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How long to keep wines and opened bottles to enjoy them at their best

When buying groceries you automatically look at the use-by date to make sure they are fresh. And after they have been in the fridge for a while, the use-by date will tell you whether you can still eat them or not. But generally wines don't come with an expiration date, so how long can you keep them?

The shelf life and ageability of wine: here's what you need to know

Fewer and fewer people are laying down wine, while research has also shown that only around five to ten percent of wines are improved by long ageing. A bottle of wine is usually drunk very soon after purchase. Nonetheless, it helps to know a few basic principles about how long wines can be kept.
A wine's ageability is influenced by many factors. For instance, it depends on the vines on which the grapes were grown – the older the vines, the longer a wine has the potential to age. Wines from older vines have much more body and extract. This is usually the exception, however, as nowadays most vines are between five and fifteen years old so wines cannot be aged as long. Most red and white wines are made to be drunk already just a few weeks after bottling.
Other factors: the higher the levels of tannin, sugar and acidity, the longer a wine will last. For example, acidity will prevent the bacteria that often cause wine to go off from growing. The alcoholic strength of the wine also plays a major role as alcohol is a reliable preservative. So if you want to lay down bottles for longer, make sure the wine has at least 12.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). With sweet wines such as dessert wines, the alcoholic strength is not so important as the sugar already acts as a preservative.
The longevity of individual wines therefore depends on their characteristics and how they were made. Because they have a very high tannin content, Cabernet Sauvignon wines, for example, are capable of prolonged ageing. The red grape varieties Syrah, Tannat, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese also produce wines that are good for ageing. With white wine, the high acidity of Riesling wines in particular make them good candidates for ageing.
Standard quality wines generally keep for one to three years, whereas superior wines with high acidity can be laid down for three to six years. A Kabinett wine will generally keep for around one to two years, unless it is a single-varietal, in which case its shelf life extends to two to four years. Spätlese late-harvest wines can be laid down for three to five years, while the sweeter Auslese late-harvest wines will keep for four to six years. Super-sweet Beerenauslese styles can be aged for longest – they keep for at least ten years.

How long wine keeps after opening

Along with ageability, consumers also want to know how long a wine remains drinkable after the bottle has been opened. Everyone has been in the situation where, after enjoying one or two glasses of wine, there's still some left in the bottle. So how long does it remain drinkable? After all, it would be a great shame to simply pour it away down the drain.
Among other things, how long a wine keeps depends on how much wine is left in the bottle: if it is still quite full, white and rosé wines can be consumed for three to five days after opening, while red wines can even be kept for up to seven days. If there is only a little left over, you should finish it off within the next two to three days. In both cases it is essential to store the opened bottle in the fridge – even red wine. In the case of red wine, take the bottle out of the fridge again a couple of hours before you want to drink it so it has time to come up to drinking temperature.
There are a few tricks to help keep leftover wine drinkable. The reason wines deteriorate after opening is down to oxygen. It causes the wine to oxidize, which makes it undrinkable. Protecting it from exposure to air will help keep the wine at its best for longer so always close the bottle again with a cork or a stopper. This still leaves the problem of the air that is already in the bottle, however. You can use a vacuum pump to suck the air out of the bottle, but some can be relatively expensive. Another trick is to pour the wine into smaller bottles with airtight caps. A wine will always taste best if you drink it soon after opening it, however.