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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I have a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from 1987. Can I drink it?
—Adam, Kansas City, Kan.
You sure can! But I can't predict whether you'll enjoy it or not. I get a lot of these “Is it safe to drink?” questions, and I have good news for everyone: A wine may become unpleasant to drink, but it’s never going to be harmful to consume. At worst, a wine might turn into vinegar. That’s as bad as wine “spoils.”
If the wine was exceptional when released and has been stored properly, it could be quite interesting to taste. But assuming that you’ve never tried a 30-year-old white wine, and it wasn’t stored properly (or a great wine to begin with), it’s likely to be oxidized, and might taste really flat and nutty (or heading in that vinegar direction). You should still open it up if you're curious, but I’d recommend having a back-up bottle.
It's impossible to know for sure, however, without knowing more about your bottle of wine. Some white wines can age and improve for decades, most notably fine Rieslings, white Riojas from Spain, the exceptional white wines of Hermitage in France's Rhône Valley, and dessert-style wines, which can age for a hundred years or more.
Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.