There’s nothing worse than opening a bottle of your favorite New Zealand pinot noir only to discover it’s not quite right. Sometimes all you want is just one glass of delicious red to take the edge off the day. However, for the inexperienced wine drinker it might be more difficult to tell whether the wine’s gone bad or you’ve just purchased a particularly bad wine label. So how can you tell whether your wine has passed its peak or if you’ve just selected a dud wine?
Generally speaking, if you open a bottle of wine, it should be drunk within a few days of opening it. For most of us, that’s easy, however, there are those who just like the occasional glass of wine after work, meaning that there’s a significant amount of wine left in the bottle. As a rule of thumb, any bottle of wine that has been opened for over a period of one week has most probably gone bad. Of course, like in any situation, there are a few exceptions to the rule such as a strong fortified dessert wine such as port, but that’s a whole different story.
How to Determine when Wine has Gone Off
If you’re a regular wine drinker, you’ll just know, but this enigma is still shrouded in mystery for the wine novice. How do they know?
Well, other than that all-important intuition, there are a few other telling things to look out for:
The Wine’s Appearance
Almost all wine will turn bad if a bottle is left open for an excessive period of time. Some wine labels might claim that their wine will last for weeks once it has been opened, but the reality is quite different, so don’t buy into the hype. The majority of wines, no matter their quality or price, will begin to lose their polish after just a few days, which is why it’s important to store an opened bottle of wine properly. The first thing you could look for is its general color and overall appearance.
The only wine that should ever be associated with the word cloudy, for reasons other than its appearance, is New Zealand’s award winning Cloudy Bay wine from Marlborough. If cloudy doesn’t appear in the name, all other forms of cloudiness are bad. When your wine changes in its appearance from clear to cloudy in a matter of days, this might be an indication that something is going on. It’s usually related to microbial activity in the wine, which as you’ve probably guessed, it’s not a good thing!
Shades of Brown
Wine can be compared to apples. When it’s exposed to oxygen, it begins to brown. The browning of a wine itself isn’t all that bad, after all there a number of fabulous tawny colored wines available on the market. But what the coloring will tell you is the amount of oxidative stress that has taken place in the wine.
Not All Bubbly Wine is Good
You’ve got your champagne and Prosecco, and that’s as far as it should go when it comes to bubbly wine. Bubbles in wine occur when the wine goes through an unplanned fermentation process for the second time while it’s in the bottle. If you’re going to look at in a positive light, you can view it as making your own sparkling wine, however, it’s definitely not going to be as sweet and delicious as your Dom Perignon or Moet. Instead it’s going to have a distinct sour taste to it and it will most likely smell of old gym socks.
It’s in its Smell
You might think swirling wine and taking a good whiff of wine to be pretentious and not for the average wine drinker, but the wine’s smell is also another way to tell if the wine’s bad or not.
Did you know that 1 in 75 bottles of wine is faulty? Sometimes this is of your own fault, and sometimes it’s just purely bad luck. But bad wine, which has been left open for too long, will have an abrasive and almost sharp smell to it.
Bad wine’s smell is comparative to that of nail polish remover and other similar aromas – think along the lines of vinegar or even paint thinner – yes, it can be this bad! Odor is probably more of an apt term for the smell of bad wine. And if you’re wondering how your favorite wine can go from having distinct oak notes to smelling sour, it’s all related to the chemistry of wine. When the wine’s exposed to heat and oxygen, bacteria grows, producing acetaldehyde and acetic acid.
What about the Taste?
If you’re still not convinced by the wine’s dodgy appearance of smell, you’ll definitely be able to tell through its taste. Bad wine that’s gone off due to being left open will have a noticeably sharp sour taste to it, something reminiscent to vinegar. It will burn through your nasal passages just like a generous helping of horseradish does, and in some cases it might even have an unpleasant caramelized taste like an extremely cheap sherry – and this is all down to the oxidation that’s taken place.
If you leave a bottle of opened wine stay without being drunk for too long, it’s almost certain it will go bad. If you’ve left a bottle go bad by accident (which is probably not often), give it a good whiff before getting rid of it. Pay attention to those pungent sour smells and the off nuttiness to it…and make sure your wine never reaches this point again…
How? You ask. The answer’s simple. Drink the wine before it goes bad. Now if this isn’t an incentive to finish off the bottle, what is?