Here’s How to Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad

So you popped a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, poured yourself a glass and then decided to save the rest for tomorrow night…only to forget about that opened vino sitting in your pantry for another week. Oops. Is it still good to drink? And does wine even spoil in the first place? 

There’s not really a black-and-white answer, but we have good news: Your wine might not be destined for the trash after all. Here’s how to tell if wine is bad (and how to make it last longer in the first place).

7 Wine Rules You Officially Have Permission to Break

how to tell if wine is bad
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1. If The Wine Smells Bad, It Probably *is* Bad

Spoiled wine can smell like a lot of things. Unsurprisingly, none of them are good, so it’s actually an easy way to check for freshness. Sniff that bottle. Does it smell acidic? Or does its scent remind you of cabbage? Maybe it smells like a wet dog, old cardboard or rotten eggs. Or maybe it’s nuttier than you remembered, kind of like burnt sugar or stewed apples—that’s a sign of oxidization (more on that below).

If you’ve left a bottle of wine open for too long, it will probably also smell sharp, like vinegar. That’s because it’s basically been turned into vinegar by bacteria and air exposure. It probably won’t hurt you to taste it (the alcohol technically acts as a preservative), but we wouldn’t recommend drinking a glass. Don’t worry, you won’t want to.

2. Look For Changes In Texture And Clarity

Some wines are cloudy to begin with, especially unfiltered and natural varieties. But if you started out with a clear liquid and it’s suddenly cloudy, it’s likely a sign of microbial activity—gross. Likewise, if your once-still wine now has bubbles in it, it’s starting to ferment again. Nope, it’s not homemade Champagne. It’s sour, spoiled wine.

3. Watch Out For Oxidization Or Changes In Color

The minute you open a bottle of wine, you expose its contents to oxygen, and just like a slice of avocado or apple, it will start to brown (i.e., oxidize). If your pinot grigio is now more of a pinot brown-io, it’s still safe to drink, but it won’t taste as lively or as fresh as it was on day one. Red wines can oxidize too, turning from vibrant red to a muted orange-brown. Again, it won’t kill you to drink these wines, but you probably won’t like how they taste.

4. Keep In Mind How Long It’s Been Open

Each type of wine has a different storage life, so if you’re “saving the rest for later,” you might want to set yourself a reminder before it goes bad. (Kidding. Kind of.) Lighter reds (like gamay or pinot noir) start to turn after three days, while bigger-bodied reds (like cabernet sauvignon and merlot) will last up to five days. Whites have a shorter shelf life of about three days, but with proper storage—that is, recorking the bottle and storing it in the fridge—can last up to seven (same goes for rosé). Even with proper storage, sparkling wines like Champagne, cava and prosecco will start to lose their signature bubbles on day one and they’ll be totally flat around day three.

Tips To Make Your Wine Last As Long As Possible

First things first, don’t throw away the cork—you’re going to want it later. That’s because you should recork your wine the moment you’re done pouring a glass. Once you’ve closed the bottle, store it in the fridge, where it will last for at least a few days longer than if you’d left it at room temperature. The sooner you put that vino away, the longer you’ll be able to enjoy it. 

If you discover your leftover wine doesn’t taste as fresh as the first sip, there are ways to use it up, like cooking. Coq au vin, anyone?


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...