How to Tell If Wine Has Gone Bad Without Opening


Wondering how to tell if wine has gone bad without opening? Look for clues like a cork pushing out and off colors for wines in clear glass, and off-smelling corks.

Helpful Tip: Here’s a list of problems wine can have that you can and can’t figure out before popping that cork.

Clue 1: Look for a Cork that’s Pushing Out

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A wine cork that clearly has pressure on it from the inside and is starting to protrude is a good clue that something’s gone bad with the wine. It could be incomplete fermentation or other microbial spoilage issues.

Clue 2: Look for Off-colored Wines (Clear Glass Bottles)

If you’re shopping for wines in clear glass, look for wines that have gone bad using clues in the wines’ color. White wines should be pale lemon or straw colored. Bad white wines will be turning amber. Rose wines should be bright pink to pale salmon or even a grayish color. Brown or tawny rose wines have a problem. Red wines should be dark ruby to garnet. Brown or tawny red wines mean that there’s likely a problem with the wine (unless it’s very, very old).

Clue 3: Specks in the Wine Bottle

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Check out this Merlot with tiny flecks on the inside of the bottle. Something is definitely bad with this unopened bottle of wine.

If you see specks in your wine bottle that don’t look like normal sediment, then it could be a sign that the bottle’s bad before opening. This is rare and usually means a mold or bacteria problem caused by sanitation. Don’t drink a wine like this. Will you die? No. Could it cause a tummy upset? Maybe.

Clue 4: Smell for Moldy Corks

Cork taint, or TCA, is a real problem and can affect individual wines or even whole wineries (unfortunate). It’s caused by a naturally occurring mold. If you’re purchasing a wine with a naked cork (no foil or wax covering), then you can smell the cork to see if it has a moldy cardboard aroma. If it does, grab a different wine.

Clue 4: Wine Bleeding Through Cork (OK)

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Here you can see some wine coming up the side of the cork. This is OK and doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of the wine inside the bottle.

You may see wine bleeding through the top of the cork or coming up the sides of the cork in the neck of the bottle. This actually doesn’t tell you anything about if the wine is bad or not. It’s just naturally happened during the bottling process.

Clue 5: Look for Cloudy Wines

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This wine is a little cloudy indicating that something could be wrong with it and it’s worth proceeding with caution.

Cloudy wines can be a clue telling you that the wine has gone bad before opening. Cloudy wines can come from incomplete malolactic fermentation or other microbial spoilage. This won’t hurt you if you drink it, but could affect the flavor of the wine.

Helpful Tip: Some natural wines are unfined and unfiltered and have minimal SO2 (sulfites). This can lead to cloudy wines. They’re fine. It’s just in the natural nature.

Other Bad Wine Clues

You’ll need to open the bottle and smell or taste the wine to discover clues for other causes of bad wine, unfortunately. The good news is that you can take bad wine back to your wine shop and ask to exchange it in most cases (just don’t drink the whole bottle and expect the shopkeeper to swap it out for a new bottle).

Thirsty for More?

Check out how to tell if your white wine’s gone bad.

Here’s what’ll happen to you if you drink bad wine.

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