Bottle Shock: When Your Wine is all Shook Up

Jennifer Jordan

Jennifer Jordan is the senior editor at With a vast knowledge of wine etiquette, she writes articles on everything from how to hold a glass of wine to how to hold your hair back after too many glasses. Ultimately, she writes her articles with the intention that readers will remember wine is fun and each glass of anything fun should always be savored.

Ah, bottle shock. Some people know it for its true definition; others imagine it's what a bottle of red feels whenever a bottle of white is chosen instead. Whatever meaning you lean towards, one thing is certain: bottle shock isn't a term with which many wines hope to be labeled. the scientific sense of the word, bottle shock, also called bottle sickness, is when wine adopts strange, disordered flavors. These strange flavors make the wine taste less fruity, make the presence of the alcohol more noticeable, and cause bottles of Cabernet to repeatedly call in sick for work.

Bottle shock is often a result of the wine bottle being - in James Bond fashion - shaken - not stirred.  In a suitcase, through the mail, on an airplane, or in the trunk of the car, continuous vibrations can upset the elements of the wine, throwing the VINO into some sort of PTSD. A frequent change in temperature and variations of lighting - such as when a bottle boards a plane in Alaska and lands in Hawaii - may also play a role.

Its tendency to occur during times of vacationing lead many people to refer to bottle shock as what it truly is: travel shock.

Not all well traveled wines get bottle shock - some can sail the seven seas without the tiniest sense of unrest (or sea sickness) - but it's possible for most wines to get it; fragile wines are particularly susceptible.

There is no true way to avoid bottle shock, other than to not allow any part of your wine cellar to accompany you on vacations. Going to great lengths to make sure your bottle of wine vibrates as little as possible may decrease the risk of it, but there are no guarantees: sometimes a bottle of wine will bust a move without you even knowing.

The bright side, however, is that bottle shock is a temporary condition: put down the antibiotics and quit giving your bottle of Riesling mouth to mouth, it will heal itself.

Whether you've shipped a bottle of Pinot Noir to yourself from Oregon or traveled to Napa Valley only to return with a car full of wine cases, the surest way to make sure bottle shock won't ruin your inventory it to wait. Give your bottles a few months to get over their shock, then drink up your stock.

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  • Aims says
    Hm you learn something new every day!!
  • Totara says
    Excellent synopsis regarding handling/travel and it's impact on wine. I also understand that it may occur immediately after bottling or when wines (some types of wines are more susceptible than others) are given an additional injection of sulphur (in many forms but mostly sulphur dioxide).
  • Steff S says
    i have a bottle of Cabernet which is still getting over her bottle shock. she won't talk to me about the trauma, its been about 3 months since our last conversation. i brought up the topic of corking her, but she wouldn't come out the cellar after that. our relationship is on the rocks after i told her she is nothing more than cooking wine.
  • Jackson says
    the only bottle shock thats been experienced in this house is when i find out how much my better half has spent on her favourite wine, in fact its been more like bottle horror!
  • Marley says
    Well I'll try anything once, or twice or three times!!!
  • New Member says
    I get bottle shock every time I open a bottle - I think its something to do with my budget, and the quality I am buying.... more than the shaking up thing....
  • Squirt says
    This is a real problem, but can be blamed on the Government - believe it or not!
    The average winery is stung with excise as soon as wine is bottled, not when it is sold, leading wineries to immediately ship their stock to supermarkets or discount wholesalers to avoid holding costs. The wholesalers then immediately sell the bottles as loss leaders to encourage other purchases.
    The poor wine! Bottling plant, pellet, truck, forklift and then shopping bag, only to be drunk, on average, 2 hours after purchase.
    If the Govt charged excise on sale, it would encourage wineries to make more complex reds to be cellared by them for 2-3 years, as well as allow their product to be sold in the best possible shape.
    Well, thats my thoughts anyway.
  • mike says
    My view is that moving from cork to screw tops means more "bottle shock"...cork is much more forgiving than aluminmum as it allows the wine to settle post "shock" times.
  • samala says
    We once went to open a bottle of wine and the cork was just falling apart in the neck of the bottle, we tried so hard to get it out without getting any in the wine but it was no use. It was like the cork was rotten it just fell to bits. Was a real shame, spoiled a really nice bottle of wine.

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