Wine Troubleshooting #3: When Does Wine “Go Bad?”

Many of you may have a bottle of wine that was given to you as a gift on some special occasion. You hold it, waiting for an appropriate time to pop it open and you put it somewhere for safe keeping—maybe in the basement, a closet, or a drawer somewhere. The next encounter you have with this bottle is accidental. You come across it looking for something else, pick up the bottle and ask yourself: “Hmm, is this still any good to drink?”

At this point of decision, many of us will discard the bottle in fear of it already being vinegar or will just say “eh” and put it back, crippled by our own cognitive dissonance. It can be difficult to know if your wine has aged past it’s peak. Corkshrewd is here to help, though. I’m hoping these next few pointers will lead you to actually enjoy the wine you have saved because, well, you deserve to enjoy it!

The “$25 Rule”

Many other books and websites use “The $25 Rule” as a benchmark for whether or not you should age or drink a wine. It means that if the wine was less than $25; drink it. It argues that most wines above $25 are meant to be aged. I agree with this in part—I concur that typically, more expensive wines (red wines in particular) are made for aging. However, I contest the $25 mark to some extent because as a Corkshrewd thinker, I understand that wine prices have to do with a lot more than how the wine was made, so price alone is not always helpful to me. Still, for the sake of simplicity over 100% accuracy, I will refer to this rule of thumb in the following paragraphs.

Aging White Wine 

Most white wines, as a rule of thumb, should be consumed by a year or 2 after the vintage date. Wines meant to be consumed “fresh” (e.g. Vinho Verde, Torrontes, most Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio) under $25 should typically be served within a year of their vintage date for optimum taste.

That being said, some white wines were designed specifically for age. The acidity in white wine can make it age-worthy, if it is made with care and for the purpose of aging. This is why many higher-end bottles of Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer (>$25/bottle) can and should be put in a dark, dry, cool place for a while. Most age 10-20 years (the uber-expensive ones on the longer end of that spectrum) and develop a beautiful deep-golden color over time (see picture below). Some nicer White Bordeaux wines, California Chardonnays, and White Chateauneuf du Pape wines also age well.

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Quick White Wine “Cheat Sheet” List:

Age: High-end (>$25) Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer; high-end New World Chardonnay, high-end Rhone white wines, White Bordeaux, Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, high-end Spanish white wine (e.g. Gavi).

Don’t Age: Vinho Verde, Soave, Torrontes, most Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, cheaper versions of the wines mentioned above.

Aging Red Wine:

Red wine, because of its tannin content, generally has more aging potential than white wine. However, lots of red wine these days is made to be enjoyed within a few years of the vintage date. Higher-end versions of New World stars like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot typically are made to age and should usually not just be opened and enjoyed upon purchase (unless you buy it really old, which is expensive). Legendary old world wines like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo, Brunello, and Rioja can also age well. The cheat sheet below is not exhaustive, but is meant to give you a good general idea of what you should keep and what you should drink.

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Quick Red Wine “Cheat Sheet” List:

Age: High-end (>$25) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Rhone Blends, Red Burgundy (village or single-vineyard), Bordeaux (1st & 2nd growths) Barolo, Cru-Beaujolais, Brunello, Aglianco, Super-Tuscans, some high-end Zinfandel, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero.

Don’t Age: (normal) Beaujolais, Dolcetto, Barbera, vin-de-pays wines from Europe and most red table wine under $25.

Quick “Other” Wines “Cheat Sheet” List:

Age: Dessert wines like Port, Madeira, Sauternes, Late-Harvest Riesling & Viognier, finer Muscat,Tokaji, Ice Wine (Eiswein) and Vintage Champagne.

Don’t Age: Non-Vintage Champagne (NV), Late-Harvest Torrontes, cheaper Muscat, Rose wines, Asti, Moscato, and Ruby Port.

Vintage Charts

You can use vintage charts to help yourself get an idea of how a vintage was rated in a given year, but do so with the realization that a good vintage does not mean every wine from that year/region will be good. A bad vintage also doesn’t mean that every wine from that year/region will be bad—in fact, many good producers still make excellent wines in these years, despite crappy weather and bad luck. Vintage charts essentially explain the potential for a wine to be good or bad in a given year, based on the weather that year.

Hopefully, this article and the cheat sheets above will help you understand whether or not you bottle will benefit from more aging. Nothing is better than opening a bottle of wine for which you waited patiently. Patience, with wine and with life, is a virtue that can lead to rich rewards.