Wine 101: What Is Bottle Shock?

Maybe you looked at the title of this post and though “oh, well it’s a Hollywood drama/comedy starring Chris Pine, Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman based on the infamous 1976 Judgment of Paris.”

While that’s not incorrect, there’s an actual phenomenon called bottle shock that wine lovers should know about.  In a nutshell, bottle shock describes the temporary state a wine can enter after being jolted around a bit — say, by furniture movers as you pack up from one home and move into another. Wines suffering from bottle shock tend to smell/taste somewhat more muted or clumsy than they would otherwise — they don’t best express the wine’s aromas and flavours.

There’s a reason we cellar wines in cool, dark places and leave the bottles alone. Wines are continuously evolving, and in order to extend their life for as long as possible in the cellar it’s best to let them rest, to leave them alone. That’s what makes wine happy.

Younger wines won’t fall apart if they’re jolted around a bit, letting them rest for a couple of days before popping and pouring will allow the wine’s chemical components to settle back in with each other.

Say you go through the typical steps of moving into a new home. Pre-move, you shuffle items in an effort to organize them, cram them into boxes with or without the appropriate wrapping, push those containers around to create more space, then movers carry the containers away and transport them to their new destination where the contents are then unpacked and re-positioned.

So here’s the question: would you rather have your housewarming party the day you move into your new home, or would you rather have a day or two to rest, freshen up and settle in?

Your wine feels the same way. It will taste so much better after a couple of days of rest — to shake off the bottle shock.


Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson is the wine columnist and literary editor for the Winnipeg Free Press. He’s on Twitter and Instagram at @bensigurdson.

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