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Dear Dr. Vinny,
My dad found a bottle of wine from 1999 in the closet. It's a relatively cool environment, but my mum is afraid that it could be poisonous after sitting there for so long. Is it safe to drink?
You can let your mom know that the wine will not be poisonous. Unlike an old yogurt or forgotten leftovers, wine does not have an expiration date. The alcohol in the wine keeps harmful bacteria and other pathogens from developing. At the very worst, it might taste tired, nutty, or a little sharp and sour. But there is no way that wine turns into anything toxic.
But even without an expiration date, every wine isn’t going to taste terrific to everyone. Wines aged under ideal conditions will transform from young wines to old wines. Many people prefer wines when they are young, vibrant and still full of fruit flavors, so the faded nuances of an older wine might not be to their taste. Wines aged in less-than-ideal conditions run the risk of aging faster. All wines will eventually get to a point where they are generically old, and have lost whatever charm they may have shown in their youth or at their peak. I’ve tried plenty of old wine that just tasted … old—indistinct, with nutty or earthy notes that don’t go anywhere.
Since your father's wine was aging in a closet, I’m guessing he doesn’t have much experience with older wines. Still, there’s a chance that the bottle might be showing well and be a pleasant surprise. I recommend finding an excuse to open the bottle soon and see what you think.
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