Is it OK to drink old box wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I recently bought and opened a box of Chardonnay. The wine was dark and tasted more like Marsala, and when I checked the expiration date, it was just a few days away. Is it OK to drink? Should I ask for a refund?

—Barbara, Carthage, N.C.

Dear Barbara,

The bags in boxed wines are semi-permeable by design, allowing very small amounts of oxygen inside. Most producers recommend consuming the boxed wine within a year or so of packaging—hence the expiration, or “drink by,” date on your box.

It sounds like your wine was oxidized, which is not surprising when you consider that the packaging indicated that the expiration date was fast approaching. What happens when wine is oxidized? Think of a freshly cut apple: After a while, the flesh of the apple begins to turn brown, and can start to taste a little nutty. That’s what’s happening to wine as it becomes over-exposed to oxygen. Drinking it won’t make you sick to drink, but it’s probably unpleasant.

Should you ask for a refund? Well, you can take the box back to the retailer, but unless you have a receipt, it’s unlikely that they’ll take it back and offer a refund. It’s worth a shot, though. I think you might also want to contact the producer and email them a picture of the wine in a glass and the expiration date, and anything else on the box identifying it. I’d like to think their customer service would want to know something went wrong.

Most of the time, I’m quite confident in boxed wines when drunk within their “drink by” dates. Once you open a boxed wine, we recommend storing the box in the fridge to get a little bit more life out of it, but opened boxes should be consumed within three weeks, before the wine starts to fade.

—Dr. Vinny

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