How long can you store a bottle of wine before it goes bad?
The correct answer?
If you leave a winery in Napa Valley in the summertime and it’s a beautiful day and about 95 degrees, and you’re feeling good of tasting several wines in the tasting room, and you make the classic mistake of putting the case of wine you just bought in the trunk of your car, well you’ve got 5-10 minutes before all that wine goes bad.
On a hot summer day, wine can go bad in 5 to 10 minutes.
I’ve seen it happen many times.
This is an extreme case and I’m sure your wondering, in a normal situation, you bought at bottle of wine at the store and now it’s stored safely in your home, how long can you cellar that bottle before it goes bad?
Again it depends, but you probably don’t want to store it that long.
Storing Wine for a Long Time is a Bad Idea
In general, holding on to wine for long periods of time is a bad idea.
Because anything can happen. The wine can go bad. There can be a hurricane, fire, or earthquake and you lose all your wine. I have personally experienced loss of wine via all these natural disasters.
Wine can also get damage while moving. This includes taking wine with you when you travel for vacation, or if you bought a new home in another town and you move across town.
Wine gets destroyed in moves all the time. Usually when someone moves homes, there is so much work to do, so much going on, that making sure the wine is moved gently AND in temperatures below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, are really hard to do.
I have moved across the country a few times and I destroyed lots of amazing wine. It’s depressing.
I’ve also destroyed great bottles of wine while traveling. When I go on vacation, I want to take some of my awesome wine with me.
Well, if you fly on a plane, you have to check the wine. If you have a long layover somewhere, the wine might be sitting in a place that is not air conditioned. The wine may sit outside for too long as luggage waits to be loaded onto a plane.
This is a problem not only in the summer, but also in the winter. You don’t want to get wine too cold either.
Most travel is done in the summer when it’s hot which is obviously not good for wine. I have even ruined wine that was packed in a car on a road trip and the car A/C was on the entire time.
I still managed to ruin the wine because the wine was placed on top of my bags in the back of my SUV and the sun coming in from the windows got the wine too hot for too long, even though the A/C was on the entire time.
Improper Long Term Storage
Ok, so let’s say you haven’t ruined your wine because it got too hot or too cold via traveling or moving, etc.
How long can you keep a bottle of wine before it goes bad?
Again it depends, where have you been storing the wine? Have you placed the wine in the bottom shelf of a kitchen cabinet where it has stayed dark and at a constant temperature?
Or have you stored the wine in your basement where it has stayed dark and it’s cooler than the rest of your house?
Or have you stored your wine in a proper wine fridge or cellar where it has stayed around 50-55 degrees and at a reasonable humidity level?
Basically, if you have not been keeping your wine in a temperature controlled environment, then you want to drink the wine sooner rather than later.
The more time that passes, the more my recommendations matter.
You can probably leave a bottle of wine in dark cabinet at room temperature for a year or two and it will still be good. But after 5 years? Your odds of the wine being good have dropped dramatically.
Another problem? I have been in a lot of folks personal wine cellars, that were not as temperature controlled as they thought it was, and wine they had for 10 years had gone bad, because it was stored at about 65-70 degrees instead of 50-55.
Even when you do everything correctly, wine can still go bad. And there is something called cork taint which can ruin wine not because of the age, but because of a bad cork.
How big of a problem is this? Well, the Cork Quality Council says that cork taint affects 3% of ALL corks. So even if you do everything correctly and perfectly store a bottle of wine for 20 years, it can still be bad because of a defect in manufacturing from cork taint.
Is It Even Worth It To Cellar Wine Long Term?
Well, yes, and it depends.
If you’ve read this far you may think that I am just shitting on storing wine for years and even decades. Well, I have ruined a lot of the world’s best wines doing the things I have outlined above.
I have also successfully stored wine for years and decades where it was worth it.
Some wines you don’t even need to hold on to for that long. My buddy Jim Allen of Sequoia Grove made a Napa Valley Syrah from the Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak, and at about 5 years old, that wine would make a dramatic turn and darn near become magical. And since the wine was released 3 years from vintage, I only had to keep the wine 2-3 years to get the magic.
It was still good younger as well.
One of the rules of cellaring or aging wine long term is only do it if you have multiple bottles of the same wine. This is a rule that I, Bruce Paulson created, but it works.
If you buy a case of the same wine (same vintage also). Then you can hold that wine for a lot longer than if you just bought 1 or 2 bottles.
If you have a case, then you can drink a bottle every 1 or 2 years. This will give you an idea of how the wine is holding up.
You can tell when a wine doesn’t have much life left in it, or has already peaked. Then you can decide to drink all the rest of the case within a year, and the wine will still be enjoyable.
If the wine continues to hold up, you can continue to hold the wine and drink a bottle every 1 or 2 years. This way you can hold onto the wine as long as possible and still enjoy it.
The idea is to drink it while it’s still good. Drinking old shitty wine that is long past it’s peak sucks. You just think about “what could have been”.
If you buy 6 bottles of the same wine, same vintage, you can do the process I mentioned above but for half the length of time.
I am a member of a couple wine clubs and I get quarterly wine shipments. I get 3 bottles every quarter of the same wine. So I use the technique I mentioned above and I hold onto a bottle of wine for 6 years from the time I get it, which can but up to 9 years from the vintage.
Now, if you actually made it to the end of this article, I will tell you a secret that no one in the North American wine biz will tell you.
Michael Beaulac, my friend, mentor, boss, and head winemaker when I worked for Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa Valley told me that he drinks ALL Napa and California wines 8 years from vintage.
You read that correctly. Not 8 years from when he purchased it, or 8 years from the vintage release from the winery, which is usually 3 years after the vintage, but 8 years from the vintage.
Michael has tried all the best wines in California, and made many of them himself, and this is what he does.
I was shocked when he told me this but he’s one of the most knowledgeable wine people I’ve ever met.
Ok, what do you think?
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