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.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I recently bought a couple of cases of a low-priced but drinkable California Zinfandel. Two of the bottles had a good deal of sediment and smelled like really strong Port. I ended up pouring those two bottles out, but only after tasting them. Can wine ever spoil to the point that it could be harmful to drink?
—Mark K., Arcola, Ill.
My guess is that the wine was either flawed to begin with, or faulty corks prematurely aged the wine. To answer your question, I asked my buddy Linda Bisson (who happens to be a professor in the Viticulture & Enology department at U.C. Davis) if she knew of wine becoming physically harmful.
Says Linda, "It would not be medically or physically harmful, but would be unpleasant, like drinking vinegar. Some cultures do consume vinegar as a beverage in small amounts.
"Wine, like all foods, contains many chemicals that in their dilute state are fine—acids, salts, phenolic compounds, etc., even ethanol—that if you drank them in a highly concentrated or pure form, you would have a problem and it would be toxic, but they never reach those levels in wines."
So there you go.
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