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Tips & Tricks

How to Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad

- Updated

Open for over a week? It’s past its peak…

As a general rule, if a wine bottle is open for over a week it’s probably gone “bad.” There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule, including fortified dessert wines (like Port or other wines with 18+ ABV).

Learn the secret to storing open wine for 2 weeks or more

How to Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad

How to tell if your wine has gone bad

An experienced drinker can tell almost instantly if a wine is past its prime. Question is, how do they do it? Well, this comes with a little practice, and here’s what to look for:

How it will look

Wines go bad when they are left open for too long. While some claim that open wines last for weeks, most will lose their luster after just a couple of days, so it’s wise to store open bottles properly. First thing to look at is the color and condition of the wine.

Wine is cloudy and leaves a film in the bottle
There are several wines that are cloudy to begin with, but if they start out clear and then go cloudy, this may be some indication that microbial activity is occurring within the bottle.
It will begin to brown and change color
A wine browns much like an apple does when exposed to oxygen. While ‘browning’ itself is not bad (there are several awesome “tawny” colored wines) it will tell you how much oxidative stress has occurred to the wine.
It may have tiny bubbles
The bubbles come from a second unplanned fermentation in the bottle. Yes, you just made a sparkling wine! Unfortunately, it’s not going to be delicious like Champagne, it’s going to be oddly sour and spritzy.

“Browning itself is not bad, but it does indicate the amount of stress the wine has undergone.”

What it will smell like

What bad wine smells like
Second thing to observe is the smell. Wines that are “bad” could be for 2 different reasons.

  • A wine that has a wine fault. About 1 in 75 bottles has a common wine fault.
  • A wine that was left open too long.

A wine that’s gone bad from being left open smells abrasive and sharp. It will have sour medicinal aromas similar to nail polish remover, vinegar or paint thinner. These aromas are from chemical reactions from the wine being exposed to heat and oxygen which causes bacteria to grow that produce acetic acid and acetaldehyde.

What it will taste like

A wine that’s “gone bad” won’t hurt you if you taste it, but it’s probably not a good idea to drink it. A wine that has gone bad from being left open will have a sharp sour flavor similar to vinegar that will often burn your nasal passages in a similar way to horseradish. It will also commonly have caramelized applesauce-like flavors (aka “Sherried” flavors) from the oxidation.


Practice smelling bad wine

If you ever let a wine go too far and you know with certainty it’s bad, give it a whiff before you dump it out. Make note of the sour flavors and the oddly nutty aromas that you find and you’ll be able to pick them out with more accuracy each time. It won’t hurt you, so why not?


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AboutMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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