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Did you fall asleep and leave that bottle of Pinot Noir open on your counter? Or did you discover a half-full bottle of Prosecco in your fridge from last weekend’s brunch? Here, how you can know if those wines are still worth drinking.

Kimberly Holland
July 13, 2018

You’ve opened a bottle of wine after an incredibly long day at the office, downed a glass or two, and then dozed off until morning. Meanwhile, that favorite bottle of pinot noir is sitting open and exposed. When you wake up, you notice your wine mistreatment and wonder if you can salvage the remaining half of the bottle. The truth is, it depends, and here’s why.

How long a bottle of wine will last after you’ve opened it depends largely on two factors: the type of wine in the bottle and how it’s stored.

In general, table wines last three to five days after they’ve been opened. Fortified wines, or dessert wines, like Port and Sherry, can last much longer; some say months or even years. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect, by type.

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Sparkling wine

Sparkling wines, like Champagne and Prosecco, lose their carbonation quickly after opening. The carbonation protects the wine from oxidation (damage from oxygen), but your time is still limited. Within a few days, the wine will be flat. Use a special sparkling wine stopper ($7, amazon.com) to help slow oxidation and maintain some pressure for the bubbles.

When it’s entirely flat and you just can’t drink it anymore, it’s in perfect shape for cooking. Use it in a pasta sauce or risotto for a light but delicately sweet flavor.

Light whites, including sweet and rosé

While the flavor may change a bit within the first day after opening, light wines can typically last five to seven days if closed with a cork and stored in the refrigerator. It’s true the wine will lose some of its vibrancy—you may notice bright fruity flavors like pear or apple become less pronounced—but it’s still very much a drinkable option.

Full-bodied whites

Oaked wines, like Chardonnay and Viognier, are heartier against oxygen and can last three to five days after opening. These wines are often aged in oak barrels, which are not airtight the way stainless steel casks are. The early exposure to oxygen prevents their rapid oxidation, so they can last a bit longer than sparkling wine. Vacuum caps ($13, amazon.com) get you more time with these wines than a simple cork stopper alone.

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Red wines

If you stopper red wines with a cork and keep them in a cool, dark place, you can still drink these three to five days after you open them. Red wines contain more tannins and natural acidity, which protect them again the damage from oxygen. The more tannins in a wine, the longer you get with them. Light reds, like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, which are low on the tannin scale, won’t last as long as deeply rich reds like Petite Sirah or Shiraz.

If you can’t find a cool dark place to keep these opened bottles, it’s better to put them in the fridge. In temperatures above 70°F, the wine will turn bad more quickly.

Fortified wines

Fortified wines (also called dessert wines) get their name because they’ve been fortified with grape spirits, or brandy. The brandy protects the wine against spoilage and lends it a very long shelf life (and a high alcohol content). Plus, many are aged in oak casks, which introduces a lot of air. 

Some fortified wines, like Madeira and Marsala, are oxidized and cooked before they’re made, so their shelf life is significantly longer. Oxygen can do little damage to them now.

Once you’ve opened a fortified wine, cork it closed and store in a cool, dark place. As with reds, if you can’t keep a place cool (below  70°F), it’s better to store the fortified wine in the fridge.

How will I know if a wine is bad?

When you’re trying to determine if your half-full bottle of wine can go another round, keep these senses in mind: Look, smell, and then taste.

If you pour a glass of red wine and notice its vibrant ruby red is now a tawny brown, the wine is likely fully oxidized. It might be not worth drinking.

But give it a smell. Do you smell sharp notes of vinegar? It may have already turned.

Lastly, taste it. You’ll know immediately if you can drink the wine or if it’s a lost cause. Some wines technically may be past their prime, but are still plenty delicious for that Friday night when you really need a drink but just refuse to leave the house. It’s all about how it tastes to you.

It’s important to note that wine won’t be “bad” in the sense of being dangerous or toxic to consume. It might be toxic to your tongue, but you won’t get sick if you sip on a Syrah that’s past its storage prime.

How to store wine better

First things first, you have to be prepared with the right equipment. Sparkling wines store better with specially-designed sparkling wine stoppers. Vacuum-seal stoppers are also great at slowing oxidation. If you have these on hand, you can get a bit more time out of your bottle.

Get in the habit of immediately stoppering any open bottle of wine with a cork or specially-designed stopper as soon as you pour a glass. This will help protect the wine, and it will also prevent you from dozing off and leaving your bottle open to the elements overnight.

Second, slip any open wines right into the fridge (for sparkling or whites) or into a cool, dark place (reds and fortified wines) so the light and heat from a kitchen or outside barbecue doesn’t do any greater damage.

In the absolute worst case—you’ve lost the cork and have no stopper—you can close up a bottle of wine with plastic wrap and a rubber band. Be sure to wrap it as tightly as you can. It’s not ideal—and your wine will lose a few days of life—but it’s better than nothing at slowing oxidation.

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