Keeping track of every alcohol’s shelf life is a crucial part of taking your bar's inventory. But, does alcohol expire? Most people won’t ever have to find out, but generally assume that certain types of alcohol will go bad.
What about wine? It might surprise you that the answer is yes, but with a few caveats depending on the type and quality of the wine.
Keep reading to learn about wine expiration, how long it takes, and how it varies between wine varietals.
Can Wine Go Bad?
Yes, wine can go bad. But, there are many factors that play into how bad it goes and when it goes bad. Wine storage conditions, the type of wine, if it’s been opened, and how long it’s stored. The below times assume proper wine storage temperature and wine cellar lighting.
How Long Does Wine Last Unopened?
Generally speaking, red wine that costs around $10–$30 at the store will last about 2–3 years unopened. Likewise, unopened white wine of similar quality lasts around 1–2 years. You may not want to purchase a full case of wine if you don't go through bottles quickly. If this flies in the face of what you’ve heard about wine being aged for decades, that’s by design. Wines at these price points are designed to be enjoyed right after bottling. If a wine is meant to be aged, that’s built into the winemaking process.
When you get into fine wines that are meant to be aged, they can last for decades unopened. Both reds and whites, though bigger-bodied wines and red wines tend to age better. The best thing to do if you’re serious about aging wine for years is finding out the optimal storage conditions and time for that specific wine.
How Long Is Wine Good After Opening?
After opening, a wine’s shelf life gets dramatically shorter, its shelf life gets dramatically shorter. Again, it depends on the type of wine. Note that all opened wine should be stored in a refrigerator. Bring the temperature up before serving. Don't waste a full case of wine by storing it improperly.
If the wine left is 1/3rd or less of the bottle, these numbers all go down. The less wine, the more air, the more oxygen, and the faster the degradation. Stick to the standard wine pour and you should use up a bottle in time. Pay attention to your wine bottle sizes and don't open one that you won't use before it goes bad.
As you can see above, the average shelf life of an opened fortified wine, like Port or sherry, is longer than regular types of wines. That checks out, because, as we saw above, the more alcohol is in a liquor (i.e., the less sugar), the longer it'll last. The same holds true for wine. Fortified wines have higher ABVs, and that alcohol acts as a preservative. Typically, you can store fortified wines, once opened, for a couple of months. Checking to make sure your wine hasn't expired is a valuable part of a bartender's duties.
Can Old Wine Make You Sick?
In general, you can drink old opened wine. Rarely will old wine make you sick. We hypothesize that it will make you unhappy, but that’s relative. Old wine goes bad, but bad wine can’t make you sick. If you’re willing to stomach numerous wine faults in the name of consuming alcohol, you’re free to do so.
Why Does Wine Go Bad?
The biggest reason wine goes bad after being opened is aeration. Once wine is exposed to oxygen, the chemical properties of the wine begin to change. In the short term, this makes the wine more flavorful and robust. That’s why so many people invest in a wine aerator decanter. However, the chemical process will break down the wine eventually making it lose nearly all of it’s flavor and acquire a stale taste.
In the case of unopened wine, usually the breakdown begins as the seal on the bottle weakens and oxygen begins to deep in. However, even a fully sealed bottle can go bad because the wine itself begins breaking down without becoming oxidized wine. This is a similar process to what you see with bottle shock. Lower quality wine will break down much more quickly than wine that was made for aging. That’s why it’s important to only purchase the amount of wine you actually need, because you don’t want to buy a case of wine only to throw half of it away.
Stop Your Wine-ing
Not all wines are created equal and some have an inherently longer shelf-life than others. Make sure you pay attention to the quality of the wine your purchasing and understand that a $20 bottle of wine will not age particularly well. Storing and tracking your wine is vital to ensuring you don’t end up with unusable wine lying around.
That's why we recommend having an inventory management system in place, like BinWise Pro. It automates the process and keep track of your inventory’s shelf time for you.
BinWise Pro is an all-in-one inventory management system that helps you manage your wine program more effectively and successfully. It keeps track of every bottle’s expiration dates and shelf time. The system will alert you when a bottle is about to pass its drink-by date so you never waste your inventory again. Contact us to learn more about BinWise Pro and how it can help your bar.