Wine is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting the juice of grapes or other fruits. The grapes may be light or dark, and the process might be manual or automated. White wine is made when only the juice is fermented, and red wine is made when the juice, flesh and skins are fermented together. Because of the fermentation process and the stories of centuries-old bottles of wine, many people believe wine doesn't have a shelf life, but that is not the case.
All wine consists of a complex blend of molecules, but there are some primary components that help make it what it is. Aside from the grapes and water, alcohol is the next big component. The alcohol in wine is created when the sugar in the ripe grape juice is converted by yeast. The byproduct of this conversion is carbon dioxide. All of the flavors in wine are dissolved in the alcohol and it is because the alcohol evaporates quickly that wine gives off so many aromas. Acids and tannins are two other components of wine that it cannot do without. Acid helps give wine its balance, and tannins are much more evident in red wine than white, as they primarily come from the grape skins.
Shelf Life of Wine
If a bottle of fine wine remains unopened and is stored properly, it can last for decades. However, once a bottle is opened, the contents should be drunk the same day if possible, but at least within a week. The taste of the wine deteriorates once the bottle has been opened. An opened bottle of white may last up to three days, while red can last for up to two weeks.
When Good Wine Goes Bad
Improperly stored wine or wine that has been stored too long for its vintage and type can go bad and spoil. To determine if your wine has gone bad, take a sniff or a taste. If either one reminds you of vinegar, it is bad. This means bacteria are taking over and the days of enjoying that particular bottle are over.
If you follow basic storage tips, you should feel confident your bottles will last a lot longer. Keep the bottles between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat is wine's biggest enemy, but that doesn't mean you should keep it too chilly. A common refrigerator eventually dries out the cork and allows air in to damage the wine. Sunlight also can age wine prematurely, so keep bottles in the dark, if possible. Storing the bottles on their sides is a traditional way to keep the cork moist and extend the wine's life.
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