What Happens if You Drink OLD Wine? How to Tell if it’s Bad

It’s no secret that some wine gets better with age. But what happens if you drink old wine? Does it spoil? Will it make you sick?

In this blog post, we will explore what happens to wine when it is left to age too long.

We will also discuss the consequences of drinking spoiled wine and provide some tips on how to avoid this. 

What Happens to Wine When it’s Left to Age too Long?

wine that's aged too long
Wine that’s left to age for too long develops a musty, old flavor that not many people enjoy.

Wine is a complex beverage with a variety of flavors and aromas that are derived from the grapes it is made from, as well as the terroir it comes from.

In addition, the aging process plays a crucial role in the flavor of the wine.

As wine ages, tannins and other molecules gradually break down, resulting in a smoother, more nuanced flavor.

However, if wine is left to age for too long, it can begin to taste dull and flat. 

In extreme cases, wine can develop an “old estate” flavor, which is often described as being like wet cardboard or a wet dog.

While some wine lovers enjoy this flavor, most prefer wine that has been properly aged.

Thus, when it comes to wine, age does matter – but only up to a point. After that, old wine is simply not at its best.

What Does too Old Wine Taste Like?

Old Wine
There’s an undeniable romance about dusty old wine bottles, but older isn’t always better.

Many think that older is better when it comes to wine, but this isn’t always true.

All wines have a perfect age where the flavors are fully developed, but they haven’t gone “over the hill” to mustiness and sourness.

Here are a few things you’ll notice if you try to drink wine that’s much too old.

The Flavor of the Wine Will Be Significantly Diminished

If you’ve ever waited too long to drink a bottle of wine and discovered that it has gone bad, then you know how unpleasant the flavor of old wine can be.

When you let wine age for too long, two things ultimately happen: the flavor and aroma begin to deteriorate, and alcohol begins to break down and form unpleasant compounds. 

While many people might enjoy the taste of slightly oxidized or sour wine, these flavors are generally considered undesirable when it comes to red wines.

Most wines are meant to be enjoyed relatively fresh – within 6 months to 3 years of bottling depending on the wine recipe.

Therefore, if you want to get the most out of your wine, it’s important to drink it while it’s still young and fresh.

Otherwise, you risk losing much of what makes this drink so delicious in the first place. 

The Wine Will Not Taste Fresh and Fruity

When you drink a glass of wine, what do you expect to experience? A rich bouquet, balanced flavors, and an overall sense of freshness and brightness.

However, if you drink wine that has been sitting on your shelf for too long, these characteristics can begin to diminish.

Over time, wine reacts with oxygen in the air and slowly loses its freshness, even if it’s been corked.

As more and more oxygen is absorbed into the liquid, the wine begins to taste flat and dull. 

Additionally, as the air continues to interact with the alcohol content in the wine, it can transform into harsher substances like acetic acid.

Ultimately, what this means is that drinking old wine may not give you quite the same satisfaction as if you were drinking something that was made more recently. 

The Wine is Less Astringent

When a bottle of wine is left to age, the tannins in the wine slowly start to break down over time.

As this happens, the wine becomes less astringent and more mellow, making it much easier to drink.

However, there is also some debate about whether or not old wines are actually good for you.

Some studies have suggested that high levels of naturally occurring acetaldehydes in older wines can actually lead to health problems such as difficulty breathing and an increased risk of cancer.

That being said, many experts argue that these harmful compounds can only be present in very small quantities if the tannins have truly broken down, making it safe to enjoy an old bottle of wine from time to time.

If you want to enjoy the rich freshness of a young red wine, consider decanting it to reduce tannins or using an aerator to quickly dissipate and mellow the tannins for a more smooth drinking experience.

The Color of Wine Has Changed

fresh wine has a bright color
Fresh wine has a bright color that is deep red, bright red, orange, pink, or straw-colored. Old wine will have a dull, brownish tint to any color of wine.

If you have an old bottle of wine that you are wondering whether or not you should drink, there are a few things to keep in mind.

The first thing to note is that the color of the wine is likely to have changed over time.

Depending on what type of wine it is and what conditions it has been stored in, the color may have become darker or lighter, more yellow or red, than what it once was. 

Most wines, white and red, develop a brownish hue as they age. This is a sign of oxidation and degradation that is sure to carry over in flavor and aroma.

Wine May Have a Lot of Sediment

white wine is clear
Fresh wine has perfect clarity. Some reds are decanted to help decrease sediment, but a fresh wine should have very little sediment in the bottle.

If you’ve ever uncorked an old bottle of wine, chances are you’ve found some sediment at the bottom of the bottle.

Most fresh wines have no sediment, but there may be a little even in a fresh, good bottle.

Heavy sediment in the bottle is common for bottles around 10 years old or more, but it is a sign that the bottle may be past its prime.

The sediment is made up of dead yeast cells, bits of grape skin, and seeds.

Use a decanter to help bloom an old wine and allow the sediment to precipitate to the bottom before pouring carefully to avoid drinking any gritty wine.

If the wine still has a nice flavor, the sediment shouldn’t make you worry about enjoying a glass.

Watch to see a master sommelier test a bottle of wine to see if it’s still good:

While most wine from the store is fine, you should always check to be sure.

Ways to Avoid Drinking Old Wine

To avoid drinking old wine, be sure to check the expiration date on the bottle before you drink it.

Additionally, you can try to find out how long the wine has been in storage and whether it has been stored properly.

The fact is that wine that is too old is usually unpalatable. Most people won’t drink a wine that’s turned to vinegar.

The main thing to look for is bubbles in the bottle if the wine is a still wine. Bubbles or foaming can mean there are bacteria present in the wine that can make you sick.

Otherwise, take a look at the color, smell for heavy vinegar aromas, and give it a sip to see if it’s palatable.

You may be one of the ones who like musty old wine and love that dusty bottle of estate wine.

If you aren’t one who enjoys the flavor of really old wine, you’re not alone. Spring for a fresh bottle and enjoy the experience.

Wrapping Up

Old wine has a flavor that’s so bad most people don’t drink it. It may have a sulfur (rotten egg) smell, a vinegar smell, or a wet dog smell.

The flavors will match, and most don’t find it palatable enough to drink.

However, if you choose to try to drink it, there isn’t much to worry about. It won’t likely make you sick as long as it doesn’t have telltale bacterial bubbles.

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