Is It Safe To Drink Expired Wine? Here's What The Experts Say

When you're of drinking age, one of the types of alcohol you'd probably be exposed to is wine. It comes in different flavors (sweet, bitter, fruity, etc.) and different colors (red, white, rosé, and more). Wine is also one of the healthiest types of alcohol out there and perhaps you've heard of the unexpected health benefits of drinking red wine

Despite its popularity, however, it's not always possible to finish an entire bottle once you've opened it. So you store it, in the hopes of enjoying it later. But, just like with most food and beverage items, wine does go bad. 

Can you drink it once it goes bad? Yes, a small amount of expired wine won't do you harm. In fact, microbial growth is not a major concern with wine because the bacteria in wine are not pathogenic, per the director of the food systems and safety program team at Clemson University Extension Service, Kimberly Baker (via Pop Sugar). 

But that doesn't mean you should be chugging down the entire bottle. Flat, flavorless, and strong-smelling wine is not going to be the most pleasant to drink. Plus, according to Healthline, the studies done on bacteria in wine only focused on refined ice wine. So, if food poisoning were to occur, you'd experience symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea.

How can you tell when wine has expired? While the shelf life differs markedly between opened and unopened bottles of wine, there are tell-tale signs for both when they've gone bad.

Signs that wine has expired

Both with opened and unopened wines, recognizing the signs that it's gone bad involves smelling it, looking at its color, tasting a small amount of it, and generally examining its appearance.

With red wine, you'll notice that the color has changed to be more brown than red, per experts. The same applies to white wine which will look more deep yellow or brown as well. 

As for the smell, it can vary from a vinegar-like acidic scent to sometimes even a walnut- or almond-like odor, according to certified specialist of spirits with the Society of Wine Educators and owner of Saratoga Wine Exchange, Joshua Hiebel. It might also smell more strongly of alcohol whereas before you were able to get a whiff of the fruitiness within, said Hiebel. 

With taste, you'd likely know instantly that something is off. A wine that has passed its expiration date will taste acidic and vinegar-like. In some instances, it might even chemical taste like paint thinner, according to Medical News Today

Oxidation and nonpathogenic bacteria are the two reasons why wine spoils, per Pop Sugar. When oxygen comes into contact with the wine inside the bottle, it starts off the oxidization process which is what turns the color of the wine a darker and duller shade than it's meant to be. The nonpathogenic bacteria "converts the alcohol into acetic acid and acetaldehyde, causing the wine to [develop] a vinegar-like taste and smell," explained Baker (via Pop Sugar). 

How to store opened and unopened wine

Per Hiebel (via Saratoga Wine), there are three things that essentially affect the quality and shelf-life of wine: temperature, humidity, and light. While it is possible to store opened wine correctly and slightly increase its shelf life, most wines, once opened, should be drunk within the next 1-6 days. To be more specific, sparkling wine can last 1-2 days, white wine 3-5 days, rosé 3-5 days, red wine 3-6 days, and fortified wine 1–3 weeks, according to Medical News Today.

Both white and red wine can be refrigerated after they've been re-corked or re-sealed, shared sommelier B. Pierre Asti. "Refrigeration slows down the oxidation process ... Refrigeration enables your wines to stay relatively fresh for up to 3-5 days," he explained. Better yet, pour your leftover wine into a smaller bottle to reduce its air space. But if you plan on drinking your red wine the next day, you can leave it on the counter, added Asti. Just make sure it's stored in a cool, dark space, away from sunlight. If you're serious about wine storage, a wine fridge might be a good investment. 

When unopened, store-bought white wines should be drunk within 1-2 years, said certified master wine taster and winemaker John McTavish. Red wines can be stored for about 5 years. Again, safely store your wines in a cool and dark place where the humidity isn't too low or too high. Medical News Today suggests 60% humidity. Also, store your wines horizontally. This will keep the cork from drying out and allowing oxygen in.