Have you ever wondered how long a bottle of wine can last? The answer is not as straight forward as you might think. Wine is a living entity with a unique metabolic process, which affects how long it will “live.” Unlike food, wine does not have an expiry date. There are a myriad of factors that can affect the lifespan of a wine, such as how it was made, the grape blend, tannins, acidity, alcohol content and how it is packaged and stored.
After the initial ageing process is complete, determined by the winemaker, the wine is packaged before release to the market for distribution. The two most common forms of packaging are glass bottles sealed with either a cork or a Stelvin (screw top closure). “Bag in a Box” is also used for everyday wines = a plastic bladder inside a cardboard box with a special seal that is easily opened and closed with minimum exposure to oxygen.
What is the lifespan of unopened wine?
Wine is made either for immediate consumption or further aging to reach its prime drinking window (a period when the wine has reached its peak – the moment when its finest qualities are expressed). Therefore, the color of the wine is less important than the category that it belongs to.
Produced anywhere in the world, this type of wine (Red, White, Sparkling, Dessert, and Fortified) has been created specifically to benefit from long term ageing to reach its full potential. These wines are produced in limited quantities often commanding a hefty price tag and are sought after by investors and serious wine collectors. They have a potential shelf life of fifty or more years if stored correctly.
Wines made for immediate consumption with an average shelf life of one to ten years. Reasonably priced, these wines make up the majority of the wines on the market.
If you do not have a wine cellar or special wine refrigerator here are some simple steps to extend the life of your unopened wines:
Store in a cool dark place such as the bottom of a cupboard or a cool corner in the garage
Store in sturdy containers such as wooden boxes (Wine cases are ideal but in short supply). Plastic useful boxes are an ideal alternative but wrap the bottles in a protective layer such as towels or sheets to block light.
Limit the exposure to sunlight.
Store wines at 50-54°F (10-12°C)
Store bottles on their side and move them as little as possible.
Avoid temperature fluctuations – either too hot or too cold can degrade a wine.
Avoid storing in a refrigerator for more than a month (if bottle is sealed with a natural cork). The lack of humidity can cause shrinkage of natural corks which can lead to the onset of oxidation potentially ruining the unopened wine.
Oxygen and its effects on wine
Oxygen can a be a wine's best friend or its worst enemy depending on the circumstances. When a bottle of wine is newly opened the oxygen encounters the different molecules in the wine and serves as a catalyst allowing the wine to express its natural flavors. This a reason that it is recommended to decant bottles of exceptional quality (both red and white) so that the “closed” wine has a chance to “open up” so that its finest qualities can be enjoyed. However, if a wine encounters oxygen in the bottle during the aging process, the results can be catastrophic and cause partial or complete degradation of the cork. This causes oxidation of the wine that, if unchecked, will make it unfit for consumption.
How long is an opened bottle of wine drinkable?
As soon a bottle of wine is opened it comes into contact with oxygen. The oxidation process begins immediately and, if unchecked will soon lead to the wine being undrinkable. By storing the opened wine bottle in the refrigerator and re-sealing it with the original cork, screw cap, a special cork or champagne stopper, its life can be extended for several days.
Light-bodied red and white - three days
Full-bodied red and white - five days
Rosé wine – seven days
Sparkling wine – one to three days
Fortified Wines (such as Port) – three days (up to a month if a vinolok (special glass closure is used).
Wines stored in a Bag in Box – up to one month.
Wine is very delicate and should be treated with loving care. By following simple guidelines which will preserve and extend the lifespan of unopened and opened bottles of wine, you can always enjoy a perfect glass of wine.