What is bottle shock?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is bottle shock, and is it true that a bottle that’s been opened immediately after lying on its side for a while suffers from this condition? Should I let my bottles stand upright for a few hours before opening them?

—Glenn L., Singapore

Dear Glenn,

“Bottle shock” or “bottle sickness” are terms used to describe a temporary condition in a wine where its flavors are muted or disjointed. There are two main scenarios when bottle shock sets in: either right after bottling, or when wines (especially fragile older wines) are shaken in travel. Usually a few days of rest is the cure. The evidence for this phenomenon is more anecdotal than scientific, but the theory is that all the complex elements in wine (phenolics, tannins and compounds) are constantly evolving, both on their own and in relation to each other. Heat or motion can add stress to this evolution, causing the wine to shut down temporarily.

Most wines are fine if you take them from a lying-down position to an upright one. It’s the older, more fragile bottles that need special handling. When a wine hits the 10-year mark or so, there’s probably a fair bit of sediment in it. Sediment is a byproduct of aging wine, as phenolic molecules combine to form tannin polymers that precipitate out of the liquid. Disturbing the sediment won’t necessarily cause the wine to go into bottle shock, but it might be unpleasant to have all that gritty sediment floating around in your wine.

What to do next is a point not always agreed upon. Many people—myself included—will stand an older bottle upright for at least a couple of days before opening it and decanting it off its sediment. Others say this will disturb the wine too much, and that the sediment will be so released into suspension it will take months to clear up. But if the wine in question is relatively new, without any sediment, you don’t have to worry about it.

—Dr. Vinny

Serving Wine Decanting Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

I found a bottle labeled "Solera 1845." Is it really 175 years old?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how the solera wine aging system works, and what …

Sep 13, 2021

Is it OK to drink wine if the cork crumbles and pieces fall into the wine?

Got a crumbly wine cork? Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny has tips for how to deal.

Sep 7, 2021

Why do some winemakers use “used” oak barrels?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why barrels are toasted, and how a wine barrel's …

Aug 30, 2021

What does it mean if a wine is “snappy”?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains this term for lively, vibrant …

Aug 25, 2021

How can I tell if a wine cork is real or synthetic?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how to identify a polyethylene cork vs. a …

Aug 16, 2021

Do tobacco or smoke aromas mean that a wine contains tobacco?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where those herbal tobacco aromas in wine come …

Aug 9, 2021