Should you drink an old bottle of wine?

Suppose you find a 50-year-old bottle of Chianti in the cellar. Can you still drink it?

It’s a question we’re often asked on our Tuscany wine tours. Sometimes, people buy wine and want to save it for a special occasion.

But don’t wait too long. Although there’s no specific wine expiry date, not all wines get better with age.

Here are tips for how to tell whether an old wine is still good to drink.

Was the wine meant to be aged?

It might surprise you to know that very few wines benefit from aging in the bottle. To find out whether a wine is intended to be kept for a long time, look for clues like these:

  • The age of the vineyard.  If the grapes come from a young vineyard (five to 15 years), then they are usually used to make ready-to-drink wines that are meant to be consumed young. Grapes from older vineyards (more than 15 years) produce more full-bodied wines that are more likely to improve over time.
  • The color and shape of the bottle.  For a wine that’s intended to age, the bottle will have darker and thicker glass to protect the wine from light. As well, the bottom of the bottle is usually more concave to collect sediment when an older wine is poured. You may also notice that the cork is longer for wines that are meant to age longer.
  • How the wine was made.  A winemaker will often use steel vats to age wines that are meant to be drunk young, as opposed to the wooden barrels used for older wines.

What does this mean for a bottle of Chianti

A fruity young Chianti comes in a lighter colored bottle with less of an indentation at the bottom.  These wines are ideal for pairing with bruschetta, pasta antipasti and cheese. They’re perfect for lunch and are best enjoyed within two to eight years. These young Chianti wines from the  Poggio al Chiuso or Montalbino wineries are good examples. 

On the other hand, a Chianti Riserva, like this one from Fattoria Santo Stefano, is an intense, full-bodied wine that will always come from a vineyard that is at least 15 years old. This wine is best to drink within five to 15 years and pairs well with substantial foods like barbecued roasts and old cheeses.

The bottom line is that while a few wines may still be good after 50 years, Chianti is not one of them.

Is it safe to drink old wine?

Can tasting an old wine make you sick? That’s unlikely because of the alcohol in wine. But a wine that’s been kept too long may not be enjoyable anymore.

You may want to be more cautious if the wine hasn’t been stored properly. Wine should always be stored in a cool and dry place.

A red wine may have gone bad if it’s turned brown or if the cork is slightly pushed out of the bottle.  Wines with a bad smell or moldy taste should also be avoided.

We’ll serve only perfectly aged wine (and information) on our Tuscan wine tours from Florence. Join us on our popular Chianti wine tour.