Bottle shock, also called bottle sickness, occurs when a wine is disturbed during bottling, packaging, or shipping. This can distort aroma and flavors, leading to what some in the industry refer to as a “dumb” wine. Taking a bottle of your favorite wine several miles to a friend’s house is not likely to cause bottle shock, but if a bottle has been jostled for an extended period, you may notice a significant change in its flavor profile.
The theory behind bottle shock is that changes in vibration or temperature can influence the natural evolution of tannins, phenolics, and compounds—the complex elements that make a wine taste and smell a certain way. These elements are constantly evolving. If they are exposed to significant environmental changes, the wine may temporarily “shut down.” Bottle shock is more common in older wines, which are more fragile.
How to Spot Bottle Shock
You can spot bottle shock in a wine that doesn’t seem to open up. When you open a red wine, you may expect aromas like black fruit, pepper, toast, or coffee. With whites, you might experience floral, fruit, or citrus. If you open a wine and smell nothing, it may have fallen victim to bottle shock. When you taste it, the flavors will be muted or thin. You won’t necessarily experience an aroma or flavor that seems off, like the must or mold of a corked wine or a wine that’s gone bad. This is because bottle shock is not caused by yeast or bacteria.
Bringing a Bottle Out of Shock
What can you do if a wine has been affected by bottle shock? Is there a way to bring it back to its former glory? The good news is you can usually fix bottle shock by letting the wine settle for a week or two. How long it takes to restore a wine will depend on its age and how extensively it was disturbed. A wine that was bottled and then immediately shipped overseas, for example, may need weeks or even months. An older wine may also need more time. However, a bottle you’ve transported to another city or state may only need about a week. You can also try to address bottle shock by decanting and aerating your wine, but your best bet is to let it rest first.