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Can You Cook with Old Opened Wine?

Can You Cook with Old Opened Wine?

I almost always have a bottle of opened wine in the house. Occasionally they sit for too long and taste sour, but I’ve wondered can you cook with old opened wine?

As a general rule, it is OK to use open wine to cook with for up to 2 months after opening. But it is best to store the wine in the refrigerator with a cork or vacuum stopper. It is also OK to blend different reds with each other or whites. But the more it sits after opening, the closer it gets to vinegar.

So adjust as needed for acidity. But there’s more to know about cooking with leftover wine and how long wine takes to go bad.

So in this article, we’re diving deep into the world of opened wine, what they call “corked” wine, and whether it’s OK to cook with wine you might not be OK with drinking. And what’s the difference between cooking with opened wine and actually buying “cooking wine”?

We’ll also examine whether there’s any difference between old opened red wine and white.

So let’s get going!

How long can you keep opened wine for cooking?

Keep an opened bottle of wine (red or white) in the refrigerator to use for cooking for up to 2 months. After that time, it is best to discard it. It is also a good idea to write the date on the label when first placing it in the refrigerator.

Oxygen is the enemy of wine. Once you crack open a bottle, even with those fancy vacuum-sealing rubber corks, you still probably want to drink that wine within a few days.

After 3 or more days once opened, the wine will start to get more acidic. It will have a sharpness or tartness on the tongue that wasn’t there before.

But how long the wine is decent varies by the type of wine.

Now, of course, I’m talking about traditional red and white wines for drinking. Things like port, sherry, or Madeira are what’s known as fortified. They have a much higher alcohol content (which is why some states have to sell them at liquor stores) and a much higher sugar content.

The combination of sugar and alcohol acts as a natural preservative and makes those wines last much longer. Store them in the refrigerator for an even longer shelf life.

But for regular wines for cooking, how long is too long once they’ve been opened?

I had a friend who was a wine snob who was fond of saying “you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink”, and to a degree, I think that’s true.

But for those of us in the real world, I don’t think we’re plopping down 20 bucks for a bottle of wine just to cook with every time we make a meal.

I consulted a few experts on this matter, such as Bon Appétit, and the general consensus among the pros is that you CAN use old opened wine for cooking under the following criteria:

  • Store it in the refrigerator
  • Use it for up to 2 months after being opened
  • It’s OK to mix different brands/bottles of the same type (red/white) in your cooking wine bottles

Do you love making risotto and either are out of wine or are worried your opened bottle is too far gone?

No problem! A recent article I wrote walks you through step-by-step exactly how to make risotto without wine and still get amazing results! I was particularly impressed with how just adding 1 ingredient can give you that wine flavor with no alcohol whatsoever!

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Does red wine go bad faster than white wine?

As a general rule, don’t keep either red or white wine longer than 2 months when used for cooking. However, white wine will generally taste better longer than red wine will.

Personally, I find red wine “turns” faster than white wine once I crack open a bottle.

It’s also true to my taste buds that red wines sometimes need to “breath” a minute once opened before drinking, whereas I don’t find that to be as true of white wines.

But I’m not a wine expert, just a guy who has bought and drunk a fair amount of wine over the years and not only cooked with it a lot but in my 2 decades with Whole Foods, I’ve also been around a lot of wine people.

Wine is made by fermenting different types of grapes. Despite what some may think, red and white wines often use the same types of grapes, but leaving the grape skins in the batch gives red wine its distinctive color.

The shelf life of wine depends on a number of different factors, such as:

  • What vintage
  • Type of grape(s) used
  • How they made it
  • Storage methods

And more. That being said, even narrowing down to just red wines or white wines, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for how long red wine lasts once it’s been opened; even for cooking.

Here’s a handy chart, though, courtesy of EatByDate that breaks down some simple rules to follow for wine expiration. It’s more for drinking than using for cooking, but it still gives us some good insight.

Unopened Pantry
Past Printed Date
Bottled White Wine lasts for 1-2 Years
Bottled Red Wine lasts for 2-3 Years
Wine juice boxes last for 1 Year
Fine Wine lasts for Decades in a wine cellar
Opened Refrigerator
White Wine lasts for 1-3 Days
Red Wine lasts for 1-2 Weeks
Cooking Wine lasts for 1-2 Months
Wine juice boxes last for 6-12 Months

But as a general rule for cooking, keep it in the fridge and use within 2 months and always taste and adjust the acidity in your dish before serving.

How do you know when wine has gone bad?

Here are the signs of bad wine that should be discarded:

  1. A sour taste – Red wine, in particular, can taste sour on its journey to becoming vinegar
  2. A musky smell – Wine that has turned or where the cork had failed will smell musky and “off”
  3. The color is off – This may be hard to detect if you are unfamiliar with the wine, but “bad” wine may be darker than normal
  4. Too much pressure inside the bottle – If it fizzes when you first open it, or the cork is protruding or “pops” like a champagne bottle, those are all signs that too much pressure had built up inside the bottle, and consuming it could be hazardous
  5. A chemical taste – Wine is a delicate balance of flavors from the ingredients, additives, and aging. But there are many ways this can go wrong, possibly resulting in a chemical smell or flavor

Now let’s dive into some of the ways these can happen:

1. Corked wine 

This typically happens when the cork used fails in some way. It’s also a reason that some nicer wines these days are moving to screw tops which used to just be for “cheap wines”.

Corked wine, more specifically, means the wine has been contaminated with cork taint.

It’s caused when a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6 – trichloroanisole) comes into contact with bleach or other sanitizing chemicals a winery might use.

How that happens is that “real” corks naturally contain fungus, but they react strongly with chlorides like the cleaning chemicals contain. These days, most wineries avoid using bleach or other similar products to clean with as cork taint can spread like bacteria and infect other corks or maybe even a whole winery.

If you’ve ever opened a bottle of wine and thought it tasted “off immediately after opening, it was probably corked.

Luckily, corked wine isn’t harmful, but it doesn’t taste good. It will taste dull, lifeless, and have a musty smell similar to a pile of cardboard that got wet and was allowed to sit. It’s estimated that up to 8% of wine bottles are corked, but again, that won’t apply to screw-top bottles.

2. Oxidized wine

Sometimes winemakers intentionally expose grape juice to oxygen to enhance certain flavor characteristics. When used in that context (as a good thing), the terms oxidative is what’s commonly used.

But an opened bottle of wine you just have sitting on your counter in the kitchen is starting to oxidize. If you did nothing and just let it sit there, it would eventually turn into vinegar.

The reason for that is when wine is exposed to air for too long, the oxidation happens to such a large degree that the acetaldehyde present in the wine turns into acetic acid. The result is that you now have homemade wine vinegar (not necessarily a bad thing).

We talked about corked wine above, but sometimes a cork isn’t infected with cork taint, it just fails. And when that cork fails it can let oxygen into the wine while still unopened.

An oxidized wine (both red and white) tend to lose color as well as flavor, and the longer the oxidation continues, the tarter the wine will taste.

3. Cooked wine

Cooked wine is simply wine that has been heat-damaged by being stored at too high of a temperature.

If you have ever been to a winery, bought a bottle, and drove around with it in your hot car on a hot day and then later wondered why it didn’t taste as good at home; it probably got cooked.

Even temperatures as moderate as 75° can damage a wine.

It’s also the reason most wineries won’t ship to certain places during summer months. Another tell-tale sign is when the cork is really hard to get out. Remember high school science class; heat causes things to expand, and wine bottle corks are no different.

If your wine bottle was unknowingly cooked, that cork may have expanded and is now really hard to get out.

Flavor-wise, a cooked wine will literally taste like it’s been cooked or stewed. The flavors will be muted and less vibrant. And the color often gets more muted. It could even have a slightly burnt sugar taste.

This handy cheat-sheet courtesy of Laurel Ridge Winery breaks it down simply.

Can you get food poisoning from wine?

As a general rule, food poisoning cannot occur from drinking wine. This is because that while it is possible for wine to become undrinkable, it is not an appropriate place for bacteria to grow which is what causes food poisoning.

Food poisoning happens when you eat or drink something that has been contaminated with a virus, bacteria, or parasites.

The common food-borne bacteria which often leads to food poisoning are staph or E. coli.

In most cases, these are caused by undercooking food, improper food handling (not washing hands or poor cleaning of the food prep area), or contaminated water. Symptoms of food poisoning can include diarrhea, fever, and nausea.

I can also tell you from my 2+ decades at Whole Foods and countless food safety training classes that most people really don’t know anything about food poisoning. They assume that whatever they ate most recently is what caused it, when in fact, food poisoning often can take 24 or even 48 hours to kick in.

So don’t focus on what you just ate, and instead go back a meal or 2 to find the culprit.

But with wine, in the vast majority of cases when the wine is corked, cooked, or oxidized it just won’t taste good. You won’t get sick from any of those things.

That’s because oxygen, heat, and the fungus in cork (which is naturally present in all cork) won’t lead to foodborne illnesses like staph or E. coli.

So bad-tasting? Yes. Make you sick? No.

What is the oxidation process for wine?

Oxidation is a natural process when oxygen hits the wine.

Technically, it means the oxygen is turning the ethanol naturally in wine into acetaldehyde. We like a certain amount of oxidation right before we drink though!

That’s why we use decanters and swirl the wine in our glass; to get the oxygen mixing with the wine which opens up the flavors. It’s just that too much takes that process further and results in an unpleasant flavor.

That’s why we keep wine totally sealed until ready to drink. It’s also why wine lovers often have a vacuum seal and bottle stoppers like this great set on Amazon for under $20.

That allows you to pull the air out of an opened bottle of wine, and then seal it with a rubber cork.

It’s a quick and easy process done by hand, and it can extend the life of your open bottle of wine by as much as  4 extra days beyond what you would normally get.

Granted in my house, drinking wine isn’t usually a problem!

Can you use opened dessert wines for cooking?

The short answer is yes, again for up to 2 months after opening for non-oxidized dessert wines. Many dessert wines, however, are often fortified. This means that spirits have been introduced at some point, and the net result is the shelf life after opening is greatly extended.

Fortified wines often have to be sold as liquor because of the alcohol content. So depending on the laws in your state on liquor, you may not find it at the grocery store.

For example, many ports are totally drinkable for 2 months after being opened.

Then, in turn, refrigerated, you could probably cook with it for up to 2 months past that. All that being said, dessert wines, as the name implies, have a much higher amount of sugar compared to most wines.

So be careful what you’re adding sweet wine to. The cooking process will naturally concentrate the flavors. So in this case, it will get sweeter and thicker as it cooks.

Can you cook with old open rosé wine?

Yes is the short answer. Rosé wine is simply a wine that’s somewhere in between a sweeter white wine and a lighter red wine; hence the pink color.

So stick to the same rules we’ve been talking about.

Store in a dark place; ideally the refrigerator. Keep it sealed, and use within 2 months of opening it. All that being said, do think about the flavor of it and how that would interact with what you’re cooking.

Rosé wine tends to be lighter, slightly more acidic, and sweeter.

So I would not add that to beef, a stew, or anything hearty. But it might go great with certain shrimp or chicken dishes.

What are the best ways to cook with different wines that have been opened?

There are a lot of great recipes and sauces that will benefit from having some red or white wine added to them.

That being said, I’ve had a number of friends who were wine experts over the years tell me they would never cook with a wine they wouldn’t drink. And additionally, always think about how it tastes in relation to what you’re cooking.

For example, many California wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay have a very heavy oak flavor. So you might not want that oaky flavor is certain lighter, more delicate dishes.

But a French chardonnay might be perfect (since it will be far less oaky).

I would also suggest starting with small amounts; you can always add more. You can’t add less. But there are some natural pairing combinations:

  1. Sauvignon blanc and seafood
  2. Red meat and leftover red wine (especially a hearty one like a cab or zin)
  3. Pan sauce (where regular wine (white or red) is used to deglaze a skillet after cooking meat)
  4. Full-bodied white wine – great for a bolognese sauce
  5. Hearty red wines – Perfect for tomato sauces
  6. Pinot grigio or Pinot noir – perfect in risotto

Can you freeze old wine in ice cube trays?

It sounds like a great idea, right? Pour old wine into ice cube trays and freeze them, and just grab a cube when needed, right?

I don’t personally like this for a few reasons.

  1. It is harder to know how old they are (compared to writing a date on the label)
  2. While it will be frozen, the surface of the cubes will be in direct contact with the air
  3. Easy for them to get freezer burn
  4. When you add them to a dish you are cooking, the cold will be disruptive to the cooking process

All that being said, you CAN do this.

There is nothing inherently wrong with it, and it will work. If you decide to go this route, I would suggest placing the entire tray (or pop out the cubes) in a large ziplock bag. This will help keep the flavors of other things in the freezer from leeching into the cubes and will slow the freezer burn process.

Final thoughts

In this article, we took a look at the world of wine and cooking.

Specifically, we dove into how long wine takes to go bad after you open it. But we also explored how to tell when wine has gone bad and does it reach a point where it’s gone too far even to cook with.

Ultimately, we answered the question of can you cook with old opened wine?

The answer to that is a resounding maybe. It depends on how old, how aged (oxidized) it’s gotten, and what you’re making. After all, if your dish also calls for white wine vinegar and your white wine has turned pretty sour, it may work to use the wine and just cut back on, or eliminate, the vinegar.

But the most important thing is to store your opened wine in a cool dark place at room temperature, or (even better) the refrigerator. And discard it within 2 months of opening it.


If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page (click to see my page) which breaks down all my best picks by category.

I always hand-select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top-of-the-line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.

Beth

Wednesday 11th of November 2020

I dont drink wine as im allergic to the sulfates, but so many recipes i want to try call for wine. My problem is im not not going to buy a brand new bottle just for 1 recipe each time. What is my best option to go with to hopefully keep the wine good an use multiple times? This has been keeping me from so many new recipes that its not even funny. Help please?

Jeff Campbell

Thursday 12th of November 2020

Hi Beth

I think the best way to go would be to buy fortified wine. That basically means it's already been exposed to air, so it won't go bad within a few days of opening like most wines. Typically cooking wines like Marsala, Sherry, or Madiera, are fortified. Port is also but is much sweeter. Manishevitz Passover wine also is to my recollection.

Those you could just keep sealed (they usually have a screw-on top instead of a cork) in the pantry and just use when needed. You may even be able to find some labeled no sulfates added.

Hope that helps!

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