I get this question all the time. A person finds a bottle of wine stashed in a back attic corner or in the basement. It's from 1950 or some earlier year. They are curious to try the wine - but want to know if it will poison them or something.
The simple answer is DRINK IT. People have bottles of wine that have been saved since the 1920s or even before that, that they treasure and drink on special occasions. Wine is an alcohol. The alcohol keeps bacteria and other nasty things from growing in it. You are generally safe in drinking it.
A separate question is will you ENJOY drinking the wine. Only certain wines were meant to age. Most wines are NOT meant to age. If you have a "touristy bottle" like a Chianti-in-a-basket or a Portuguese-wine-in-a-basket, those were never sold because they were tasty in the first place. They were sold as decorations, really. White Zinfandels were meant to be drunk immediately, not even aged for more than a year. There is a gigantic percentage of wine bottles that go old in a year or two, never mind decades.
Even for wines that were meant to age - say fine Burgundies or Bordeaux wine - they only age well when stored properly. They need to be at an even, cool temperature. They need to be on their side, so the cork doesn't dry out and let in air. They need to be kept away from sunlight. You could have the most perfect bottle of wine for aging and still have it taste awful because of bad storage conditions.
Still, even if the wine was ruined, it won't kill you. It'll just taste like vinegar.
If the wine is still good, it probably needs to be decanted. Keep reading below to make sure you study up on decanting, so you give your wine a best chance at tasting good.
Anyway, to summarize, I say - open the bottle! Have a fun party and see what you get. Even if it's not tasty, it's still an adventure to taste a wine from that era.
To cover all your bases, I recommend having some sangria mixers on hand. That way if the wine isn't great on its own, you can add in some fruit and tasty alcohol like Grand Marnier. Suddenly that not-so-great wine might be fairly nice!
What Is My Old Bottle of Wine Worth?
On a related note, people often ask, "what is this old bottle of wine worth?"
The only thing a wine is worth is what someone will pay for it. Few people will pay for an old bottle that they cannot guarantee has been stored well. It's most likely vinegar.
That being said, when people buy a bottle signed by Thomas Jefferson, they don't care what it tastes like. It's a collector's item. If someone's grandparent was born in 1950 in Italy, and you have a basket-bottle from 1950, they might adore it.
So it all depends if your bottle is a cool collector's item that someone wants, or if it's just an old bottle of vinegar that people are not interested. Searching on ebay and other similar sites can often give you a ballpark of what to expect. If it's something truly special, talk to one of the many wine auction houses on the web to get a quote. But you'll need to be able to offer some proof that the wine was stored properly, in order to get a good price.
Remember, before you open that old bottle, make sure you read:
Decanting a Bottle of Wine
How Much is my Old Wine Bottle Worth?
Wine Basics Main Page
All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.