Do you ever find a half-empty bottle of merlot on the counter and can't quite remember how many days it's been there? Should you pour it down the drain or take a chance on sipping it during your next Netflix session? As a professional sommelier, I'm frequently asked how long is a bottle of wine still drinkable once it's been opened. The short answer: It depends on the wine. Here, understanding a bottle of wine's best window for drinking, plus how long each type of wine typically lasts once the cork has been popped.
Why Does Wine Have a Drinkability "Window?"
Before we go over specific wines and how long you can expect them to stay delicious, it's important to understand why wine has a life cycle: Think of wine as you would an avocado. When wine is in the bottle, it goes through a process called micro-oxygenation. Traces of oxygen permeate the closure and get to work on the organic molecules of the wine, slowly starting to ripen it and break it down. The same thing happens when you expose an avocado to air. Wine sees more micro-oxygenation every moment it's in the bottle, and gets riper and more evolved every second until it finally hits a '"peak" of optimal drinkability. And once it peaks, it begins to decline very quickly. Just like an avocado sees a peak of perfect ripeness (and we know what a brief window that is!) before it starts to turn brown and soft and mushy—wine goes through a similar journey.
Once a bottle of wine has been opened or uncorked, it's exposed to much more oxygen and therefore, the evolution process is drastically sped up. This is why you have a limited time to enjoy it at its peak of flavor. However, although wine that's past its prime peak may taste a little flat or stale, it's not actually harmful to consume. As long as it tastes okay to you, feel free to drink it—just as in moments of desperation, a slightly brown avocado is better than no avocado.
How Long Do Sparkling Wines Typically Last?
Sparkling wines like Champagne, cava, and prosecco have the shortest enjoyment window—once the cork is popped, the bottle pressure that retains the bubbles dissipates and the wine turns flat. A sparkling wine stopper might help for a day or so, but I recommend you drink sparkling wine the day you open it. Sparkling wines are widely available in half bottles and even single-serve "minis" for this reason: to prevent "leftovers" for solo or duo drinkers who just want a single glass. If you can't drink it, once sparkling wines can be wonderful for dressing up fresh fruit, like in this recipe for Plums with Sparkling Wine, Black Pepper, and Tarragon.
How Long Do White Wines Typically Last?
If you want a white wine that will last, your best bet are wines from cool-climate growing regions because those wines naturally have higher acidity. While lower-acid whites can last three to four days, high acidity will keep your wine fresh and vibrant for at least five days in the refrigerator. If you transfer the wine to an airtight container such as a Mason jar before refrigerating it, you can enjoy it for up to a whole week after it was opened. Famous examples of cool climate white wines include Pinot Gris from Oregon, Riesling from New York's Fingerlakes, Chardonnay from Chablis in northern France, Pinot Grigio from Trentino-Alto Adige in Italy, and Sauvignon Blanc from Central Otago in New Zealand. If you wait too long and can't drink it, use leftover white wine in a risotto, a soup, or in a one-pot vegetarian stew.
How Long Do Red Wines Typically Last?
For maximum lifespan in red wines after the bottle has been opened, choose wines that are higher in tannin. Tannin is a compound found in the seeds, stems, and skins of grapes, and will help protect wine from oxygenation and lend a hand to ageability. Some grape varietals have more natural tannin than others; and you will find these in red wine because white wines are made without using the skins and seeds. Wines with naturally higher tannin include cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and nebbiolo. Low-tannin reds, like pinot noir and merlot, will last for two to three days but higher tannin wines should be delicious for up to five days after opening, as long as you treat them with care. Leftover red wine that you don't want to drink is wonderful in low, slow cooking like this Slow-Cooker Sicilian-Style Beef Stew.