Can Old Wine Make You Sick? Here’s The Truth
Athenaeus of Naucratis, a Greek rhetorician and Francis Bacon, an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, and author, are both quoted as having said, “Age appears best in four things: old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust and old authors to read.”
There's a common understanding that wine gets better with age. If so, a good question to ask is, can old wine can make you sick? It is, after all, a perishable item.
The Lure of Old Wine
Modern wine culture draws its influence from Ancient Greece and Rome including what has become, the irresistible attraction to old wine.
The early Romans used a wines' age and aging potential to determine its value with older wines fetching higher prices than those considered not to be.
In that respect, Falernian wine which was used to honor Julius Caesar (after his conquest of Spain) was highly coveted as it was aged for 15–20 years.
Surrentine wine was also highly prized as it was aged for a minimum of 25 years. Caecuban, a white wine whose hue turned fire-colored as it aged, was also another favorite.
In a further display of the importance of the age of a wine, they went so far as to distinguish in their laws, the difference between old and new wine.
The wine aged for at least a year was considered old and anything else was labeled new.
The Aging of Wine
Aging without a doubt changes wine. Drinking old wine will not make you sick as it is not designed to spoil as it ages but to deteriorate.
Changes can be noted in flavor, aroma, and color as a result of the interactions between its ingredients including water, glycosides, phenolics (tannins), alcohols and acids.
With regards to color, reds become less intense while whites deepen in color.
Wines with simple fruit aromas become more complex and pronounced while those with powerful fruit flavors become more subtle and savory.
As wines (particularly red wine) age their flavor takes on hints of leather, tobacco, dried leaves, coffee, and dried or stewed fruits. Acidity, alcohol, and sugar content tends to remain the same throughout the aging process.
These changes however, are not always for the better making it a misconception that all wines improve with age.
The majority of today’s wines should be drunk soon after they've been bottled (within 5 years).
The rest, of which the list is short, can be saved to show off at a wine soiree where only true oenophiles will appreciate their value.
Types of Wine With Good Aging Potential
A wines' aging potential comes down to its structure. This refers to the relationship between the elements that it is comprised of.
Wines with a good aging potential have low pH (highly acidic) levels and higher amounts of polyphenols (tannin), sugars, and alcohol level.
The quality of the grape also influences aging potential. Thicker skinned grapes with low water content and produced in smaller yields age improve a wines aging potential.
Red Wine Aging Potential
White Wine Aging Potential
Sweet Wine Aging Potential
How to Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad
Outside of overindulgence, you're guaranteed to have an unpleasant wine drinking experience if you drink wine that has gone off.
This is regardless of whether it is a young or an old wine. Wine can go off as the result of being left open too long or it has what's known as a wine fault.
A wine that has gone off has a number of noticeable characteristics.
When wine goes off, its smell changes depending on what has caused it to do so. Bacteria that acts on wine will it turn it into acetic acid which causes it to have a sharp smell like vinegar or sauerkraut.
Oxidation causes a spoiled wine to smell nutty or like burnt marshmallow or applesauce. Reduction causes a wine to take on the aroma of cabbage, burnt rubber or garlic.
Wine exposed to 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA), a chemical contaminant that usually comes from real cork like oak barrels or processing lines, causes a moldy basement, sweaty socks or smelly wet dog odor.
Red wine that is not Port or dessert wine will taste extremely sweet. White wine will taste like vinegar or like astringent or paint-thinner.
3. The position of the cork
The cork of a wine bottle should sit flush to the top of the neck of the bottle. If you come across a wine bottle whose cork is sitting above the neck and not because it was in a freezer this means it has been exposed to extreme heat and has gone off as a result.
Red wine will lose its intensity as it begins to go off and take on a brown, nutty hue. White wines, in contrast, will begin to take on a darker hue that's either deep yellow or a brownish straw-like.
Effervescence (bubbles) present in wine that is not sparkling wine indicates it has undergone an unintended second fermentation after the initial bottling and has spoiled.
Shelf Life of Opened Wine
Once a wine is opened it has a much shorter shelf life regardless of its aging potential. The shelf life of different types of wines is listed below.
Factors That Improve the Shelf Life of Your Wine
Vintners have concluded that only 1% of all the wine produced in the world is meant to be aged. The following factors however can improve the shelf life of wine.
The optimal storage temperature for wine is between 45° F and 65° F with 55° F considered ideal.
Anything higher than 70° F accelerates aging and cooks the contents altering its flavor and aroma.
Going below 45° F reduces the moisture content in the surrounding air which will cause the cork to dry out and shrink allowing air to enter the bottle and cause oxidation of the contents.
Once the ideal temperature has been set it must be kept constant to avoid 'weeping.' This is when the bottle contracts and expands allowing air to enter the bottle.
UV rays from sunlight can degrade and accelerate the aging process of wine. This is why vintners have a preference for colored glass bottles and for storing wine in basement or windowless cellars.
A Note on the Correct Storing Position of Wine
Traditionally, it was recommended that wine be stored sideways to keep the cork in contact with the liquid, preventing it from drying out and shrinking.
It turns out that keeping corks permanently soaked in wine might actually accelerate the weakening of the cork’s cell structure. Storing bottles sideways is now only recommended as a space saver.
Drinking old wine will not make you sick but be sure to store it properly so it does not turn into vinegar which we can assure you, tastes nothing like wine.
Cheers to your next glass!