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The Complete Guide to Keeping Wine Fresh

young couple toasting with a glass of red wine
Yakobchuk Viacheslav/Shutterstock

Today, it’s easier to get a nice bottle of wine than ever before. From boutique grocery stores to wine lovers’ subscription boxes, you can quickly start stockpiling bottles faster than you can drink them.

Having a well-stocked wine selection at home is a great thing. But all that wine won’t last forever—even if you never open it. And once it’s open, a bottle of wine can seem like a ticking time bomb, turning into vinegar long before you’re ready.

However, the shelf life of wine isn’t a mystery (even though it may seem like one sometimes). Once you know how long your opened and unopened bottles will keep, you can strategize, so you never end up pouring good wine down the drain. Let’s take a closer look at the timeframe.

How Long Does Opened Wine Keep?

When you pop that cork, you introduce oxygen to the bottle. Oxygen is what causes the wine to spoil faster once it’s open.

Since wine comes in so many different varietals, there’s no solid answer as to how quickly it goes bad. The exact timing depends on the type and quality of the wine. But to give you an estimate, most opened wines will spoil in the range of two to five days. (Sparkling wines have an even shorter lifespan; they’ll go flat in about a day.)

Of course, your wine won’t go bad all at once. It will start deteriorating in quality, but at first, the difference may not be all that noticeable. So if you’re okay with a wine that’s lost some of its aroma and taste, you can get more time out of that opened bottle. But once it takes on a brownish color or an unpleasant smell, it’s no longer worth drinking at all.

How to Make Opened Wine Last Longer

There’s good news, though: you can make those opened bottles last a bit longer with these tips. Here’s how to extend the life of your wine past the two-to-five-days mark.

Use the Fridge and Cork

When you have a half-open wine bottle, your first instinct is probably to cork it and put it in the fridge for later. And that’s exactly the right thing to do.

In addition to oxygen, heat and light also make wine go bad faster. By corking it and sticking it in the fridge, you’re limiting exposure to these elements. If you lose the cork, cover the top using plastic wrap and a rubber band, or keep a few extra wine stoppers on hand.

Even red wine should get stored in the fridge once it’s open. Just make sure to take it out about a half-hour before you plan to drink it so it can reach the right temperature.

Opt for Quality

There’s something especially painful about a high-quality wine that’s gone bad. But luckily, the better the wine, the longer it tends to last. The best-quality wines keep for about a week after uncorking, while a low-quality wine will go bad in a matter of days.

Drink Tannic Reds

Tannins create the dry, bitter taste that red wines are known for. They’re not for everyone’s taste, but if you do like tannic wines, you’ll be glad to know they last longer than their sweeter counterparts. The tannins help protect the wine against the aging qualities of oxygen.

Keep It Half-Full

A bottle that’s half-full or more won’t go bad as quickly since it doesn’t contain as much oxygen. So if you’re debating whether or not to pour yourself one more glass, you might want to hold off—the fuller bottle will last longer in the fridge.

Use a Sparkling Wine Stopper

To extend the life of sparkling wine, try a wine stopper designed to keep it from going flat. Keep the stopper on the bottle until you’re ready to finish it since you’ll lose some effervescence each time you open it. Also, some sparkling wines still taste great once they’ve gone flat, so you might want to give your flat wine a taste before tossing it.

Buy a Wine Preserver

Even for non-sparkling wines, a fancy wine stopper can make a difference. A basic vacuum preserver will buy you a few more days with your wine, while high-end preservers that use gas displacement can preserve your wine for as long as two weeks.

How Long Does Unopened Wine Keep?

couple shopping for wine and comparing labels
George Rudy/Shutterstock

When you haven’t opened the bottle, it’s tempting to think that your wine will last forever. But sadly, even in the most high-tech wine cellar, wine bottles still have a limited lifespan.

While popular belief suggests that wine gets better with age, most wines are actually designed to be consumed soon after bottling. Only a few very high-end wines are meant to be aged for years.

Most unopened wines will taste fine for a few years after bottling. However, just like with opened wines, the exact lifespan depends on the type and quality of the wine.

How to Make Unopened Wine Last Longer

You don’t need to have a proper wine cellar to store your bottles for maximum quality. These tips will help your wine stay fresh until you’re ready for it.

Store it in a Cool, Dark Place

While you don’t want to keep your unopened wine bottles in the fridge, you should still store them away from heat and light, which can degrade the wine even before it’s open. Aim for a location that stays near 55 degrees or so, without severe temperature fluctuations.

A cellar can work well, but so can a cool, dim closet, cabinet, or garage. Mild humidity is good, as it keeps the cork from drying out, but avoid storing wine near a source of heat, like the oven or radiator.

Invest in a Wine Cooler

Instead of a full-blown wine cellar, you can store bottles in a simple wine cooler instead. Although they start at $100 and run upwards from there, a wine cooler is a worthwhile investment if you care about your wines and don’t have a good place to store them.

Lay Bottles Down

Storing wine horizontally helps keep the corks from drying out. A dried-out cork will let oxygen into the bottle, so that’s something to avoid. Plus, storing wines horizontally is a great way to maximize your use of space, and most wine storage racks are designed with this in mind.

Wine Bottle Alternatives: What You Should Know

If you want to worry even less about the shelf life of your wine, you can buy wine in a non-traditional container, like a screw-top bottle, a box, or a can.

Screw-top wine lasts about as long as corked wine, but you won’t need to worry about the cork drying out and letting oxygen in. This also reduces the risk of “cork taint,” a manufacturing flaw that can make a wine taste bad.

Unopened boxed wine has a shorter lifespan than unopened bottled wine: check the expiration date to see how long you have. But once opened, a box of wine can stay fresh for weeks since the bag design seals oxygen out.

The verdict is still out on exactly how long canned wine lasts, but since there’s no way for oxygen to enter the can, it likely has a longer shelf life than bottled wine. Of course, once opened, you’ll want to finish the can quickly—but it’s far easier to finish a single can of wine in one sitting than it is to plow through a bottle.

With the accessibility of good, affordable wines today, it’s not the end of the world if you have to pour out the spoiled last half of a bottle. But why waste something when you can make it last instead? Use these tips to get the most out of your wines, whether they’re cheap, mass-produced picks or high-end bottles that you may never find again.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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