Does Wine Age in the Bottle?

Wine is made from fermenting grapes, and it is often also left to age for a few months or years in a barrel so that the different flavors can develop as desired. 

But once the wine has been bottled and deemed ready, can it continue to age? 

The answer is yes! Once the wine has been bottled, it continues to age, as age is dependent on the time that goes by and not on the container that the wine is in. (Although the container the wine is in can definitely affect the way in which the wine ages, and how the flavors develop.) 

The better question is whether wine should be left to age in the bottle, on purpose. 

Most wines are bottled and sold with the intent of being consumed almost immediately, or at the maximum, within the next five years. 

However, some people like to store their bottles of wine, especially the more expensive and fancy ones, so that they can continue to age. 

As a general rule, you should consume wine when and how it is intended upon bottling, as the way it has been made is designed by experts and professionals that truly do know best. So with most wines, there is no reason whatsoever to leave them to age, and aging them might actually ruin the intended flavor and texture of the wine. 

But then again, some wines can age pretty well past those first five years, and they can end up becoming nicer, with a myriad of different subtle flavors that enhance the enjoyment. 

How long can wine age before it goes bad?

There are people who believe that wine never goes off, but this isn’t entirely true. Sure, wine can last a long time, especially wines that have been designed for a long period of aging.

But eventually, the wine begins to go bad, in that the flavors begin to taste off, and although you could still drink them and be perfectly fine, they won’t be desirable. 

The amount of time it takes for the wine to go bad depends on many different factors, such as the type of wine, whether it is opened or unopened, and the type of container it is stored in, along with the conditions of the way it is stored. 

Ideally, wine should always be stored in a cool dark place, with the bottle positioned on its side so that the cork doesn’t dry out. 

Let’s take a look at some of the average times it takes for different wines to go bad. 

Unopened wine:

As a general rule, unopened wine lasts a lot longer than opened wine. And as long as it smells and tastes okay, the wine should be perfectly fine for consumption, no matter how much time has gone past. 

Here are the average time limits for different types of wine, when unopened: 

  • White wine: between one and two years past the printed expiration year indicated on the label 
  • Red wine: between two and three years past the printed expiration date indicated on the label
  • Cooking wine: Between three and five years past the printed expiration date indicated on the label 
  • Fine wine: between ten and twenty years past the printed expiration date, or even longer if it is stored appropriately in a wine cellar, under the right conditions. 

Opened wine:

Once a bottle of wine has been opened, it will last a lot less than if it had been left unopened, meaning you should only ever open a bottle of wine if you are planning on consuming it immediately after, or during the following few days. 

This is because once a bottle of wine has been opened, the wine is exposed to oxygen, heat, light, bacteria, and many more. And these can all cause chemical reactions within the wine, which will alter how it tastes, as well as the overall quality. 

If you want to slow down these possible chemical reactions, so that the wine lasts slightly longer, then you need to store the opened wine at a lower temperature, such as inside a fridge. 

Here are the average time limits for different types of wine, when opened: 

  • Sparkling wine: between one and two days
  • Light white and rose wine: between four and five days
  • Rich white wine: between three and five days 
  • Red wine: between three and six days
  • Dessert wine: between three and seven days
  • Port wine: between one and three weeks

How do you know if a wine will age well?

Knowing whether a wine will age well or not is vital when choosing which wines to leave in storage and which to consume as soon as possible. So, what makes a wine worthy of aging so that the result is good and desirable? 

As a general rule, there are two different types of wine that you can age:

  • Wines that are meant to be aged
  • Wines that are resistant to developing faults in the flavor during the aging process

For the first type of wine, aging is almost a necessary process that will make the wine what it is intended to be, as it requires that amount of time in order to develop the desired flavors and texture. 

For the second type of wine, aging isn’t the purpose, but they can be aged without their taste being massively altered, so you could say that they can survive the aging process without any negative effects. 

In order to decide whether a wine is a good candidate for being aged or not, experts look at four traits in particular: 

The amount of sugar:

The higher the amount of sugar in a wine, the better it will age, and the more worthy of being aged it becomes. In fact, some of the most sugary wines, such as fortified dessert wines or ports, can be aged for a hundred years and even more! 

The amount of alcohol:

When a distilled spirit is added to the wine, then the wine is considered to be fortified. Wines that aren’t fortified, or that have a very low amount of alcohol, are more unstable and the alcohol turns acidic over time, making the wine taste vinegary, which is bad. 

On the other hand, wine with high levels of alcohol, or wine that is fortified, will last a lot longer and is best for being aged. 

The amount of acid:

The more acidic the wine is, the longer it will last in a cellar. This is because the acid will protect the wine from unstable ethanol molecules. This is why some non-fortified wines which become acidic can be really good for aging. It’s all about balancing the pros and cons and getting the right wine for the process to fully work out well. 

The levels of tannins:

Tannins are the aggregations of compounds in the wine, and they are what give bitterness and astringency to the wine. As wine ages, the tannins group into larger numbers, and they eventually become so heavy that they sink down to the bottom of the bottle.

This then allows the wine to develop its flavor without them, so it becomes more mellow. This is something to consider, as the overall amount of tannins the wine starts out with will directly affect the end result of the flavor after a set amount of aging time. 

Christina Day
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