4 Reasons Why Your Wine Smells Like Vinegar

If you’re making your own homemade wine and check on the bottle, and it smells like vinegar, you should throw it away. This smell indicates that something went wrong during the fermentation process, so it’s better that you start over. But what made it smell like that?

There are many reasons why your wine smells like vinegar. The smell means that the wine wasn’t made correctly, was stored improperly, or oxidation occurred. Depending on what happened to it, you might be able to save the wine, but doing so is not always possible.

This article closely examines why your wine might smell like vinegar and the four most common causes of this issue. If you make your own at home, you’ll want to know these reasons so you can avoid them. Read on to learn more!

1. The Wine Wasn’t Prepared Correctly

If your wine smells like vinegar, it is most likely because it wasn’t prepared correctly. It’s tough to ferment wine for too long, but you can still do so if it is in an unclean environment. In such situations, the equipment you use can spread bacteria to the beverage.

Acetobacter is the bacteria that attack wine and causes it to oxidize, which converts alcohol into acetic acid. When this happens, your wine is on the path to becoming vinegar. However, it’s easy to prevent this from happening by sanitizing everything your wine will touch first.

You need to be careful when sanitizing all of your brewing equipment before starting the process. If there’s even a tiny amount of Acetobacter present, it could quickly multiply in the wine, leading to the vinegar scent. If this happens, there is saving your wine.

Acetobacter isn’t harmful to humans, but it makes wine more acidic, leaving a burning sensation in your throat if you still drink it. It’s very unpleasant, which is why many people simply let their wine convert into authentic vinegar or start over with the brewing process if this bacteria contaminates their fermenting wine.

Overall, make sure you deep clean your brewing tools before you start. Many new winemakers make this mistake, ruining their first batches of wine immediately.

How To Sanitize Brewing Equipment

Knowing how to sanitize your brewing equipment accurately is essential. When you do it correctly, your wine should turn out perfectly. These are the cleaning steps you need to follow:

  1. Pre-rinse the equipment with water up to 125°F (52°C). 
  2. Use the correct concentration of sanitizing liquid.
  3. Avoid soaking the equipment for long periods.
  4. Use something very soft (like a microfiber cloth) to scrub the equipment with your sanitizing solution. Sponges can scratch the tools, leaving spaces for bacteria to form, so take care.
  5. Wash all tools twice.
  6. Rinse the equipment.
  7. Allow equipment to dry.
  8. Inspect the equipment, and repeat the above steps if it still has a strong smell.

You can also sanitize all of your tools using heat. To do this, you can clean the tools in a dishwasher or oven that reaches high temperatures. This method is the easiest if your tools are dishwasher-safe since most appliances come with a reliable sanitizing cycle.

Sanitizing your tools between uses gives you the best chance at success with homebrewing since most issues come from bacteria forming in the bottle. Plus, you can drink your wine confidently, knowing that you prepared it well.

2. The Wine Wasn’t Stored Properly

Wine naturally becomes vinegar when oxygen gets inside the bottle, so if you don’t store or seal it right, this can happen quickly. This issue is especially prevalent with homemade wine since you won’t use as many preserving elements as a store-bought brand.

You’ll need to make sure you use a good cork and store the bottle lying on its side. When stored on its side, the cork remains wet, which creates a much better seal than if you were to leave it sitting up. This will help prevent air from getting inside the bottle.

When the air does get inside a wine bottle, it causes the wine to start fermenting faster, which leads to vinegar creation. To avoid this, you must know how to recork your wine to store your brews properly. 

Once you’ve created a tight seal, you’ll want to ensure you put it somewhere safe. For wine, I recommend keeping it in a dark, cool place without the risk of temperature fluctuations. 

Overall, there are several factors that can impact the taste of your wine, including how you store it.

Best Ways To Store Your Wine

Mason jars are excellent for storing wine because they’re made of glass and have a tight seal. After fermenting it, you can move the wine into the mason jars, then store them in a dark, cool place. You should keep them in a wine fridge for the best results.

These fridges can be pricey, but they let you control the environment and make them perfect for homemade wine. You can easily adjust the light, temperature, and even humidity conditions. Plus, they’re convenient to use, and many can hold a lot of wine.

That said, you can still store your wine easily if you don’t have one. 

Many people keep their wine under the stairs, in a cellar, or in the pantry since these areas stay dark and shouldn’t fluctuate in temperature very much. The kitchen is usually too volatile in temperature changes to consider.

Finally, make sure you label your wine before you store it. You want to include the exact date and year, so you’ll know exactly when you made it. Since you’ll likely keep your wine for a long time, it’s very easy to forget brewing dates unless you write them down.

Make sure to add the date you open the wine to the container. You can avoid letting it sit for too long, which can lead to the vinegar smell. You should drink your wine a few days after opening it, even if using a mason jar instead of a traditional cork and wine bottle.

3. There Are Oxidation Issues

Oxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs in improperly sealed wine bottles. As air enters the wine, it causes many problems, including changing the color of the wine and giving it a vinegary smell and taste. It also prevents the wine from developing its whole flavor body.

Over-oxidation can be a severe problem when homebrewing your wine, so you’ll want to watch for it constantly. 

White wine tends to over-oxidize faster than red, so you’ll want to keep a stricter eye on it. 

Despite oxygen-causing issues, you must aerate the homemade wine correctly when serving it. Once you open the bottle, try to drink all the wine within three to five days to avoid it converting into vinegar. You should put the cork back in when not aerating the bottle for a drink.

This quick YouTube video covers how to aerate your wine without over-oxidating it:

Preventing Premature Oxidation in Wine

When you store wine for a long time, and it becomes stale, it’s known as premature oxidation. It can happen at any point during fermentation or storage.

The best way to prevent this is to use a strong seal. Your wine needs to be in an airtight glass container – if too much oxygen gets in, a chemical reaction ruins your wine by making it smell like vinegar.

To prevent premature oxidation, you should also avoid extensive oxygen exposure during fermenting and aging. If the wine evaporates from your barrels, you should add more to keep it full. I recommend doing this at least one time per month.

Additionally, you can include sulfur dioxide in your wine mixture. This ingredient has an antimicrobial effect, which prevents over-oxidation and keeps the wine fresh.

If you’re using a wine kit, you’ll want to watch this YouTube video to understand when premature oxidation occurs in these products, as well as the expiration dates on the packaging:

4. The Cork Is Defective

After the initial fermenting process ends, you’ll need to let the wine spend time in the bottle. As the drink ages, it develops a better flavor, so you can’t skip this step when you want good results.

However, that means you must ensure that you use a proper cork. Defective corks can cause many issues, including letting mold or bacteria in the wine. So it’s worth scrutinizing them before you use them.

Defective corks can also let in too much air, leading to over-oxidating, which causes your wine to smell like vinegar. If the cork doesn’t make a tight seal, you must choose a different one.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to spot defective corks, and they’re not that common. Here are some common signs:

  • There are holes that go the whole way through the cork.
  • The cork is starting to crumble.
  • The cork has dents or cracks.
  • The cork has expanded before sealing the bottle.
  • The cork has a strange, musty smell.

Taking Care of Wine Corks

After going through the trouble of sterilizing your equipment, you don’t want to introduce bacteria to the wine through your cork. That’s why it’s essential that you also sanitize the cork before you seal the bottle.

This process is quick and easy. Start by taking your corks and boiling them in a pot of water. The heat cleans them while also expanding them back into their original shape, which is helpful when you reuse your corks.

After adding the corks to the boiling water, let them sit for 10 minutes. Then, remove them using a strainer and sit them on a clean paper towel to cool down. Once you can handle them safely without burning yourself, you can insert them into your wine bottles.

So, if you go through all the trouble to sterilize your brewing equipment, don’t forget the wine bottles and corks at the end. They can introduce bacteria to your completed brew, rendering all of your effort meaningless.

Is It Okay To Drink Vinegary Wine?

It’s okay to drink vinegary wine in small amounts, although you probably won’t enjoy how it tastes. The bacteria that turns wine into vinegar isn’t harmful to people. However, the smell and taste can be shocking if you expect a fruity wine.

So, while it’s not unsafe to drink vinegary wine, you probably won’t want to. Most people dispose of their failed brewing attempts or let them fully convert into vinegar for cooking instead. You’ll want to review vinegar recipes if you’re going to do the latter since it can take varying amounts of time. 

For instance, it can take between two weeks and two months for vinegar to become wine, depending on what it started as. You may also need to include more ingredients to help the process along.

To summarize, a wine that smells like vinegar shouldn’t hurt you, but it will taste awful!

Why Did My Wine Turn Into Vinegar?

Your wine can turn into vinegar if oxygen reacts with the liquid. This usually happens when you don’t sanitize your equipment or store the wine incorrectly by not laying it down on its side. All wine can turn into vinegar when you let it ferment.

Most of the time, you can’t over-ferment wine, although it can become vinegar in the right conditions. This process occurs when there’s a chemical reaction with oxygen in the bottle or there’s the presence of certain bacteria.

Vinegar is the next natural step after your brew reaches the wine stage. Bacteria and oxidation can cause the wine to start transforming into vinegar. As you brew more often, you’ll get a better sense of timing with your wines.

To prevent your wine from becoming vinegar, you’ll need to sanitize your brewing tools and include an antimicrobial agent, such as sulfur dioxide, in your recipe. Then, store your wine correctly after fermentation finishes.

Overall, it’s normal for wine to become vinegar eventually. This process is more likely to happen with homemade wines, so you’ll want to take care while creating your batch. The cleaner your equipment, the less likely you will have these issues.

About HomeBrewAdvice

Hello, my name is Simon. Together with a group of writers I write about brewing beer and making wine. We all share a passion for the great things in life, such as making stuff from scratch.

The business of HomeBrewAdvice is to bring you great information, stories and product reviews from brewing at home, and making wine


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