Understanding and Preventing Wine Oxidation

Waiter opening bottle of wine at restaurant.

An unfortunate experience that happens all too often with wine is oxidation. This can happen when an opened bottle of wine is left out for too long. Wine can discolor into a slightly brown and may start producing a smell similar to iron. Think of an apple or an avocado that has passed its expiration date. You’ll see brown spots or patches caused by oxidation. This also happens to wine.  

Oxidation can happen for several different reasons. Wine can be overexposed to air through a bad seal or faulty cork, or even during the winemaking process. This can either produce a flat flavor or unlock a series of different, but amazing flavors. 

What is Oxidation in Wine?

As the name implies, oxidation happens when oxygen comes in contact with exposed alcohol in wine. This is a chemical reaction that makes oxygen and alcohol react, which then converts the alcohol into acetaldehyde. This organic chemical compound naturally occurs in coffee, bread, and fruits. After a while, acetaldehyde will turn into acetic acid, which then turns into vinegar, if given enough time. When consumed and your body metabolizes these foods, your body will also create acetaldehyde. It’s a perfectly natural process, but not always a desirable outcome for your favorite wines.

Is Oxidation Good or Bad?

Drinking oxidized wine does not cause any known issues or side effects. Acetaldehyde is considered a toxin, but because there are such low levels of it in oxidized wine, there are no real risks of drinking it. Oxidized wine will taste like vinegar, so it won’t be pleasant to drink. It is known to increase the chances of a hangover, but it is highly unlikely to become dangerously sick from consuming it in moderation.

How to Fix and Prevent Oxidized Wine

Whether it’s a simple brewing mistake or if you accidentally left your opened wine out for a little too long, there’s a simple trick to prevent it from getting worse. Add powdered skim milk or sulfur dioxide, which will stabilize the mixture and keep it from becoming too harsh to drink. Add about ½ milliliter of powdered skim milk and 5 milliliters of cold water for every liter of wine. It will take about two weeks until it is finished and ready to drink. Unfortunately, this trick won’t reverse any oxidation that has already occurred, but it will prevent it from becoming worse.

Some oxidized wines are just too far gone to save, which means you may have to just throw them away and buy a new bottle. To keep your wine completely fresh and drinkable, limit the amount of contact it has with the air around it. To the best of your ability, keep your wine sealed, and always be sure to reseal properly. Infusion Spiral can help provide you with more information relating to wine and spirits through our website and blog. One of our specialties is producing and selling wine, so if you have any questions or concerns, then please don’t be afraid to reach out to us anytime during our hours.