Wine Gone Bad: What To Do When A Wine Turns

By Emily Bell |

© Adam G. Gregor / Alamy

This piece originally appeared on VinePair.

When you’re a young partier, a good night means no bottle left behind. When you’re a more, uh,matoor partier, the goal is waking up with leftovers, proof you didn’t chug that last half-bottle of Malbec and call an ex, or your boss, or that cute farmer’s market guy who really only gave you his card in a professional capacity. You wake up, the wine is there, and hooray! Because, by god, you’re an adult.

The next step in your newfound adulthood is figuring out what to do with all the “turned” wine that’s seriously clogging up your countertop feng shui. It may look the same, but neglected, uncorked wine turns like a vampire in the night. And that’s because all wines contain bacteria which, when exposed to oxygen, start turning a wine’s sugars and alcohol into acetic acid—the stuff of the vinegar pucker. Unless you had the presence of mind to deoxygenate the bottle before bed with a pump (though more helpful would be putting the small quantity into a smaller bottle) you’re likely waking up to some pretty rough stuff—a flat, sour, empty shell of its former self.

Don’t despair, or add it to your morning power smoothie (unless you’re headed to a “Bad Girls Club” audition). There are plenty of good things to do with bad wine, and we’ve got more than a few examples.

Get Cooking:

We know, the saying is only cook with a wine you’d drink. But you liked drinking it the night before, right? The fact is, if you’re doing anything with rich flavors and long-heat—stewing, braising, boiling—the wine will have a chance to reduce and meld with other strong flavors in the dish, so a modest quantity of less-than-drinkable wine should still work for cooking.

Soak That Meat:

Yes, you can marinate meat — something like steak or game — in wine that isn’t still ideal for drinking. The acidity of the wine will help break down the fibers in the meat. Red wine has an added tenderizing boost from tannins.

Take A Bath:

But don’t let meat hog the wine bath. You can also bathe in booze. Adding a bit of old red wine to your bath adds skin-softening antioxidant polyphenols like resveratrol, purported to have anti-aging effects. (Ballers, go a slightly luxe step further with Vinotherapy, a wine-based spa system invented by a French couple that offers treatments like a “Merlot Wrap” and something called a “Wine Maker’s Massage”—which we hope involves a man with a bushy beard in overalls using all the strength of his vineyard-gnarled man-paws to coax out the tension of paycheck-to-paycheck living.)

Tie Dye, Y’all:

Not really recommending a return to swirly-shirted 60s look (or its half-hearted 90s revival) but wine will clearly stain just about anything, so why not have some fun with stuff you actually want to stain? This is a good option when you have a lot of leftover bad wine, since you’ll wanna reduce it by a third or so to get a more intense color. Natural fibers work better than synthetic, so just grab some string, tie up a shirt (to create the design), and dip it in. (White’s always better base, but feel free to mix colors and get a little freakier, dude).

Clean Wine Stains:

Because not all wine stains are groovy or tie-dye related. Accidental wine stain? No fear. You can clean it with…wine! Turns out it only works with white on red, and you’ve got to act quickly (good news is, red wine tends to spill at parties, where there’s usually white wine readily on hand). Just pour some white wine over the (still wet) red wine stain, blot with a clean towel or absorbent cloth (don’t rub, despite the intense, frustrating urge because, dammit, this is a brand new carpet/cardigan/kaftan!). This may not do the entire job, but it’ll make the red wine stain a lot easier to deal with using other methods. Now, pour some white wine out onto the carpet for your homies. No, don’t do that. But we like the way you think.


While the acid in wine can kill off helpful bacteria in compost, you’d need a lot of leftover wine for that to really matter, and if you have a lot of leftover wine, you’re either buying incorrectly or just a fan of luxurious waste, in which case just throw the bottles into the old yacht you use as a garbage can. But a moderate amount of wine should do you fine in your compost heap, and, ideally, get a few bugs unwittingly sloshed.

Drink It?

OK, so this one doesn’t always apply — the rule with wine being, drink it if you like the way it tastes. But if it’s not too far gone, meaning someone will have to take a daring sip, your leftover wine could be mixable in something with multiple, powerfully flavored components, like a spiced hot punch or Sangria.

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