How long does wine last unopened?
Shelf life of unopened wine
While some high-end wines improve after years in storage, most wines are intended to be enjoyed a lot sooner.
A bottle of wine offers a diverse range of tastes and aromas influenced by its grape, origin, and vintage. How long the wine sits in a bottle unopened, however, may also possess considerable power over its quality — for better or for worse.
While wine generally gets better with age, most of that process isn’t left to the consumer. In fact, the majority of wine sold is made to be enjoyed immediately. For those wines, there is a window in which it should be opened and consumed before going bad. Still, there are unique bottles that may evolve over time and can benefit from aging.
Here, we break down best aging practices by wine varietal, as well as some helpful tips on how to best store bottles, and which ones are worth storing.
Wine shelf life by type
Most commercially sold bottles of wine are intended to be enjoyed right away, lasting no longer than three to five years. Balanced reds with high tannins and acidity like cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, malbec, and some merlots may last unopened up to five years and maybe even to seven. Other reds such as pinot noir, zinfandel, and syrah fall into the three- to five-year range, with wines like beaujolais and primitivo best consumed within three years.
Most white wine has a shorter window: sauvignon blanc, riesling, and pinot grigio should be drunk within three years, while chardonnay and certain old-world whites last up to five years. Few high-end wines like barolo, barbaresco, or Chablis may last 10 years or longer unopened. Particularly sweet wines have a longer lifespan, as do some high-end sparkling bottles.
The clock begins ticking from the year the wine was bottled, which is noted on the label. You may pick up a bottle from the store that’s already aged one or two years. As a reminder, these timelines are for unopened bottles — once you open a bottle, its shelf life drops from years to a handful of days.
What wines should I age?
Just because you can age your wine doesn’t necessarily mean you should. The average bottle you pick up at a wine store is meant to be enjoyed within the year. Indeed, most winemakers tend to the aging processes themselves in order to give consumers the best version of the wine immediately.
If you’re looking for wines to keep over the long haul, opt for those with higher acidity, as wines lose acidity over time, and higher tannins, as these preserve color and flavor. You want a balanced wine that’s complex initially so that it maintains and evolves that complexity. When it comes to red wines specifically, moderate to high alcohol content is desirable for aging, but look for low alcohol content in white, since the lack of tannins cause oxidation to occur more quickly.
In order to best age wine and experiment with the process, buy directly from vineyards and explain your intent so as to glean some specific insight from those who know best. There’s no point in storing everyday wine that won’t change. Buy at least a case, and open a bottle throughout the process, every six to 12 months, to observe and record the taste.
Wine storage tips
Whether you're waiting for a couple months or several years, it’s important to adhere to best storing practices. Wine should be kept in a cool, dark place. Keep the temperature between 55 and 59 degrees. Humidity should also be controlled, ranging from 55% to 75%. Drastic fluctuations in either, as well as the penetration of ultraviolet rays, can cause the wine to age rapidly.
Any wine bottles that feature a cork should be stored on their side. This prevents the cork from drying out, shriveling, and allowing air inside. A bottle with a screw cap does not need to be stored on its side. For those looking to age wine for a year or more, purchasing a wine cooler is recommended. Those that block out UV rays afford you more options when it comes to placing it in your home.
The Coravin has become an essential tool if you want to cellar and store your wine. Though no small investment, it allows you to enjoy a sip or glass of your aging wine while keeping it preserved for not just days, but months and even years. This is especially useful for monitoring the cellaring process and checking on the quality of your wine.
Signs of bad wine
Use your senses to determine if a wine has aged too long and spoiled. Upon opening, inspect the cork for dryness and check for a musty odor that indicates the wine has turned. Pour the wine and look at the color: dullness, particularly a brown or yellow tint at the rim, is one ominous sign. Expired wine may also have an odor akin to mildew or vinegar, and it will taste exceptionally acidic. However, provided the wine doesn’t contain any cork or sediment and isn’t too far gone, you may be able to use the expired bottle in cooking.
Anthony Marcusa is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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