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Can Sherry Go Bad?

Almost everyone has a few unopened bottles of wine sitting in the pantry or in the far back corner of a cabinet in the kitchen. We receive wine on various occasions, so if you’re not a wine lover, the bottles usually sit around for months or even years at a time. Same thing with sherry wine.

And at a certain point, maybe during the spring cleaning, you go through those bottles only to notice that some of them are near or even past the date on the label. Can sherry go bad?

Sherry glasses in front of chess board
Sherry glasses in front of chess board

Or perhaps you’re using sherry mostly for cooking, and a typical bottle sits opened in your fridge for a few weeks at a time. Now that you’ve temporarily cut back on the dishes that call for sherry, you’re wondering if there are better ways of preserving it than keeping it closed in the fridge.

In other words, you’re thinking about freezing it, but you’re not quite sure if that will work out of not.

In short, if you have an unopened or opened bottle of sherry you’re not quite sure what to do about, this article is for you. I won’t give you any recipes, as you can find these easily, but I will cover storage methods and going bad.

After reading this, you should know what’s the best course of action for your sherry. If that sounds interesting, read on.

Sanchez Romate NPU Amontillado Sherry
Image used under Creative Commons from Dominic Lockyer

Can Sherry Go Bad? How Long Does Sherry Last?

Sherry is a fortified wine ([WIKI]), which pretty much means it’s a wine with additional alcohol added. And you know they say that wine gets better with age. Well, that’s a myth, mostly ([WS]).

Unless the wine is made specifically for aging, it’s better fresh than after sitting in the pantry for a couple of years. And so is your bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry or any other relatively inexpensive sherry out there.

If you bought the sherry in the supermarket, it won’t get better over time. That doesn’t mean the wine is of poor quality, that’s just how things work.

Sherry glasses and pralines in a bowl
Sherry glasses and pralines in a bowl

Okay, so we’ve established that in almost all cases your sherry won’t age that well. But that doesn’t mean it will go bad quickly. The general rule is that the flavor of the sherry will gradually change and fade. Thus a fresh sherry should be close to perfect, and over time it’s slowly getting somewhat worse.

How long does it take until sherry tastes bad or stale? Well, that depends on the type of sherry you’ve got.

Some types of sherry, such as Fino and Manzanilla, are aged in barrels in a different way than others ([SN]). And that makes them more unstable. These types are best if you drink them fresh, ideally when you get home with the bottle. And don’t let an opened bottle sit in the fridge for more than a few days, because the flavor will change. Of course, it won’t go bad if you store it for a few months in the pantry before enjoying it, but the taste definitely won’t be optimal.

Other types are much more stable, and you can easily store them unopened even for a few years. And once you open the bottle, there’s no hurry. Fortified wine typically retains flavor much better than wine, so you don’t need to rush the bottle. It can sit in the fridge for a month or two, or sometimes even longer ([SN]).

Christmas sherry in cut glass goblet on a table
Christmas sherry in cut glass goblet on a table

When in doubt, check the best-by or best-before date on the label. It should be a reasonably good indicator of whether that sherry is one of the long lasting ones or not. But even if it’s way past that date, it still makes sense to open the bottle and check out its contents. Chances are the sherry will still be usable, even if for cooking only.

Okay, let’s get back to the main question of whether sherry can go bad or not. Well, if you store it well, it won’t spoil in a way that drinking it is unsafe.

But if it sits around for too long, its taste will flatten and become somewhat stale. And if that happens, it’s time to discard the bottle. Let your nose and taste buds be your guide when it comes to quality. If the sherry is still good enough, feel free to enjoy it.

Glass of wine

Image used under Creative Commons from

How To Store Sherry? Do You Have To Refrigerate Sherry After Opening?

Storage of sherry is quite similar to the storage of any other wine. What an unopened bottle of sherry needs is a cool and dark place, with a relatively stable temperature ([SN]). And the bottle should stand upright.

In such conditions, the alcoholic beverage should last quite a long time in okay quality. Unless, of course, it’s one of the unstable varieties.

Once you open the bottle, the most important thing to do is to keep it sealed tightly. Use the original cork or a wine stopper if the cork doesn’t fit. Or any other thing to keep the bottle closed, including pouring the sherry into another container that you can seal.

Bottles of various wines
(credit: Alain)

Now to whether or not you have to refrigerate sherry upon opening. Well, technically you don’t ([SN]). But while a cool pantry with stable temperature is good enough for storage, it definitely isn’t ideal. The fridge is a much better choice, especially for the volatile varieties.

If you decide to keep the sherry at room temperature, try to finish the opened bottle within a week or two for the best experience. If you expect to store it for an extended period, the refrigerator is a much better choice.

But what if you drink or use sherry only occasionally, and have an open bottle that you don’t expect to finish anytime soon? The only solution to that is freezing the leftover sherry, but it comes with its own caveats.

Can You Freeze Sherry?

Before we talk about whether freezing sherry makes sense or not, let’s first make sure that’s even possible in a typical freezer. As you probably know, alcohol has a much lower freezing temperature than water. Thus the more alcohol in the solution, the lower the temperature that’s needed to freeze it.

Since sherry usually contains between 15 and 20 percent of alcohol (by volume), it requires a temperature of 15°F (or -9°C) ([GC]) or lower to freeze. Because of that, if your freezer is set to the recommended temperature of 0°F (-18°C) ([FDA]), freezing this alcohol shouldn’t be an issue.

Now it’s time to consider if freezing sherry actually makes sense or not. First and foremost, alcohols generally don’t benefit from freezing. On the contrary, freezing slightly changes the taste, and people tend to find the frozen and thawed ones somewhat off. Sherry is no different in that regard.

If you want to freeze sherry to drink it later, it’s not the best idea out there.

But if you know your way around a kitchen, you might be using wine, or even sherry specifically, for cooking. And if that’s the case, then freezing sherry is definitely an option. It won’t be as good as “fresh” sherry but should work just fine in cooked recipes.

When it comes to how to freeze the alcohol, using an ice cube tray is the way to go. Pour the liquid in the tray, and freeze. Once cubes are frozen, transfer them into a freezer bag. Now you have a bunch of sherry cubes than you can easily scoop whenever needed.

Thaw the cubes either in the fridge or by tossing it right into whatever you’re cooking.

In a Nutshell

  • Most supermarket-bought sherry doesn’t age well, so storing it for years so it “gets better” doesn’t work
  • Fino and Manzanilla sherry should be enjoyed as fresh as possible, almost all other types can sit unopened for even a few years without any major taste changes
  • Once you open the bottle, it’s best to keep it refrigerated
  • Unless you got one of the unstable sherries mentioned above, sherry in an opened should keep quality at least for a month or two