Did my wine turn bad because the cork was leaking?

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,

I just opened a magnum of a 1990 Napa Valley Cabernet. I noticed in the past year that the cork was leaking, and I didn’t think much of it. But when I took the first sip, it totally tasted like vinegar. What happened? How long does it take for a bottle of wine to turn into vinegar?

—Ricardo G., South Padre Island, Texas

Dear Ricardo,

A leaking cork was your first clue that the wine inside might be flawed. A bottle leaks when the cork has been compromised. It could have been from a cork that was faulty to begin with, or one that dried up, or perhaps it was the result of heat, causing the wine inside to expand. It can be a bit of a crapshoot—I’ve had wine from leaky bottles that was perfectly fine. But it’s certainly an indication that something may have gone wrong.

The thing about leaky bottles is that if the wine can leak out, that means that oxygen has a chance to leak in. That extra exposure to oxygen can cause a wine to oxidize and taste tired and past its prime. This can happen within weeks or months in a closed bottle of wine, sooner if the bottle is open.

Even though a wine can start to taste acidic when it’s been sitting around exposed to oxygen, it’s not technically vinegar. Vinegar happens when the ethanol in a wine converts to acetic acid, and for that it needs the help of an acetobacter and lots of oxygen. In general, oxygen is not a wine’s friend.

—Dr. Vinny

Closures Corks Wine Flaws Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What does it mean when a tasting note refers to the “midpalate”? How do you experience it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how—and when—the midpalate is experienced.

Nov 23, 2020

Is my home wine cellar supposed to smell like wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains possible sources of a wine aroma in a bottle …

Nov 16, 2020

What do you call white wines that have a citrusy, fizzy sensation?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the difference between acidity and effervescence.

Nov 13, 2020

Should I be concerned about wine freezing in my car if it’s below freezing outside?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny answers questions about freezing wine.

Nov 11, 2020

Do you recommend any wine clubs? Are they good holiday gifts for wine lovers?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for choosing a wine club.

Nov 9, 2020

Could smoke taint in wine be removed by reverse osmosis?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how reverse osmosis is used as a tool for …

Nov 6, 2020