Can drinking an old wine make you sick?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Can drinking an old wine such as Port literally make you sick?

—M., Bridgewater, Mass.

Dear M.,

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.

—Dr. Vinny

Health Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What’s the difference between wood vs. steel vs. concrete wine fermentors?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how barrels, steel tanks and concrete fermentors …

Dec 6, 2021

Does anyone refer to Sauvignon Blanc as 'White Sav'?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny offers advice for ordering wine at …

Nov 29, 2021

Does food cooked with wine taste like wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why wine is such a popular recipe ingredient.

Nov 22, 2021

My basement wine cellar flooded. Are my wines ruined?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert, Dr. Vinny, explains what to watch for when a wine …

Nov 15, 2021

Are sulfates and sulfites in wine the same thing?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the difference between chemical compounds …

Nov 8, 2021

What does it mean to say a wine is "full-bodied"?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how we talk about a wine's structure and "body."

Nov 1, 2021