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

Can I ask a restaurant to store my own bottle of wine there for a few weeks before I come in to drink it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice for corkage and BYOB etiquette.

May 3, 2021

How long does it take a new vineyard to yield grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how long it takes a grapevine to produce …

Apr 26, 2021

Which wines are “clean”? What does that even mean?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains that there are no "unclean" wines, and the term …

Apr 19, 2021

How many gallons of wine are in a ton of grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how many barrels, gallons, cases and bottles of …

Apr 12, 2021

Does wine age the same under synthetic and natural corks?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the pros and cons of a variety of wine closures, …

Apr 5, 2021

Does Champagne age well?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens to sparkling wine as it ages.

Mar 29, 2021