Your Unopened Red Wine Lasts Longer Than You Think

Maybe it's something you'd been saving for a special occasion, or maybe it's just a bottle you were gifted and then put to one side and forgot about. No matter where it came from, if you've got a bottle of red wine that has been lurking about for longer than you realized, there's always a worry that it might be past its best — or even spoiled.

But the good news is that an unopened bottle of red wine lasts longer than you might imagine, even if it has passed its expiration date. In fact, although most everyday bottles are best drunk soon after you've bought them, red wine can last up to three years past this date, especially if it's stored correctly. Several factors affect the longevity of wine, but red wine tends to last better than white thanks to its higher tannins, with varieties such as Bordeaux or Barolo faring the best. Although Pinot Noir is more expensive than most wines, lighter red wines such as this last less well.

An exception to this is boxed red wine, as the packaging does not benefit from the same level of protection from oxidation (when exposure to air causes chemical reactions that convert the ethanol to acetaldehyde) as dark glass bottles. Boxed wines that haven't been opened are best consumed within six months – though they can last up to a year after expiration depending on the wine in question.

Ways to keep red wine in better condition for longer

Assuming you don't have a dedicated wine cellar in your house, then there are still a few things you can do when it comes to storing wine so it lasts longer, which will help keep an unopened bottle of red in good condition. These include keeping the wine in a cool, dry place, with the bottles resting on their sides rather than upright to keep the cork moist.

A cool, dark place could be any place in your home that has a fairly consistent temperature, such as a basement, garage, or even in a cupboard. The key is to stop light getting to the wine, which can speed up the process of oxidation. And keep the bottle away from heat sources, such as a kitchen stove, as well as away from any places with frequently changing temperatures, such as near windows. Placing the bottles on their sides will also stop air from getting to the wine, again slowing down oxidation.

Once red wine has been opened, it can last up to five days if stored correctly. This includes making sure it's well-sealed, ideally using a bottle stopper or vacuum pump. And once opened, the wine bottle should then be stored upright rather than on its side. It can even be stored in the fridge; just let fuller-bodied reds come to room temperature again before drinking. 

How to tell if red wine has gone bad

There's always a chance that when you go to pour a bottle of red wine, it doesn't look or smell appetizing, or worse, is downright unpleasant. But how do you know if it's actually turned bad? And is there any way to rescue it?

First up, pour a glass of it, check the color for any changes, and give it a sniff. If it smells bitter or like vinegar (a sign it's oxidized), then it's past its best. Stale wine can also start to smell nutty. And if the bottle's cork seems to be pushing upwards, that can be a sign it has been damaged by heat.

Once it has started to oxidize, the color of red will also become more brown and less vibrant, and the taste will become sharper and more sour, which is not something you'd want to drink. If it's a little past its best, you could still potentially cook with the wine, even though you might not wish to drink it. But if it has spoiled due to over-oxidation or the growth of bacteria, or has a musty, damp odor (a sign of cork taint), then it should be thrown away.