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Uncommon Pairings: So Your Wine Tastes Bad

feature image photo by Cook Shoots Food via Getty Images

Welcome back to Uncommon Pairings, a series all about wine! In the past few installments, we’ve talked about how to taste wine (more senses are involved than you’d think!), what to look for on a label, and which sparkling wines go best with chips (tbh one of my favorite pieces I’ve written for AS). Today, we’ll talk about what to do when you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having a glass of wine taste off.


It happens to many of us. In fact, it just happened to me! I found an open bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in my fridge that had been there for weeks, laying on its side hidden behind a loaf of bread and several takeout containers. It had been weeks, so I wasn’t surprised to find that the wine had oxidized and was well past its prime. Thankfully, it was mostly empty, so I didn’t feel too terrible pouring the remaining glass and a half down the drain. Other times, we open a bottle and it’s terrible from the get-go. Maybe it was stored improperly or it was exposed to too much sunlight or heat before you got a chance to have a sip. In both cases, there are some things to look for when deciding if your wine has gone bad.

If The Bottle Is Already Open

As a rule of thumb, wine can last anywhere from three to five days, but this period can both shorten and increase based on the type of wine it is as well as how it’s stored. The only way to know for sure if your wine is still good to drink is to consider possible changes in smell, appearance, and taste. If the fragrant bouquet you originally picked up from the wine’s nose now smells like a crisp nothing, the wine may be past its prime. Similarly, if the wine smells much sweeter than before, I’d probably pass.

If your wine has changed color since you last had a glass of it, that’s a pretty solid indicator that you shouldn’t drink it. The same is true if your wine suddenly has bubbles where there were none before. Sparkling wines are great when you buy them as sparkling wines, less so when you accidentally induce fermentation.

If your wine still looks and smells the same as before, the only way you’ll really know is through taste — but use your taste buds at your own risk. If your wine tastes vinegary or more sweet than you remember, it’s probably best to toss it. If it’s only slightly off, you might be able to cook with it, but no promises.

Why This Happens

If you’ve ever heard someone say a wine needs to “open up” before it can be enjoyed, it means the wine needs a little exposure to air before it can reach its full potential. Short-term exposure to air can unlock otherwise missing notes in a wine’s overall profile, but over time, this oxidation will render the wine undrinkable. There’s no real way to get around this after you uncork a bottle. Even if you’re extremely quick to uncork, pour, and re-seal before popping the bottle into the fridge, the wine begins to oxidize the moment it gets that first hit of air.

You can delay the process by using a vacuum stopper, which extracts the air from an open bottle before it’s sealed, or by using a wine preservation system like Coravin which is very cool and sciencey (you never need to uncork the bottle, but thanks to the magic of argon gas, you’re still able to enjoy a glass) but upwards of a hundred dollars. I personally do not have a Coravin, but I am very jealous of people who do! I use a champagne stopper for almost everything, including bubble-free bottles, and it works well.

If Your Bottle Is New

If the bottle in question is a brand-spankin’-new bottle and it still tastes or smells off, it could be faulty. Some common tells of faulty wines are mostly smell-based — rotten eggs, mildew, garlic — and if you do wind up with a faulty wine, I’m sorry! That’s some bad luck. Wine’s a delicate little thing, and it can be affected by all sorts of things: sulfur that’s added to the wine, the cork that was used, improper storage… honestly, it’s a miracle we wind up with any good wine at all! If you think your wine is faulty, you might be able to take it back to the store and exchange it for something else.

On the other hand, the wine might taste like that on purpose! Some natural / low-intervention wines embrace unconventional notes that would be considered indicative of faults in wines made in a more traditional method. If the wine you’re drinking is low-intervention, and it tastes weird from the first sip, I’d recommend looking up the wine and any associated tasting notes to see if what you’re tasting matches what’s meant to be in the bottle.

The last option — if it’s not a natural wine and it doesn’t have any of the common wine faults —- is that you might just not like the wine. And that’s totally okay. Finding out what you don’t like is just as important as finding what you do like. And I hope you do find something you like!

Pop into the comments if you want a personalized wine rec <3

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ashni

Ashni is a writer, comedian, and farmer's market enthusiast. When they're not writing, they can be found soaking up the sun, trying to make a container garden happen, or reading queer YA.

ashni has written 47 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you! Sometimes the bottle itself can be bad. I once brought home a bottle, placed it on the counter as normal, and it exploded all over the place. The guy at the liquor store grunted that exploding bottles are not uncommon.

  2. Omg a personalized wine rec! Okay. I think some of my ideal wines taste golden, like a long summer evening – but not too sweet! Golden like the emotion, not golden like “tastes like straight honey” (honey is delicious, but I find sweet wines overwhelming). Mellow, warm, relaxed. Thank u in advance!

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