What is Bottle Shock and Why Does it Happen?

Exploding Wine BottleIf you didn’t already know what this blog was about, the term bottle shock might conger up some interesting visions. I personally think of someone getting hit over the head by a bottle while in some bar fight, but that’s not quite it. Read on to learn what bottle shock is and why it happens.


So What Is Bottle Shock?

Bottle shock is a term used to refer to a wine that is suffering from the symptoms of getting too much air in too little time. These wines tend to be flat in their overall character. Their bouquet lacks fruitiness, and the finish can be just a tad bit off.

Bottle shock normally comes over a wine when it is being bottled. When bottling homemade wines more oxygen than normal becomes saturated into the wine. It can also happen if when the wine is being transported. The sloshing of the wine can cause this effect as will. This is why it is also sometimes referred to as travel shock.

The good news is the effects of bottle shock are temporary. In a matter of weeks after putting in the cork stoppers, or letting the bottle rest after its long journey, the lack-luster wine will blossom back into something that is usually better than what it was before.


Why Does Bottle Shock Happen?Shop Wine Bottles

Now that you know the answer to, “What is bottle shock?”, it’s time to get to, “Why does bottle shock happen?”

Oxygen is one of the elements that initiates the aging process. It starts a series of chain-reactions which in and of itself is the definition of aging. But, this oxygen must be introduced into the wine sloooowly so that each aging process in the chain can progress in a balanced way. It must also happen if very small amounts. Too much oxygen can be the catalyst for oxidation.

This is because some aging processes can not keep up with the higher infusion of oxygen as fast as others. As a result, the wine begins to taste out of balance until all the different aging reactions can get caught up.

This is one of the major reasons why natural cork stoppers make such great closures for wine bottles. They allows new air into the bottle but at a slow rate. Even synthetic corks are carefully designed and tested to see how much air will slip past them over a given amount of time. This is how critical the rate of oxygen is to the aging process. You need oxygen, just not much of it and not very quickly.

Once the aging catches up to the oxygen, the wine begins to come back to life. The net effect almost always results in a wine that is just as good if not better than it was before bottling.


The Take Away…

Shop Wine CorksWines that have been recently bottled are not capable of being at their best because of bottle shock. These wines should be allowed to rest for a few weeks before consumption. A slow infusion of oxygen over a long period of time is what wines need to age. This is why natural corks and synthetic corks make good wine bottle closures.

Hopefully, this information will help you out a little in your wine making adventures. At minimum, you’ll now know what to say if someone comes up and asks you, “what is bottle shock?”

Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

6 thoughts on “What is Bottle Shock and Why Does it Happen?

  1. We added potassium sorbate just before bottling our strawberry wine after we had filtered, polished and sweetening it. it is a crystal clear delicious wine. We love it. BUT…after 2 weeks it is starting to turn bubbly like Champaign. I like the bubbly. But I also know that if we don’t drink it soon it will start popping corks. Is it refermenting and if so why even though we have added potassium sorbate in a ratio of 1/4 tsp./gal. Thank you for your advice.

    • Claudia, the first thing that I would ask is if you verified with a hydrometer that the fermentation was complete before sweetening and bottling the wine. Potassium Sorbate will not stop a fermentation that did not complete. Now I may be interpreting you wrong, but it sounds like you said that you sweetened the wine and later added the potassium sorbate. If this is the case, to prevent re-fermentation you need to add the sorbate at same time you sweeten the wine. One other thing that you mention that concerns me is the amount of sorbate you added. However, I can only speak for the potassium sorbate that we carry but the dosage to prevent re-fermentation of a sweetened wine is 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.

      • Ed, we had the same thing happened to our fist batch of strawberry wine. It was finished – by reading of the hydrometer, and we sweetened, let rest for two weeks and filtered twice, because the sugar clogged our gravity filter. After bottling, it rested for 2-1/2 weeks, and ended up popping 2 of 4 corks, and nearly a 3rd one. The 4th bottle, we refrigerated until ready to open. What may have caused this? What did we do wrong?

        • Christine, you mention that you sweetened the wine but you did not mention adding potassium sorbate to stabilize against re-fermentation. If you did not add potassium sorbate, the reason your corks are popping is because the wine is fermenting in the bottle. If you did add potassium sorbate did you add the appropriate dosage per gallon of wine? One other thing to check is how long have you had your potassium sorbate? It will stay effective for about 2 years.

  2. If wine must be slowly introduced to oxygen to prevent bottle/travel shock, why does a wine aerator produce a better tasting wine almost instantly? I’ve seen people pour wine into a blender and then put the spurs to it — the result was fantastic.

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