Wine

How Long Does That Open Bottle of Wine Last, Really?

By learning how and why wines go bad—and which wines are more prone to it—you’ll never have to pour another drop down the sink.

Photo by Julia Gartland

Internet memes may tell you “there’s no such thing as leftover wine.”—a joke about drinking that misses the point that very often in daily life we might not finish an open bottle. If we do have leftovers, the conventional wisdom is that the clock is ticking, since wine is best the same day it’s opened, or should be consumed by the next day at most. This is frustrating, though, if you don’t want to drink that opened wine the very next day or if you don’t have the chance, especially when the leftovers are of a great quality. And pouring “old” wine out feels like a waste. Many of us will ask under these circumstances, But how bad can it be?

The process that starts when you open a bottle of wine is called aeration, which leads to oxidation, which “increases color change and the loss of fruity characteristics,” according to professor Gavin Sacks, Professor of Enology and Viticulture in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University. It also “leads to the loss of sulphur dioxide, which preserves the wine,” he says, and dissipates aromas. Even if you put the cork back in, the process continues, since no closure is airtight and oxygen has already been introduced.

The great news is that although it’s not good in large doses, in small amounts, oxidation can be welcome or beneficial to wine. It occurs naturally inside the barrel and bottle when the wine ages. Sometimes if a fine wine hasn’t aged enough (meaning it still tastes overly tannic and astringent), experts will decant it or allow it to aerate for a few hours. This helps optimize the flavor by making it mellower, and also can allow unwanted aromas to dissipate. Swirling one’s glass may look showy, but it is also a practical way to aerate. These are positive examples of allowing a wine to “open up” or “breathe.” And even with some medium-quality bottles, wine-nerdy people will open them and taste over the course of a few days, to watch how the flavor changes over time.

Thus, if you can control the oxidation, you can sometimes drink a wine up to a week after opening it, depending on a number of factors such as how full the bottle is, the light exposure, the temperature at which the wine was stored, and what kind of wine it was in the first place.

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Top Comment:
“Most lighter, less tannic wines, will lose their brightness by the following day in a half-full bottle. Some whites, kept in the refrigerator, will last for three days if you push it, but it's not ideal and they are generally rather flat by then. Open wines, red especially, seem to be very temperature sensitive after opening and don't like being transferred back and forth between cool (room) and cold (fridge) environments. Sometimes, but rarely, a less expensive, harsh red, will open up by the following day after being opened, but it doesn't happen often. Also, depends what you drink. I prefer Loire valley wines, and the reds are sensitive to exposure to air. ”
— arbeenyc
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The following can help you judge how long an opened bottle might still be drinkable. For our purposes, we are assuming that you don’t have any fancy wine preservation gadgets, and that you want your wine to taste not just good enough, but still very good.

How much air has it gotten?

The trick with making a wine last is to avoid exposure to air. A bottle that has been left open overnight or has been decanted has gotten a lot more air than one that was opened and immediately re-corked. A re-corked bottle that’s almost full has much less air in it than a re-corked bottle that’s almost empty. An opened bottle resting on its side in the refrigerator is creating a much greater surface area for air exposure. A bottle whose cork has been lost is better off covered with foil or plastic wrap than just left open. There’s no hard and fast rule, but the more you can minimize air exposure, the longer the wine will taste great.

Where has it been stored?

Heat hastens oxidation in wine, and colder temperatures slow it down. Both reds and whites should ideally be stored in the refrigerator, according to professor Sacks. Light is also a factor. UV rays, which travel easily through both clear and green bottles, instigate a sulphur-releasing process which affects the wine’s scent, a major factor in taste. (Consumer tip—you might not want to buy the wines displayed near the big front windows of your favorite wine store, especially those in clear bottles.) Again, the refrigerator is the answer. It’s dark in there when you don’t have the door open. If you’re concerned about drinking your reds too cold, you can do as professor Sacks suggests: He pours a glass and pops it in the microwave for five seconds.

What is the wine’s flavor profile?

Wines that are more tannic or acidic tend to hold up longer, since acids and tannins can often use some softening before they taste best. Any wine can be acidic—if it tastes a little fizzy or zingy or sharp, that’s how you know. Tannins come from the grape skins during the winemaking process, as does color, so you’ll find them mostly in red and to a lesser extent in rose and orange wines—they’re what give you that chalky taste in your mouth. If a wine tastes too acidic or tannic to you, there’s a strong chance that you’ll like it much more the next day, as oxidation acts to beneficially tame those characteristics.

In general, natural and organic wines tend to have more acidity and tannins and less perceived sweetness, so they also can be longer-lasting than their mass-produced counterparts. From the opposite perspective, fruit flavors fade first, so wines that are perceived to be sweet and fruity on day one will often have lost their magic by day two. And wines aged on the lees, (aka, the dead yeast originally added live to start the fermentation process), have a creamy, delicious mouthfeel, but start out fairly “flat,” and age less well.

Is the wine aged in oak?

Wine that has been aged in oak barrels has a vanilla aroma and palate-pleasing smoothness. Oak can be good because it balances big, bold, jammy, fruity flavors and higher alcohol contents. But unfortunately, since notes of fruit in a wine are the first to go, oaky wine can quickly taste like oak water.

What grape is it?

Some grapes, particularly Pinot Noirs, are known to not be so sturdy. Pinot Noir, the main grape in red Burgundies, is called the “heartbreak wine” because it’s so fickle that even bottles from legendary makers are sometimes lacking on arrival, and there can be a wide quality differential within the same case of wine. Other wines made from lighter red grapes can also potentially degrade faster. Professor Sacks added that Sauvignon Blanc based-wines are some of “the most readily oxidizable.”

By contrast, the most tannic grapes tend to make the sturdiest wines, such as some Cabernet Sauvignons from California and Bordeaux, some Brunellos from Tuscany, which are made from Sangiovese, some Barolos from Piedmont, which are made from Nebbiolo, and some Syrahs. And if that all sounds delicious now, try them on day three.

What are your best wine tips? Let us know in the comments.
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30 Comments

bob K. March 12, 2021
Using the various pump devices can reduce the partial pressure of the oxygen in the bottle. Air has only about 20% oxygen. A few pumps can reduce the air pressure in the bottle and thereby reduce the amount of oxygen, which in turn slows down the rate of oxidation. While some oxidation will take place it could be halved versus a recorked bottle. While refrigeration will reduce the rate of oxidation, rewarming in a microwave is another step to slow down that first drink out of the frig. And by the way, alcohol turning to vinegar, as some people have said about wine the next day, is not real likely. As anyone who has made wine vinegar knows, this process is actually hard to get started and slow to proceed. Fruit flies are the best way to get a start, or use a raw cider vinegar as your mother liquor.
 
Teresa D. November 6, 2020
I've tried a few inexpensive gizmos, with little success. I recently was gifted what looks like a more expensive gizmo, so I'll try it when I get the chance to read the directions. All that said, I have never been able to drink a red wine later than the next day. Beyond that, I find it very unpleasant. I can keep a white wine two - maybe three - days. I would NEVER cook with a wine that's no longer tasty enough to drink. NEVER!
 
Barcham November 6, 2020
Reading the comments here is very interesting. I suggest everyone go to YouTube and search for a video called "Wine For The Confused'. It is a short documentary on wine that was made by John Cleese a few years ago. It will put wine in proper perspective. I like wine, but people take it WAY too seriously.
 
LuAnn A. November 6, 2020
I refrigerate any leftover wine in its original bottle with a tight stopper. If it doesn't taste fresh enough to drink in a day or two, it gets used in cooking.
 
John S. November 6, 2020
I have tried just about every wine preservation device, since my spouse and I never finish a bottle in one evening.
Coravin is great if you just want a glass, but that's unusual for us -- we usually open the bottle and want to have it the next day or even the next as well.
I've tried vacuvin and the 'wine blanket' types of preservation. There are enough wine reviewers who said that something changes under vacuum that I just decided to forgo using it further (though I still will!).
Ultimately, the device we like most is called "Eto", and it is a carafe that you decant the bottle into and it has a plunger that puts the seal right on top of the wine level so air is excluded. No gas capsules or such needed. The downside is that Eto is pricey (it is also beautiful and very well-constructed) -- about $150. So it isn't for everybody. Makes a good gift for a serious wine drinker though,
(No, I don't work for or have a stake in Eto...:))
I should note that we drink almost exclusively red wine, so the wine isn't normally refrigerated but could be.
 
TomB November 5, 2020
Great article and comments. I always appreciate data-backed information. I use a device called WinePrO2 which uses pure oxygen (not air) dispensed directly into a glass to bring the wine to a 2-3 hour traditional decanting time in seconds. Really makes a big difference on tannic reds. It’s cool because you can control how much to use (typically less on lighter reds and whites). You must be careful to not use too much because a little O2 goes a long way. It also has a pure Argon cartridge which preserves opened bottles for days. I use that along with refrigeration to preserve.
Check out WinePrO2.com for more information.
 
Karla November 5, 2020
About an hour!
 
kgw November 5, 2020
Always put a bottle of wine in the refrigerator if not finished...You won't hurt it by doing so, other than waiting for your favorite drinking temperature...
 
Barcham November 5, 2020
Well, so called 'room temperature' is considerably cooler than most people keep their rooms anyways. I always chill my red wine a touch before I open it as I prefer it to be on the cool side. I also tend to put a partial bottle in the fridge. You certainly will not hurt it!
 
arbeenyc November 5, 2020
Interesting. My rule of thumb has been to finish a bottle of wine in two days, no more. Most lighter, less tannic wines, will lose their brightness by the following day in a half-full bottle. Some whites, kept in the refrigerator, will last for three days if you push it, but it's not ideal and they are generally rather flat by then. Open wines, red especially, seem to be very temperature sensitive after opening and don't like being transferred back and forth between cool (room) and cold (fridge) environments. Sometimes, but rarely, a less expensive, harsh red, will open up by the following day after being opened, but it doesn't happen often. Also, depends what you drink. I prefer Loire valley wines, and the reds are sensitive to exposure to air.
 
Hank Z. November 5, 2020
thanks for responding...and yes, results certainly do vary and some wines that could use the taming of age do get better. Aeration speeds up the aging process in a good way.
 
Barcham November 5, 2020
I have wine bottle stoppers that work with my FoodSaver vacuum sealer and remove all the air from an opened bottle. I have found they work quite well and were well worth the low cost of around $15 for a three pack. For the rare occasions that I do have some remaining wine, usually after the holiday season when visitors tend to drop by with a bottle and I end up with some the next day, I add it to a container and make my own wine vinegar that surpasses any you will buy in your local grocery store.
 
Hank Z. November 5, 2020
Pumping out the air does seem to work best for the price of the technology needed to do it. The suggestion is welcome because we decided to just focus the piece on preservation that did not require any gadgets.
 
Barcham November 5, 2020
The price is well worth it if you already have the vacuum sealer, I would not spend the money on the machine only to seal wine bottles though1 LOL I have found that a vacuum sealer is well worth the expense overall as it likely saved me well over double the cost in the first year I owned it and anyone interested in food and cooking should have one in their kitchen. Once you have it, you will wonder how you ever got by without it. It does tend to lead to other things, however, as I am now getting ready to purchase a sous vide machine and water container just to have an excuse to vacuum seal more things!
 
Armando A. November 5, 2020
Winemaker/food scientist here. You can buy argon or another mixture of inert gases and purge the head space (Art a good brand of argon and sold by amazon). If you’re extremely fancy you can try the Coravin which is a system that will let you pour without removing the cork (magic!). Cheers!
 
Hank Z. November 5, 2020
I agree about the gas and I think Coravin makes sense for certain people in the trade (sales reps, restaurants offering higher end wine by the glass). We wanted to offer suggestions that didn't use any intervention (and admittedly, to keep the piece shorter!). Thank you though for posting that info. What type of wine are you making?
 
Ross R. November 5, 2020
I am currently experimenting with converting leftover red wine into red wine vinegar. A friend tells me she does it regularly with the small amounts of leftover wine of various types. The process results in a growth called "mother" on the surface, but that is removed by filtering. My friend swears it is superior to any store bought red wine vinegar.
 
Armando A. November 5, 2020
Yeah that mother floater is a surface yeast and it’s converting the ethanol into acetic acid. Agree taste is superior!
 
Barcham November 5, 2020
I do exactly the same thing. If you are a regular wine drinker, with a little effort and care you will never need to purchase wine vinegar again. :)
 
missymaam November 5, 2020
I do this too! I find the result to be a deeper richer vinegar. So good!
 
Hank Z. November 5, 2020
I agree with Ross, Barcham and Missymaam. It is superior, probably because of freshness and because you are working with a better base wine than some mass-produced vinegars are produced from.
 
Nancy October 21, 2020
Good tips and thanks.
I keep leftover wine a few days in the fridge...transferred, as it is drunk up, to progressively smaller glass bottle to minimize surface exposed to oxygen.
 
Cathy October 21, 2020
Depending on how much is left I will use it for cooking. There’s generally something I can put it in, mushrooms, a stew, etc.. Just can’t bear to throw it out.
 
Hank Z. October 21, 2020
Hi Nancy. Thanks for reading and commenting. The changeover to a smaller bottle is a great option, as long as people have smaller bottles. I am going to do a virtual event soon with half bottles and I will encourage people to hold onto the empties.
 
Hank Z. October 21, 2020
that is always a great option, Cathy.
 
Barcham November 5, 2020
You can also freeze leftover wine in an ice cube tray, empty into zip lock bags once frozen, and use it for cooking down the line. Toss a couple of cubes into a spaghetti sauce or a stew works wonders.
 
MrWinemaker October 20, 2020
Pinot noir winemaker here. Another reason Pinot is called the heartbreak grape (that marketing doesn't tell you) is cause it'll completely fall apart on the vine within like 12 hours of rain near harvest. It can be perfect clusters, no botrytis or sour rot, 22-23 Brix and 8g/L TA, you give it one more day to ripen for those tannins, come out the next morning and you've got burst berries, 40% sour rot, and botrytis that makes it look like cotton candy. It's brutal to grow. Makes good wine though
 
Hank Z. October 20, 2020
And when its better than good, it can be sublime, as you know. I do admire and appreciate your efforts and anguish!
 
Scott B. October 20, 2020
How does any bottle of wine last more than 30 minutes after being open?
 
Hank Z. October 20, 2020
It's 2020. Unusual and unexplainable things happen sometimes.