Ask Wine Wizard

I’ve heard homemade wines go bad after two years. What causes that and how can I prevent it?


Tom Alton — Grand Island, Neb. asks,

I’ve heard homemade wines go bad after two years. What causes that and how can I prevent it?


As Miss Manners would say, “Do not despair, gentle reader.” It is absolutely a falsehood that homemade wine “goes bad” after two years. It has just as much potential for staying power as the greatest grand crus in the world. It is simply that we humble home winemakers usually don’t have access to the raw materials that many commercial wineries do. Excellent grapes can make excellent wines, and the sad truth of the matter is that many home winemakers start out with mediocre or poor-quality materials, either in the form of unripe orchard fruits or kits that are flavorless, unbalanced, or way past their sell-by date. Check your home winemaking retailer for recommendations on kits.

However depressing of a situation that might seem, home winemakers the world over are still able to make some extremely age-worthy wines that will still be worth drinking in 10 years. It’s just a question of building quality and stability into every stage of production that the wine goes through. Though that may sound like a huge generalization that is very hard to put one’s finger on, some winemakers have found a “recipe” for success that works for them. Even though there’s no magic bullet that works wonders across all wines, many winemakers find that the key to longevity is a balance between adequate acidity (some like pHs of 3.3 to 3.6), high enough alcohol content (12 percent and above), microbiological stability, and proper storage. Heat, light, oxygen, and microbes are some of wine’s worst enemies while aging. All care should be taken to store wine bottles on their sides in a cool, dark, and relatively humid environment. Being a conscientious winemaker who pays attention to all of the above factors and isn’t afraid of putting in some long hours is the first step on the road to making great wines.

Response by Alison Crowe.