine, and the bottle is likely not drinkable. 


How to store unopened wine so it lasts for years

If you take care when storing bottles of red wine, they can be enjoyed years into the future. Follow a few simple guidelines to protect your wine from going off, and make those bottles drinkable for longer. Wine, on principle, is made to last, designed to be stored for long periods without spoiling. This means if you take care, it should be easy to make your unopened bottles last for years. 

Temperature is one of the most important aspects in red wine storage, you’ll need to keep an eye on how warm your storage environment gets. Keep unopened bottles of wine well away from light and heat to make them last significantly longer. Unprotected, a bottle of red wine can quickly turn to vinegar, but it’s so easily preventable. Although you want to avoid high temperatures, you should never store red wine in the fridge. Cold can also lead to the degradation of your bottle, even for white wines and sparkling wines.

All bottles, no matter the type, should be stored long-term in a cool, dry, and dark place. You can chill them before drinking if you prefer, but don’t keep any wine in the fridge for extended periods. It’s best to maintain a steady temperature in your wine cellar, these are the best conditions to ensure a long-lasting bottle. Sudden temperature changes are bad for wine no matter what, even when you’re chilling white wine, you should adjust the temperature gradually. 

Vibration and movement, in general, can also lead to faster spoiling of wine bottles. Vibrations unsettle the sediment in the wine, which can give your drink a gritty texture. Be careful when transporting your unopened bottles, avoid shaking and dropping at all costs. The longer your wine sits still, the better the sediment will settle and the more satisfying once opened. 


Dozens of oak barrels.
Some wine is decades old before it even makes it to a bottle.


What about the expiration date? 

Like all consumable items, including food, drink, and pharmaceutical drugs, bottle wine must be legally labeled with an expiration date. If you come across a forgotten bottle of wine and find that the expiration date has passed, it doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is no longer drinkable. When grapes are fermented into red wine, the removal of sugar and replacement with alcohol creates a naturally preservative mixture. This means that red wine will often last way past its expiration date. 

A regular bottle of red wine can be expected to last two to three years past the printed expiration date. For fine wines, that is more expensive aged bottles, you can enjoy them for decades after the label lists them as expired. If properly store wine according to our instructions above, an unopened bottle of red can easily last for years.


Does red wine last longer than other wine? 

In comparison to other types of wine, red has a long life unopened. However, it actually doesn’t last as long once the bottle is unsealed. If we consider opened bottles, sparkling wine lasts the least amount of time after opening. Sparkling wine like champagne will last a few days before going flat, and a little bit longer for cooking purposes. Bottles of white wine last the longest after opening, with about a week being the maximum amount of time you could enjoy it for. More full-bodied white wine, like Chardonnay, has a slightly reduced lifetime of five days. 

Unopened, red wine lasts the longest. You can expect the average bottle to last two or three years past the expiration date. Comparatively, white wine is usually good for one or two years following the date on the label. Cooking wine and fine aged wines last longer unopened than your average bottle of red, but this includes some red wines as well.


Final Verdict: 

So, how long does red wine last? Opened bottles of red wine last three to five days after opening, depending on their hue. A lighter red wine will only last about three days once unsealed, whereas darker and richer reds can be enjoyed five days after they’ve been uncorked. You can increase the lifetime of opened bottles of red wine by resealing the bottle immediately after pouring, to limit exposure to oxygen. It’s also best to keep opened bottles upright, limiting the liquid surface area to slow oxidation. 

Unopened red wine can last for years, as long as the seal remains intact. Limit the movement of these wines so you don’t unsettle the sediment, giving the wine an unpleasant texture. No matter what type of wine you have, opened or unopened, every bottle should be stored far away from sunlight, in a cool, dark place. Protect your red wine from sudden changes in temperature, and harmful UV rays.

Follow our instructions to maximize the drinkable lifetime of your wine collection. It’s easy to protect wine from degradation, just take a few simple steps and enjoy your bottles from year to come. 


Bonus tip: Check out this video for some tips on storing opened wine!




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