Can I Still Drink Expired Red Wine?

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Know what to expect out of a great red wine.
Know what to expect out of a great red wine. (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Whether you’re just beginning to enjoy wine or you are an avid collector, the question of whether or not it’s alright to drink expired red wine is a common one. Varied life expectancies of red wine causes varietals to age differently, but the good news is that drinking red wine that has gone bad won’t hurt you. The wine just will not taste good. A full understanding of red wine itself and what to expect when opening a bottle can help you decide if you should drink your bottle.

Can Red Wine Expire?

Expiration dates imply that after a certain point, a product has gone bad and will cause harm, if ingested. Wine bottles do not display a sell-by date or an expiration date because drinking wine that has been stored too long doesn’t actually harm you. If you ever taste a bottle of red that has gone bad, you know -- immediately -- that that's not the right bottle to serve. The taste, smell and appearance are off. So, although you can drink expired wine -- you probably shouldn’t.

How to Tell if My Red Wine Has Gone Bad

Most of the time, you can tell by the wine’s appearance that it has gone bad. A leaky cork means that the seal on the wine is not good. When a wine isn’t sealed, oxygen has gotten into the bottle, aging and oxidizing the wine. Just like its effects on metal that causes it to rust, oxygen breaks down parts of the wine, creating a bad taste. Spoiled wine usually looks cloudy or foggy, and may be tinted a brownish-red color. If your red wine tastes either vinegary or moldy, it’s gone bad.

Characteristics of Red Wine

Red wine includes the varietals merlot, cabernet sauvignon, claret, pinot noir and so many more. Although red wine varies from grape to grape, and region to region, each varietal carries similar characteristics. Red wines display flavors of red or black fruit such as raspberry, blackberry, cherry, blueberry, and stone fruit such as plums. It is drier than white wine, which tends to be sweeter. Cooler climate red wines have an elevated acidity: that tingly sensation at the front of your mouth that leaves your tongue feeling rough after drinking. Red wine commonly has more of a bite than white or blush wines, but it should never taste like a musty basement or a bottle of vinegar.

Misconceptions About Red Wine

Most wines aren’t meant to be cellared, or stored, for many years at a time. The notes on the back of the bottle or on the winery’s website will let you know the optimum storage time for your red wine. On average, red varietals store well for anywhere from two to five years. Premium wines are sometimes crafted to last longer, but most of the red wines available on the market are good right off the shelf. Some wineries prefer to leave their wines unfiltered. If you see small particles floating in your wine, or if the wine has a cloudy look, it may not actually be bad. The wine label will state if the wine is unfiltered so you know what to expect from the bottle.

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