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7 Common Reasons Why Your Wine Turn Brown & How to Fix It

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Have you ever opened a bottle of white or red wine and, after a glass, either corked it or simply shoved it into the fridge for a rainy day? What a surprise when that same bottle of wine now holds a liquid that tastes bad and looks brown. There are 7 common reasons why your wine turns brown and how to fix it.

7 Common reasons wine turns brown are

  • Oxidation after being opened and left uncorked 
  • Exposure to direct sunlight 
  • Fluctuating storage temperatures
  • The age of the wine
  • A lower pH level of the wine 
  • A dried up or damaged cork
  • A refrigerated bottle that is left in the heat

Why, then, when the movies depict a treasure hunter that finds a cellar full of old wines, they make it seem that wines are perfect and can last forever? Only select grapes can yield a wine that can last for centuries, but it’s not the type of wine you buy at the supermarket. Let us delve into why your wine turns brown if you can indeed fix it.

Can Wine Turn Brown?
Can Wine Turn Brown?

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Can Wine Turn Brown?

Any wine that is open for prolonged periods or stored in direct light or sunlight can turn brown. Red and white wines turn different shades of brown due to the difference in pH. White grapes tend to yield a higher acidity and pH and start browning much faster.

Red Wine

Red wine can turn brown. The correct term for red wine changing color is called browning. The color tends to resemble brick red more than brown in red wine.

Red wine can turn brown at around 4 years of storage if the conditions are not optimal. Typically, red wine takes longer to turn brown compared to white wine.

White Wine

White wines can turn brown but usually turn a dark burnt vanilla, orange-brown shade. Typically, white wine has more acidity than red wine.

The acidity level in white wine can prevent it from turning a very dark shade of brown. Even though white wine does not turn a dark shade of brown, it does turn faster than red wine and gives off a sour aroma and vinegar taste. 

Why Did My Wine Turn Brown?

There are several well-documented accounts of wine being discovered after being stored for centuries. Wines found in monasteries, tombs, or preserved in ancient cellars seem perfectly fine and ready to enjoy. Why then did my store-bought wine turn brown?

Firstly, the grapes used for the wine may not be of high quality. The cheaper wines are either blends or leftover wines that didn’t make the cut.

Secondly, the cheaper the wine, the cheaper the storage. Wineries will not spend money on expensive glass or world-class cooling rooms for wine below $12 a bottle retail. 

Red Wine

Red wine can start to oxidize within two hours of being opened. If you open a bottle that has a cork and don’t close it again with a cork replacement, the oxygen will start to break down the wine. Your red wine turned brown due to the following potential situations:

  • The bottle was left uncorked for more than four hours. The oxidation process starts immediately after opening.
  • The bottle was stored in fluctuating temperatures, not in a controlled environment like a wine cellar or cold room.
  • The bottle was stored in direct sunlight or a high light area for a prolonged period.
  • The bottle was refrigerated after opening and then left outside at room temperature.
  • It’s a cheap red wine that is not meant to get better with age. Typically cheaper grape varieties or a young harvest make cheaper red wines.
  • The cork dried up and allowed oxygen to enter, starting the oxidation process.

White Wine

Because the acidity in white wines is naturally higher, it will take around 2 days for an open bottle of white wine to turn darker.

By now, the wine will have a stronger, more vinegar-like smell. The taste will have a sour aftertaste. Your white wine turned brown due to the following potential situations-

  • The bottle was left uncorked for under two hours, and the oxidation process will start immediately.
  • The bottle was stored in direct sunlight or a high-light area. Usually, white wines are consumed chilled, so they should not be allowed at room temperature again once the bottle is cold. 
  • The bottle was not refrigerated after opening. 
  • The cork dried up and allowed oxygen to enter, starting the oxidation process.

TIP: I wrote this great article on how to store wine with a cork that you will certainly learn from. To learn how to store wine without a cork, then this article will be your resource.

What Makes Wine Turn Brown?

The main factors that make wine turn brown are oxidation, poor storage, cheap blends, and age. Other factors can play a role in this process and are specific to the wine color and grape used. Let’s look at the main culprits or factors that can turn each wine brown.

Red Wine

  • Oxidation – The red wine is exposed to oxygen, and this happens once the cork is removed, breaking the airtight seal. If it is possible to re-cork the wine, it should be done as soon as possible after the wine has been opened to reduce the exposure.
  • Old corks – Corks that age and dry up allow oxygen to enter the bottle. Because a cork is a condensed type of wood, it is affected by climatic changes. The more humid the storage, the more the cork will stay swollen. The corks will become brittle, crack, and shrink in dryer climates, allowing oxygen into the bottle. For long-term storage, corks are replaced every 20-25 years. 
  • Wine with a higher pH value will turn brown faster than wine with a low pH. Typically red wines take longer to turn brown than white wine. 
  • Viticulture aspects like the soil, climate, and production methods. The best regions for grapes have always been France, Italy, Argentina, and Spain. The soil quality is so rich that it produces record harvests each year. The viticulture methods have been passed down for generations. 
  • The type and color of the grape or grapes. Certain varieties like the Grands Crus and Premiers Crus that grow in Burgandy, Eastern France, can be successfully stored for centuries. Their oldest bottled harvest is from 1846.
  • The way the bottles are stored long-term will determine a great deal in terms of aging and oxidation. Usually, wines are stored with the bottleneck facing down so that the wine and cork make contact keeping it moist. 
  • The temperature of a wine cellar or warehouse where the wine is stored should be between 52-57°F or as close as possible. If you have a temperature-controlled room or cellar, chances are you can store your wines for decades. If you do not have such a facility, create a space in your basement or in a closet.

White Wine

  • White wine that has a lower pH will turn brown faster. Usually, white wines have a much higher pH and acidity, but lower quality white wines or blends will not last more than 2 days. An easy way to tell would be to look at the color glass and the price. Clear glass and a low price mean the wine will oxidize fast.
  • Old and dry or damaged corks will allow oxygen to enter, and the oxidation process will start. The white wine turns brown and may smell and taste like vinegar even if re-corked. The corks in older vintage wines were typically organic, but today many winemakers opt for synthetic corks or a screw-on bottle top. Wine purists frown upon this practice, but it is cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Polyethelene corks also greatly reduce the risk of “cork taint.”
  • Palomino Fino and Palomino Basto are classed as white grapes but produce a darker color in the finished product. They are typically used for producing sherry but are sometimes added into largely blended wines. The presence of the Palomino Fino can cause a white wine to turn darker more rapidly.
  • White wine is typically bottled in clear,  pale green, or brown bottles that allow more light to enter. Direct light or sunlight will alter the color of the wine significantly. Cheap, store-bought white wines bottled in clear glass are meant for immediate use. They have less than 10% UV protection and cannot be stored long. White wines that are made from better grapes or blends are stored in green or light brown glass to prevent light damage and can be stored for a few years.

TIP: Once you pop the cork, most wines go bad within a day or so. But a Coravin Wine Preservation system (available for a great price on Amazon) can extend the life of your opened wine for weeks or even months. It is awesome. You should check it out and see if it will fit into your lifestyle.

Can You Fix Wine That Turned Brown?

Can You Fix Wine That Turned Brown?
Can You Fix Wine That Turned Brown?

If you have the patience to try and rescue a batch of browing wine, the basic equipment, and a bit of math savvy, one method using powdered skim milk is tried and tested. It might not work for every batch of browning wine, but it is worth trying. 

Other fining methods include the use of fish bladders and egg whites. It’s important to note that should you have an anaphylactic type allergy to any of these products, you should opt for a vegan-friendly wine

The De-Browing Procedure Using Skimmed Milk Powder:

Step 1 – For each liter of wine that needs treatment, you should measure 0.5 grams of powdered skimmed milk. For each measurement, add that to 5l of cold spring water.

Stir the skimmed milk solution until it is thoroughly dissolved. Important Note – Do not use full cream/whole milk or malted milk powder as it will completely alter the end result. 

Step 2 – Bring the wine SO2 level up in line with the pH. You can do this by using potassium metabisulfite. There are two methods for testing the SO2 and will require a bit of scientific knowledge.

Step 3 – Stir the wine in the container vigorously. While the wine is swirling in the container, pour the skimmed milk in a single, steady stream into the wine.

Pouring the skimmed milk solution ensures it reaches below the surface, which is very important for even distribution and binding with all the wine. There is a chance the wine may foam, but it is normal, continue to stir until it is well distributed. Next, curds will develop, settling over a few days.

Step 4 – Seal the container airtight and leave the wine to settle for 3 days. If you want a wine that closely resembles the original product, you can prepare a fining agent to add to the wine. There are four types of fining agents available to DIY winemakers: Ionic, enzymatic, electrostatic, and absorbent.

  • Ionic fining agents are copper sulfate and polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP). These are best used with an electrostatic fining agent for binding unwanted compounds in wine.
  • Electrostatic fining agents are the naturally occurring compounds on particles that attract clusters of oppositely charged particles. For the most part, fining agents fall into this category. They are either positively or negatively charged.
  • Enzymatic fining agents like pectinase are naturally occurring in the cell walls of certain plants and fruits. Pectinase is responsible for breaking down larger carbohydrates that cause fruit wines to appear hazy.
  • Absorbant fining agents such as yeasts and activated charcoal made from organic coconut husks are rare. They are, however, highly effective in adsorbing unwanted characteristics in the wine. 

Step 5 – Sterilize all the equipment before you begin Step #6. You can purchase sterilized equipment or use suggested methods at home.

Usually, sterilized equipment will arrive vacuum sealed and certified. If you are fining a large batch of wine, the best option would be to opt for pre-sterilized equipment and bottles.

Always wear the correct PPE or Personal Protective Equipment whenever working with wine. This will prevent any hairs, skin cells, or bodily fluids from contaminating the wine.

Step 6 – After the 3 days have passed, you need to rack off the wine using a siphon. Use a sterile carboy or demijohn to house the new wine. Leave a small amount of the wine in the primary bottle as there should still be sediment at the bottom.

After this process, you can add the fining agent and close it with a bubbler or airlock. Store it in a cool place for around 3 days and repeat the racking-off process. Once that is done, repeat the process and let the wine stand for 10 additional days. Rack once more, and after filtering it, bottle and seal. 

Note * The main aim would be to avoid the wine oxidizing again, so you should check the wine regularly. Follow the steps precisely and ensure the pH and sulfite levels are in line. After the bubbler or airlock has done its part during the process, you need to seal the bottles airtight. 

TIP: For a complete guide on storing and serving sparkling wines the right way, please check out this helpful article I wrote.

Conclusion

Unless you plan to spend upwards of $5000 for a 100-year olf bottle of wine, chances are you will experience the browning phenomenon of store-bought red or white wine at least once in your lifetime. If it is a single bottle, no harm is done when it turns brown, and you can simply discard the wine and, next time, cork it immediately.

 However, if you snapped up several cases on a special and the oxidation has begun, you can save yourself a lot of heartache and money by trying the de-browning method discussed. 

TIP: For a complete list of wine products and accessories I really love, check out this page. You’ll find my recommendations for wine refrigerators, wine decanters, and wine aerators, along with the best place to buy wine online. Click here to see the complete listing.