Cooking wine, specifically made for cooking and not drinking, is a common ingredient used to add depth of flavor and acidity to many savory dishes. But unlike a bottle of merlot or chardonnay, cooking wine has a much shorter shelf life. So how do you know when the cooking wine lurking in the back of your pantry has gone bad and crossed the line from enhancing flavor to ruining recipes?
I’ll cover everything you need to know about how long cooking wine lasts, how to store it properly, signs it has spoiled, and using expired cooking wine in recipes. Read on for tips to get the most out of this versatile kitchen staple and avoid the unpleasant taste of rancid cooking wine.
How Long Does Unopened Cooking Wine Last?
An unopened bottle of cooking wine typically lasts 1 to 2 years past the printed expiration or “best-by” date if stored properly. The shelf life of unopened cooking wine can extend well beyond a year or two if you:
- Store in a cool, dark place like a kitchen pantry away from heat and sunlight
- Keep the bottle tightly sealed
- Purchase wine with preservatives like sodium benzoate
The added salt and preservatives act as natural preservatives to help prolong the shelf life of unopened cooking wine. While the product label may state to use within a year or several months after opening, an unopened bottle remains good quality for 1 to 2 years past the date on the label when stored in your pantry.
How Long Does Opened Cooking Wine Last?
Once opened, the clock starts ticking faster on cooking wine. But you can still get about 2 months of use from an opened bottle if you:
- Refrigerate after opening
- Use an airtight stopper in the bottle
- Keep wine bottle stored upright
The cool temperature of the refrigerator slows down the oxidation process to help extend the shelf life of opened cooking wine. Oxidation causes the ingredients to break down faster, negatively affecting taste and quality the longer the wine is exposed to air.
An airtight stopper is crucial because it limits the wine’s exposure to oxygen. This prevents the wine from oxidizing quickly and maintains fresher flavor for the 2 month period.
Without proper storage in the fridge and tightly sealed, opened cooking wine only lasts about 1 to 2 weeks before the taste and quality deteriorates rapidly.
Freezing Leftover Cooking Wine
For any leftover cooking wine you won’t use up within 2 months, consider freezing it for longer term storage.
To freeze opened cooking wine:
- Pour wine into ice cube trays or freezer bags
- Allow wine cubes or portions to fully freeze
- Transfer to freezer bags and store flat if using ice cube trays
- Properly frozen, the wine will keep for 2 to 3 months frozen
The freezing process helps halt oxidation and preserves the quality much longer than refrigeration alone. Just keep in mind freezing can dilute the wine’s flavor and potency slightly over time.
No matter how you store opened cooking wine, refrigerated or frozen, its quality and taste will slowly deteriorate. After about 2 months, the taste and aroma of cooking wine tends to become less vibrant.
How to Tell if Your Cooking Wine Has Gone Bad
Cooking wine inevitably goes bad once it’s past its prime. How can you tell if an older bottle tucked away in your pantry has become too old to use? Here are a few signs your cooking wine has spoiled:
- Funky, vinegary smell – A sour, unpleasant smell means the wine has oxidized and soured.
- Bitter, very acidic taste – An overly tart, acidic taste when you sample the wine indicates it has gone off.
- Sediment or particles – Bits floating around in old wine is another red flag not to use it.
- Change in color – White wines may darken, while red wines can appear brownish.
- Flat or lackluster aroma – Cooking wine past its prime will lack fruity, vibrant aroma.
Trust your senses – if the cooking wine smells or tastes off, err on the side of caution and throw it out. Using spoiled cooking wine can ruin the flavor of whatever you’re making.
How to Store Cooking Wine Properly
To get the most longevity out of cooking wine, proper storage is key. Here are some tips for storing unopened and opened bottles:
- Store unopened bottles in a cool, dark pantry – Keep bottles away from sources of light and heat which speed up spoilage.
- Refrigerate opened cooking wine immediately – The cool fridge temperature helps slow oxidation and prolong freshness.
- Use an airtight wine stopper – Limiting air exposure keeps opened wine fresher longer.
- Freeze any leftover portions – Freezing cooking wine preserves quality and freshness for 2-3 months.
- Store wine bottles upright when freezing – This prevents the cork from expanding and compromising the seal.
Proper storage helps cooking wine retain good flavor and quality well past the “best by” date on the label. Refrigerating opened wine and freezing extras reduces waste.
Is It Okay to Use Expired Cooking Wine in Recipes?
You may be wondering – if an unopened bottle of cooking wine is past the printed expiration date, but hasn’t gone bad, can you still use it?
The answer is yes! It’s generally fine to use cooking wine even if it’s a year or so past the best-by date, as long as the unopened bottle still smells and tastes normal.
The “best by” date is simply an estimate for peak quality, not a hard and fast safety cutoff. And the high acidity, salt, and preservatives in most cooking wines help them stay stable past the expiration date when stored properly.
However, if the cooking wine smells vinegary or tastes unpleasantly sour, it’s best not to use it. Avoid cooking with wine that’s clearly badly oxidized or spoiled. The off-flavors will carry through and can ruin your dish.
But cooking wine that is just past its prime can still add its signature flavor profile. The taste likely won’t be as vibrant or acidic, but will still provide the desired effect in sauces, glazes, braises, and other recipes.
Freezing cooking wine may dilute the flavor slightly over time, but frozen wine that has been properly stored can still be used for cooking long past its prime. The wine likely won’t have the sharp punch it once did, but frozen cooking wine well past its expiration date can still lend acidic notes to dishes.
The bottom line – trust your senses, but cooking wine you already have on hand doesn’t necessarily need to be thrown out just because the date on the label has passed.
The Takeaway – Get the Most from Your Cooking Wine
Cooking wine adds a depth of flavor that’s hard to replicate. To avoid wasting bottles and ruining recipes, remember these tips:
- Check expiration dates – But “best by” dates are simply guidelines for peak quality.
- Store properly – Keep unopened bottles in a cool, dark place like a pantry.
- Refrigerate opened wine – And use an airtight stopper to limit oxidation.
- Freeze extras – Freezing preserves freshness for 2-3 months.
- Look for signs of spoilage – Trust your nose and taste buds to determine if cooking wine is too old to use.
With proper storage and handling, cooking wine can retain quality and taste well past its prime. Using frozen and even expired cooking wine that still smells and tastes normal is perfectly safe.
So get out that bottle tucked away in the back of your pantry before it goes to waste! With the right storage methods, you can keep cooking wine on hand to elevate the flavor of sauces, braises, marinades and more.
Bethany is an experienced food writer and recipe developer whose popular site Grangefarmschool.org provides home cooks with approachable recipes, cooking tips, and practical kitchen advice. Her thoroughly-tested recipes and inviting photography aim to make cooking fun and fulfilling for cooks of all levels.