Does wine naturally turn to vinegar?

Answered by Louis Krause

does not naturally turn into vinegar. Vinegar is actually the result of a specific process called acetification, in which is converted into acetic acid by the action of bacteria known as acetobacter. The bacteria consume the alcohol and produce acetic acid as a byproduct, giving vinegar its characteristic sour taste.

However, wine can turn into vinegar if certain conditions are met. One of the main factors that can cause this transformation is exposure to oxygen. Wine is typically stored in a sealed bottle with a cork to prevent oxygen from entering. If the cork is defective or of poor quality, it may not create an airtight seal, allowing oxygen to slowly seep into the bottle. Once inside, the oxygen reacts with the alcohol in the wine, leading to the formation of acetic acid and the conversion of wine into vinegar.

Another factor that can contribute to the spoilage of wine is improper storage. Wine is traditionally stored on its side, with the liquid in contact with the cork. This position helps keep the cork moist, which in turn helps maintain a tight seal and prevents excessive oxygen exposure. If wine is stored upright, the cork can dry out, become brittle, and lose its ability to effectively seal the bottle. This increases the chances of oxygen infiltration and the potential for the wine to turn into vinegar.

It is worth noting that some wines are more prone to turning into vinegar than others. Wines with higher levels of acidity and lower levels of alcohol are generally more resistant to acetification. However, even wines with these characteristics can still spoil if exposed to prolonged and excessive oxygen contact.

Personal experience:

As a sommelier and brewer, I have encountered instances where expensive, aged bottles of wine have turned into vinegar. In one particular incident, a customer brought in a bottle of Bordeaux from their private collection, which they had stored upright in a cabinet for several years. Upon opening the bottle, the aroma was unmistakably vinegar-like, and the taste confirmed that the wine had indeed turned. It was a disappointment for the customer, who had been eagerly anticipating enjoying a fine aged wine.

To prevent such situations, it is important to store wine properly. This includes ensuring that the cork is of good quality and creating a tight seal, as well as storing the bottles on their sides to keep the cork moist. Additionally, it is advisable to regularly inspect stored bottles for any signs of leakage or damage to the cork.

While wine does not naturally turn into vinegar, it can spoil and taste like vinegar if oxygen enters the bottle and reacts with the alcohol. This can occur due to defective or poor-quality corks, as well as storing wine upright instead of on its side. Proper storage techniques and attention to the condition of the cork can help prevent the transformation of wine into vinegar and preserve its quality for enjoyment.