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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Can drinking an old wine such as Port literally make you sick?
—M., Bridgewater, Mass.
Well, you certainly can get ill if you drink too much Port—or too much of anything, for that matter. Overindulging will almost always lead to unpleasant symptoms.
But it sounds like you’re wondering if a wine spoils as it gets older, and the answer is no. The alcohol acts as a preservative. In fact, some of the best wines I’ve ever had have been older than I am, including a Port that was older than I’ll probably ever be.
Of course, that’s the best-case scenario, when a wine is built for aging (the best Vintage Ports have very long lives ahead of them) and stored in optimal conditions. The worst-case scenario would be a wine that hasn’t aged well and is just old. In that case, the wine will have lost its fruit flavors and taken on nutty notes, and the color will have started to turn brown. It’s not harmful, but it won’t taste good. Even on the rare chance that a wine has turned to vinegar, it would be unpleasant to drink, but not dangerous.
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