Here is a familiar scenario. You get home from work after what already has feels like you may have worked a whole week. You decide to open a bottle of wine. You’ve left out steaks to cook, so you look in your wine cellar to pick out a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. But then, this question creeps in your head…how long will this wine be good for after I open it? Can I preserve my wine for a couple of days ? Can I make it last till Saturday? Does red wine need to be kept in the fridge? Confusion mounts. You sit there pondering whether or not you’ll finish the bottle in time for it to be worth opening.
Perhaps this is too nice of a wine to open just for me. Maybe I’ll wait until I’ve got someone to finish the bottle with. Or will I? And back into the cellar goes the bottle of Cabernet; and you opt for a beer instead. Satisfying, sure… but it’s no nicely aged Cabernet Sauvignon, and your steak isn’t nearly as delicious without it.
This scenario plays out hundreds of times in kitchens and households every week. That’s why we hope to dispel all the rumors and myths out there about storing wine. We will serve all your questions about where to store wine, how to store it, how long the bottles last after opening, how long can you age it, and many more.
How long can I keep an open wine bottle before it goes bad?
The first question for most novice wine drinkers about storing wine is this: how long can I keep my bottle of Cabernet for, after I open it? The answer is quite simple. For 99% of wines where you have a glass and then simply pop the cork back in, or screw the cap back on, and put it in the fridge to store, they should be drunk within 4 days of initially being opened. While there are many tools on the market that can help prolong the life of an open bottle for more than 5 days, many new drinkers don’t have access or don’t want to buy them.
How long does wine last once opened?
Now, many people ask if red wine expires just like white wine does, and how to keep that red wine from going bad. Many people think: store open white wine in the fridge (as you drink it cold anyway) and keep red wine on the counter (as you generally drink it at room temperature anyway). But that is not correct. All wines benefit from being kept in the fridge if you are planning to drink them over the course of multiple days, and here is why. The reason your wine is going bad is because of chemical reactions, mostly due to oxygen and bacteria, happening in the wine. Most wines have some sulfur in them to help prevent this from happening while you are aging the bottle, but once the bottle is open that sulfur dissipates and more oxygen and bacteria are in your bottle than before, due to the extra space from that glass you just drank. Nothing (except using a Coravin) can prevent this from happening. However, there is one thing that can help slow the reactions that lead to your bottle going bad.
You guessed it – that is refrigerating it!
The cold air in the fridge keeps the reactions from happening so quickly, and thus helps to preserve your wines. And that is regardless of whether they are white, red, rose, sparkling, or fortified wines.
There are a few more ways to keep open bottles of wine from going bad as quickly, and I will share them here.
First, don’t open the bottle more than you need to, and don’t leave it open without a cork or screw cap on it. Remember that oxygen and bacteria we were talking about? Leaving the bottle open to it just makes it worse. So uncork the bottle, pour yourself a glass, replace the cork in the bottle, and then put it back in the fridge. This will prolong the life of your wine. Also, the less full a bottle is the shorter the lifespan of the wine.
Meaning, your first glass out of a bottle will last longer than the last glass. The more empty space in the bottle, the more times it has been opened, the more oxygen and bacteria the wine has been exposed to, and the quicker it will go bad.
How long does red wine last once opened?
Lastly, red wines tend to have a little bit longer life, both in aging and in storing opened bottles, and this is due to a variety of chemical compounds in red wines that help them to fend off the bad molecules. Namely, tannin, anthocyanin, higher alcohol, and phenols, which are all components of red wines that are present in much lower quantities in white wines This will give you an extra day or so in the fridge, so for red wines you could keep them open for 5 days in ideal conditions.
Fortified wine and dessert wine is interesting; and poses slightly different story when it comes to savoring your open bottles.
Ever see a jar of honey with mold on it? Likewise, ever seen a bottle of vodka go bad? The same principles that keeps these products safe for long periods of time apply to dessert wine and fortified wine, although to a much lesser extent. The high alcohol, and high sugar content, of honey and vodka keep bad bacteria from growing on them. Fortified wine, being of much higher alcohol content, can generally last up to 4 weeks in the fridge, as compared to less than a week for most regular wine. Better still, fortified wines tend to be sweeter due to higher residual sugar content, giving them a double dose of helping molecules. And calories.
Dessert wines have a similar shelf life, though this is due to the high amount of residual sugar left in the wine during the wine making process.
Now some of you are probably more experienced wine drinkers, and you are saying “Yeah, yeah, I know all of that…but how long can I age my wine? How should I keep my wine if I hope to age it just the perfect amount? And. Do red wines ever expire?” We have those answers as well, and it is important to understand the basics of how wine ages first, to know the rest.
The art of aging
The long haul. The idea behind aging wine is a gradual, slow evolution of the bottle you are aging, with a very limited amount of oxygen getting into the bottle via the cork. This very slow introduction of oxygen allows the chemical reactions that lead to complex, delicious, and fascinating wines to happen at a glacial pace, over many years, rather than the very fast pace of an open bottle left on a counter for a day or two with no cork in it.
Hack: The number one key to aging wine successfully is consistent temperature of the area you are aging the wine in. Let me say it again, because it is that important. The number one key to aging wine is consistent temperature. If you keep a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at 45 to 55 degrees for five years, you will have a vastly different, and more delicious, bottle of wine to drink than if you, say, kept it in a room where the temperature fluctuated between 35 and 100 degrees for those same five years. In fact, the wine that was kept in a room with a lot of temperature fluctuation might not even be good anymore. This point is critical and is often where people fail in hedging their liquid assets for the future success.
It can be particularly tricky if you live in a really hot place like Miami, or a really cold one like Montreal. But for this reason it is essential you have a dedicated space to keep your wine.
The good news is, there are more 6-24 bottle wine fridges on the market that you can point a stick at. That are inexpensive, small and where you can chose to: put on, or under, your counter, and those will keep your wine at a consistent temperature.
Similarly, if you are up for a more serious collector and up for the challenge of turning your home into a wine fortress. There are larger fridges that restaurants use that can store up to 200 or 300 bottles at a time. They even have multiple temperature zones in different sections of the fridge.
What temperature do I store my wine?
Most experts’ say that white wines are better kept at slightly cooler temperatures (~45 degrees) and red wines are better kept at slightly warmer temperatures (~55 degrees). This also has the added benefit that your white wine is closer to its optimal drinking temperature (~35-40 degrees) and so you do not need to chill it for quite as long.
Temperature and humidity control
If you are a lucky and wise enough to have a dedicated cellar or room in your house, you should certainly be able to afford some temperature control in there as well. Slightly less important is humidity control, although if you are in an extremely humid or extremely dry climate this can certainly have an impact on storage of your wines.
High humidity can cause the labels to degrade quickly, and low humidity can cause the corks to dry out, making the wine difficult to open and possibly affect the taste of the wine as well. A higher humidity, however, is better than a lower one…i.e., if you live where the humidity is often above 70%, you are better off than someone living where it is only 20% on average.
As far as the question of how long wines can be aged for? Unfortunately I have a bad answer for you…and that answer is, it all depends. We apologize for the salesperson response, but it comes down to science.
It depends on many factors, to which are lengthy and explained at length in our other articles focused on wine cooling.
At a high level though:
- How wine is made and then stored?
- What kind of wine it is?
- What the weather was like the year the wine was made? And,
- Many other issues come into play.
The best way to figure it out is to test it for yourself!
Hack: Try to buy two bottles of every wine you hope to age, and drink one after 3 years and one after 6 years, or one after 5 years and the other after 10 years, and see which one is better. And did we just give you an excuse to go out and purchase said experiment wine?
We sure did.
Alternatively if you cannot wait 3 years. You can go to a really large liquor store and try to find a generic red, well-known label wine for around $30, and see if the store has the exact same wine and from another vintage.
Generally speaking, white wines will not age for quite as long as reds…think 2-10 years for whites, 5-25 for reds.
Also, while the oft-repeated quote “wine improves with age” is true to an extent. But a more of caution much be notes.
The quality curve in wine is a bell curve. Meaning, there is a peak, and there is a trough. You are aiming to drink the wine at the peak, and that is not at the end of its life. That is somewhere in the middle, and sadly no one has an exact method for identifying when that middle is. The trough is when the red wine expires and turns into vinegar. So yes, red wine can, and does, “expire”. Not quite as intensely as milk, or fish, but it does expire.
Following the advice outlined in this article, you can feel safe in opening a nice bottle of wine on a Tuesday and drinking it that Friday. How to store wine at home is a tool that we all need in our toolbox, and learning to store wines properly, whether by aging them for years or leaving them in the fridge for 4-5 days, will lead to less stress and an increased enjoyment in the wines we drink on a daily and weekly basis.