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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Is bottle shock a legitimate concern? After I receive a shipment of wine to my house via UPS or another carrier, I wonder what the journey has done to the wine, if anything? Should I let the wine sit a few days in my wine closet before opening? Should it sit longer than a few days or does it not matter at all? I would really appreciate some clarification on the myth or reality of bottle shock.
—Sevag S., Oakland, Calif.
I’d consider bottle shock (sometimes called "bottle sickness") a legitimate concern for wines that have either just been bottled, or that have just traveled, or both. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence—stories from wine lovers (including myself) who have experienced a wine that seemed flat, muted or disjointed for a period of time after a journey. Fragile, older wines seem more susceptible to this condition, and younger, more robust wines less so.
What does a journey do to a wine? It’s kind of what jet lag does to wine lovers. There really isn’t any scientific evidence on the subject; just a theory that motion and heat can stress all the different elements of wine like phenolics and chemical compounds and such. Hopefully you can let wines that have been recently shipped to you rest for a few days or a few weeks before cracking them open.
Since there is no scientific way to measure how a wine shows or whether or not it was inflicted by bottle shock, that’s about all the clarification I can offer you. Once the wine arrives to your home, do your best to keep it still and in the most ideal wine storage conditions you can—cool and steady temperatures, away from light, heat and vibration. Even in the most severe cases of bottle shock that I’ve experienced, the wine was fine two weeks later.
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