What Is Bottle Shock (and How Do You Fix It)?

What Is Bottle Shock (and How Do You Fix It)?


Illustration by Rebecca Bradley

Bottle shock, sometimes called “bottle sickness,” describes a recently packaged or shipped wine that tastes temporarily “dumb,” or with aromas and flavors that have seemingly shut down. It often occurs in wines that have been jostled for an extended period, like when it goes from tank or barrel through the bottling line, or when it’s shipped a significant distance.

If you drive home from your local retail shop with a few wines in your trunk, you won’t cause bottle shock. But when a wine has traveled some distance over several days from the winery, to the shipper, and then to your home, it can get unsettled.

Wines that have traveled overseas by container are especially susceptible. If you ship several bottles internationally to drink soon, let them rest at least a week before opening.

Even so, some wines will simply refuse to open up. How do you spot them?

They won’t have much, if any, aromatics. Depending on the variety or blend, you might expect standard scents in a young white wine, like fruits, especially citrus and flowers. Aromas in red wines include black fruits, toast and coffee.

If you sniff and get nothing, followed by very little flavor, it may suffer from bottle shock. The fruit will seem transient or thin, the finish muted.
That said, there shouldn’t be any obvious flaws like off scents or funky flavors. Bottle shock has no scientific definition, nor is it caused by any bacteria or yeast.

So, what’s the fix? Mainly, more time. Some wineries include a note in their club shipments to wait a week or two before opening a bottle. It’s worth it to ask when a young wine was bottled. If it was bottled within the last couple of months and then shipped, it may require a few weeks or even months to settle back down.

Sometimes, a wine will open up more quickly with aggressive aeration or decanting. Usually, that will fix a reductive wine or one bottled with a little too much sulfur dioxide, and it may help it come out of shock.

The best solution for bottle shock is to avoid it entirely. Always treat your cellared wines carefully and avoid too much movement or vibration.