glass of white wine

Like all consumable products, white wine has a shelf life. Improper storage or simply the passage of time can cause white wine to spoil and become undrinkable. However, it is possible to extend the lifespan of both corked and uncorked wine by storing them in the right conditions. 

In this article, we’ll explore how long white wine lasts once opened, the reasons it goes bad, how to tell if a wine has spoiled, and best practices for storing both opened and unopened bottles to maximize their lifespan and flavor. 

How Long Does Uncorked White Wine Last?

An opened bottle of white wine will stay drinkable for 3–7 days if re-corked and refrigerated promptly after opening, although its flavor and aroma will begin to change as soon as it is exposed to the air. Sweeter or more acidic wines like sweet Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc tend to last longer than full-bodied whites. 

White wine’s longevity is due to two main factors: acidity and residual sugar. Acidity acts as a natural preservative by inhibiting bacterial growth and slowing oxidation, while residual sugar increases the wine’s resistance to spoilage by making the environment less hospitable to bacteria.

Full-bodied white wines like oaked Chardonnay and low-acid wines like Viognier tend to spoil more quickly. If they are stored correctly after uncorking, they should remain drinkable for 3–4 days. 

In general, it’s best to finish an opened bottle of white wine within a couple of days. Although you can extend a white wine’s lifespan, it will never taste or smell as good as it did on the day you uncorked it. 

How to Store White Wine After Uncorking

To make an opened bottle of white wine last as long as possible, reseal it promptly and tightly with a cork or screwcap. Refrigerate the wine immediately after opening. The cold slows the chemical reactions that cause spoilage. 

If you can’t finish the bottle within a couple of days, consider transferring the remaining wine to a smaller container to decrease its exposure to oxygen. You can also use a vacuum pump to suck the air out of a partially-full bottle before resealing it. 

Why Does White Wine Go Bad?

Wine begins to change as soon as it’s exposed to air. Chemical reactions alter its flavor, aroma, and appearance, eventually reaching a point where it becomes unpalatable. 

Opened Wine

When a wine is uncorked and poured, it mixes with oxygen in the air, kicking off two processes that change the wine’s chemistry: oxidation and acetification. 

Oxidation occurs when wine reacts with oxygen, causing browning and loss of fruit flavors. The wine’s bright, crisp character fades to be replaced by nuttier, more honeyed notes. In the early stages, this can add pleasant complexity, but with prolonged exposure the wine grows dull and flat-tasting.

Acetification gives white wine a sour aroma and flavor. Naturally occurring bacteria called acetobacter consume the alcohol in wine and produce acetic acid as a byproduct. Acetic acid is the major constituent of vinegar, and, given enough time, an opened bottle of wine will essentially turn into vinegar.

Unopened Wine

Even if a bottle remains unopened, the wine can go bad. The main culprits are light, heat, and time. 

Exposure to UV and blue light rays from sunlight or fluorescent bulbs causes lightstrike, a reaction in which amino acids are converted into foul-smelling sulfides. Wines affected by lightstrike are often compared to wet cardboard or a damp basement. Delicate white wines are especially susceptible.

Excessive temperatures can “cook” a wine, giving it stewed or burnt flavors. Additionally, refermentation can occur if a wine has residual sugar and live yeast still present in the bottle. Warmth causes the dormant yeast to begin fermenting, leading to fizziness, yeasty flavors, and increased alcohol content—a phenomenon exploited by Champagne’s winemakers but which is generally undesirable. 

Finally, even if stored perfectly, wine is simply not meant to last forever. The vast majority of white wines are intended to be consumed within 2–3 years of the vintage date. Only a select few sweet white wines, like Sauternes or Trockenbeerenauslese Rieslings, have the potential to improve over decades.

How to Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad

You can generally tell if a wine has spoiled by its aroma, flavor, and appearance. Trust your senses; if something seems off, the wine is past its prime.


Give the wine a sniff. If it smells like vinegar, wet cardboard, burnt marshmallows, or rotten eggs, it has likely gone bad. A wine that has oxidized too much will give off strong nutty or caramelized notes.


If a wine looks and smells okay but still tastes a bit “off,” it may be on its way to spoiling but still drinkable. Let your taste buds guide you. An overly sour, bitter, or astringent flavor is a tell-tale sign that a wine has turned. You may also notice a sherrylike taste in wines exposed to too much heat.


Spoiled wine tends to change color, becoming darker and browner as the pigments oxidize. If a white wine looks cloudy or has a slimy film on the surface, it’s probably not safe to drink.

How to Store Unopened Bottles of White Wine

Store unopened white wine in a cool, dark place with a temperature of around 55 °F (13 °C) and moderate humidity. Aim to keep the temperature steady. Frequent swings of more than about 10°F (5°C) cause the cork to expand and contract, letting in air and bacteria. Wine refrigerators are a better option than standard domestic refrigerators, which are kept too cold. 

Store the bottles on their side to keep the corks from drying out. The ideal humidity level is around 70%. Low humidity can cause corks to dry and crack, while excessive humidity can cause mold growth. If you don’t have a dedicated wine fridge or cellar, a basement is the best place to store wine. 

Keep wine away from direct light, especially sunlight and fluorescent bulbs, which can cause lightstrike. Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs and modern LED bulbs are safer because they do not emit ultraviolet light, but wine is happiest kept in the dark until you are ready to drink it. 

Avoid storing wine anywhere it could be exposed to strong odors. Chemicals like paint thinner, cleaning products, and even strongly scented foods can taint a wine’s flavor.

With proper storage, most white wines will maintain their quality for at least 1–2 years. A select few age-worthy whites can develop positively over 5–10 years or longer. When in doubt, consult the winemaker’s recommendations for when to drink a particular bottle.