‘Bottle shock,’ also sometimes referred to as bottle sickness, is a temporary condition in a wine where its flavors are muted or disjointed. There are two main scenarios when bottle shock can set in - either right after bottling, or when wines are shaken in travel. Usually a few days of rest is the cure for your wine. The evidence for this phenomenon is more anecdotal than scientific, but the theory is that all the complex elements in wine (phenolics, tannins, and compounds) are constantly evolving, both on their own and in relation to each other. Heat or motion can add stress to this evolution, causing the wine to shut down temporarily.
One reason many wine lovers may be familiar with this term is due to the film “Bottle Shock,” about the Judgment of Paris. On May 24, 1976, some of the finest wines in France were put up against unknown California wines in a blind taste test. The French wines were supposed to win by a landslide, but the Napa Valley, California red and white wines took the win. This title came with a double meaning, for the crowd and judges would be shocked by the outcome and destination of the winning wine bottles, and there was a slight instance of bottle shock in the event which was included in the film.
The bottle shock incident occurred when the California wine bottler's Chardonnay turned to a brown color for 24 hours. Thankfully the producer was familiar with bottle shock and how it can happen when wine is first bottled, so he gave it time to rest and it returned to its original state. Of course this film has its dramatic Hollywood edits, but it is based on a true event that gave hope to winemakers around the world that they too can be great and recognized wine producers.
The taste of bottle shocked wine isn’t going to taste like corked or oxidized wine, but rather has its own distinction. In a corked wine the presence of the chemical compound released from the cork gives the wine a soggy, rotten cardboard taste. An oxidized bottle of wine occurs when the bottle is exposed to sunlight, begins turning a brown shade, and tastes vinegary and stale. Bottle shocked wine however, just seems flat. It tastes as though the flavors aren’t melding the way they should be and are out of sync with one another. So instead of a particularly bad taste, it gives off a rather bland taste in which you cant experience the defined flavors you would expect to taste.
Unfortunately, if you have already opened a bottle of bottle-shocked wine, there isn’t much you can do. However, if you have more bottles of the same wine be sure to leave those and let them rest and return to their original form. If you have reason to believe your bottle of wine was shaken or recently bottled, don’t rush to open it and maybe opt for a different bottle until you can be sure that one is rested and ready to drink. Just as you need to watch out for young freshly bottled wine, you also need to pay attention to older bottles of wine, for they are the most susceptible for bottle shock when jostled.
Our love for wine from across the country and around the world has consequences, like bottle shock, since transportation mediums can’t necessarily treat every bottle like a baby, but as long as you allow your wine time to rest and recover, you should have no problem experiencing the enchanting flavors and aromas the wine was intended to produce.
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