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Ask Dr. Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have five bottles of Chardonnay that were opened, not finished, and have been in the refrigerator more than three months. Are they “corked”? How will they respond such a long time in the fridge after being opened?

—Susan, Houston

Dear Susan,

You should open them up and try them! They won’t make you sick, but it would be a good lesson for you to learn what happens to forgotten wines so you won’t do it again. (Or you might find out you like them!) And no, that’s not what the term “corked” refers to. “Corked” refers to the presence of a chemical compound, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA, and is not related to how long ago a bottle was opened.

How the wine responds to these conditions will depend on the wine you started with and how much exposure to air it had in the open bottles (nearly full bottles will have a longer life than a nearly empty bottle, where there is a greater ratio of air to wine). Which is to say that the real concern with bottles of wine that have been open for too long is oxidation. Oxidized wines will have lost their freshness and can start to smell and taste like old apples.

As for your wines in the fridge, I’m guessing that most of the fruit flavors have faded, or morphed from fresh flavors to more baked and nutty notes. If there was a big oak presence—toasty, spicy flavors—you might still taste those just fine, but without the supporting fruit flavors, it might seem out of balance, as well as flat and disjointed. I’ve been served from that bottle that’s been forgotten in the fridge, and it’s typically not terrible, especially if it’s served ice cold, which will mute the flavors and aromas.

If you’re going to store open wine in the fridge, transferring it to a smaller container with less volume (such as a half-bottle) will give the wine some more mileage.

—Dr. Vinny

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