Not All Alcohol Gets Better with Age

Store properly for best quality, experts say

December 21, 2020, 1:25 pm | Sarah Francis, Erin L. Norton, Aude Watrelot, David Brown

AMES, Iowa – Holiday celebrations may be different than in past years as we continue to social distance to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But one thing is likely the same — food and drinks. Food safety is key to ensure that you’re spreading good cheer and not foodborne illness, say specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.  

“Follow food safety basics like handwashing. Avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods, cook the foods to the correct temperatures, and keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold,” according to Sarah Francis, an associate professor and nutrition and wellness state specialist.

Female hand taking bottle of wine from a fridge by fotofabrika/ what about alcohol? Alcohol can go bad, but the impact is on the quality of the product and not necessarily the safety.

Erin L. Norton, education and outreach coordinator with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute, and Aude Watrelot, ISU assistant professor in enology, offer the following tips about the shelf life of alcoholic beverages.

There are three key factors that can lower the quality of alcohol-based products: air, temperature and light. These factors can affect the taste and color.

Most distilled spirits, such as whiskey, rum, brandy, gin, vodka and tequila, have a nearly indefinite shelf life if they are unopened. This is because the sugar content is low, limiting the growth of micro-organisms and the high alcohol content is deadly to bacteria. Opened spirits are good for about one or two years depending on type. During this time the product will begin to lose flavor and color. However, the less liquor in the bottle, the faster it will expire.

Liqueurs and cordials such as Grand Marnier, Drambuie and Midori, have higher sugar content and other ingredients that make them spoil faster. The more sugar an alcohol-based product has, the faster it will expire. Once open, liqueurs and cordials will spoil quickly and become undrinkable after one year. Follow the storage instructions on the bottle.

Unopened wine can go bad, but it depends on how it is stored (referred to as cellaring; temperature and light are important factors), the type of wine, and how long it has been stored. Typically, lower cost wines ($10 to $30) maintain their quality for a shorter period of time than fine wines. A good rule to follow for lower cost, unopened white wine is to cellar it no longer than one to two years; an unopened bottle of red can be cellared about two to three years. This is because these wines are designed to be enjoyed young and will not improve over time. If a wine is meant to be aged, that’s built into the winemaking process. A fine wine can be cellared for decades if unopened. Cellaring temperatures are important for the storage of any unopened wine, with 55 degrees Fahrenheit being optimal.

All open wine, regardless of type, should be stored in the refrigerator (if no cool room is available for red wines). The length of time you can store opened wine depends on the type and the amount remaining in the bottle. If there is a third or less of the bottle remaining, the duration decreases due to the level of oxygen present in the bottle that would lead to oxidation. Removing the air from the bottle is a good practice to reduce the risk of oxidation and to extend the storage time and the quality.

Sparkling wine and champagne lasts up to three days, a light white wine or rosé up to seven days, and other white wines and all red wines up to six days. Fortified wines like port or sherry can be stored for up to four weeks while maintaining good quality.  

To reduce the risk of alcohol-related concerns, the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that if alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation — up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men — and only by adults of legal drinking age. David Brown, behavioral health state specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach suggests Iowans visit for information, resources and treatment for alcohol or drug use.

Photo credit: fotofabrika/

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