Get our newsletters

On Wine: Open bottles


Often, we don’t finish a whole bottle of wine with dinner, whether we’re at home or dining out. So how long will that open bottle last before going bad? “Bad” by the way, means the wine has turned into vinegar from being exposed to oxygen for too long.

While the type of wine is likely the most important factor, there is another to be aware of as well. If the wine is not stored on its side, the cork will dry out, shrink and allow air into the bottle, spoiling it. Of course, even when the bottle is stored properly, if the cork is defective from the start, the wine will eventually go bad as well.

Back to the type of wine, sparkling wines have the shortest uncorked life span. Give your sparklers just two or three days in the fridge, properly corked, and that’ll be it. Any longer and, at best, it’ll lose its bubbles and be flat.

Full bodied whites like Chardonnay and Viognier, again properly corked and refrigerated, will last three to five days. Red wines also will last three to five days, and can be stored in a cool, dark place, or in the fridge. More tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Sirah, will last longer than Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, which have very little tannin.

The longest-lived open bottles are fortified wines and box wines that are in a bag within the box. Now we’re talking up to four weeks. The “fortifier” in fortified wines like Port, Sherry, Vermouth or Marsala is usually brandy, though sometimes may be a neutral distilled spirit. This significantly raises the wine’s alcohol level, making it more resistant to oxygen’s effects.

Madeira deserves a quick paragraph of its own. This wine can last centuries after opening (really). Madeira is already “pre-oxidized” with an intense process of heating and aging before bottling. So it’s already cooked and is, well, sort of indestructible.

Box wines, despite their dubious reputation (usually, but not always deserved) use a more pragmatic way to stretch their lives out. The bag is designed to contract as the wine is poured, so there’s no room for air to enter. Pretty simple! (Box wines actually have an expiration date, legally required in the USA for any food stored in plastic.)

Yes, the best way to avoid this problem is to finish that bottle in one sitting. But when you don’t, now you’ve got a plan.

Ernest Valtri of Buckingham is a sculptor, painter, graphic designer, and a former member of the PLCB’s Wine Advisory Council. Please contact Erno at