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Bottle Shock in Wine: What Is Bottle Sickness?

September 4, 2020
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Joshua Weatherwax
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What is the point of drinking a wine without flavor and aroma?

That's the question you'll find yourself asking if you have an unfortunate run-in with the phenomenon called bottle shock in wine.

No more light, fruity tones in a white wine or rich, complex ones in a red wine. Bottle shock can render your favorite wine into a weak, flat beverage not worth drinking. Even the all-powerful tannins responsible for the coloration and flavor in red wines are less impactful during bottle shock.

Does this mean the wine is done for good and you should toss it out? We'll answer that question and more below.

What Is Bottle Shock?

Bottle shock, or bottle sickness, is a temporary condition that causes wine to have muted or disjointed flavors and aromas. Bottle shock does not alter the chemical makeup of a wine the way that wine oxidation does. The chemical bonds in the wine are temporarily disrupted but will eventually return to their normal state. The wine alcohol content is not affected by bottle shock. Likewise, the sugar in wine, acid in wine, and calories in wine remain unaffected.

This condition is common in recently packaged wine or wine that is shipped a long distance. The addition of sulfates to a new wine prior to shipping or the constant jostling of transport can unsettle the wine. A car ride home in the trunk will not cause bottle shock. A two-month ocean voyage may. Pay attention to when and where the bottle was shipped. You can always ask your wine dealer if you're unsure.

Be aware of the vintage you're buying as well. Wines more than 10 years old are more susceptible to bottle sickness. If you like aged wine, and you should, make sure to handle it with care. If you have a wine cellar, keep your wine properly stored and avoid moving the bottles. You should also keep the cellar dark and never expose wine bottles to light unnecessarily. Improper wine cellar lighting can further damage a wine with bottle sickness.

How to Tell If Your Wine Experienced Bottle Shock?

You can tell your wine has bottle shock if it lacks aromas and has a weak, flat taste. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to tell that a wine has bottle shock until it is opened. Once opened, there should be clear signs that you have a case of bottle shock. A wine that is flat or off-flavored and odorless is almost guaranteed to be suffering from bottle sickness. 

If you've never tasted the wine before, you may not recognize bottle shock right away. If you've ever had a watered-down drink before, that weakness of flavor is similar. The complete absence of a scent is also a dead giveaway. Every other wine fault has a distinct odor. Even a tainted wine has a smell.

The coloration of a wine suffering from bottle sickness is unaffected. A red wine with bottle shock is just as vibrant as ever. So, it might be time to learn how to remove red wine stains or pick up one of the best wine stain removers.

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Can You Fix Bottle Shock?

Yes, all you need to fix bottle shock is time. The best practice is to store recently purchased wine for one to two weeks. As long as you adhere to the proper wine storage temperature, you should never even realize that your wine suffered from bottle shock. It's always good to let a wine rest a while before opening. It doesn't matter if it's a wine imported from France or a California wine you picked up locally.

If you've already opened the bottle and discovered muted flavors, you can still save the wine with some patience. Make sure to immediately reseal the wine. The longer wine is in contact with air, the more it is chemically altered. Store the wine and wait a few days before trying it again. Don't fret, even if you can't drink the bottle yet you can take this time to learn about wine.

There are options other than waiting two weeks if you want to fix bottle shock.

How to Fix Bottle Shock in Wine

You can learn how to aerate wine or how to decant wine to aggressively introduce air to the wine. This will begin the process of wine oxidation and will hopefully draw out the inherent flavors that the bottle sickness was muting. The aggressive addition of oxygen to the wine can cause the chemical bonds to return to normal. Unfortunately, some wines with bottle shock don't respond to this treatment. Time is the only guaranteed fix for bottle sickness.

Any other methods suggested to fix bottle shock are unlikely to have any effect. Freezing wine would only make it take longer for the bottle shock to dissipate as it slows down chemical processes. Don't use the wine for other purposes either. Using a wine with bottle sickness as a cooking wine would just make your food equally weak in flavor.

If you're a wine lover, you know that it's worth doing things the right way to get the best out of your wine.

Well, That Was … Shocking

Bottle shock in wine is one of the most common occurrences in the world of alcohol. With so many wonderful vintages being shipped all around the world, it's guaranteed that some bottles will fall victim. Luckily, bottle shock is easy to overcome and your wine will suffer no long-term damage.

Don't fret if you run into this issue. All you need is a little patience or one of the best wine aerators or best wine decanters to overcome it. Don't give up on a wine that feels weaker than it should be. Bottle shock in wine is not something that should keep you from enjoying your favorite bottle.