Don’t Get Shocked!
By: George Balling
We received a box of samples from Skylark Wine Company owner winemaker John Lancaster last week that included all of his recent bottlings. All of them will ultimately make it to our shelves, they included 2017 Grenache, Red Belly and Rodger’s Creek Syrah. Also included were his 2020 Pink Belly and Pinot Blanc. As most all of you know the release of Pink Belly each year is one of our most anticipated. This year it carries with it even more anticipation because of the devastating fires that swept “wine country” last year in the late summer and fall. With all of the restaurant Covid related shutdowns last year we also received a “bonus” late allocation of 2019 Pink Belly that will be at a special price, you should watch for those bottles. We already know the 2019 is great wine and the new price is compelling to be sure.
We communicated with John shortly after receiving his package and he cautioned us to wait some days prior to opening the samples as he said “we just put those in the bottle”. His concern was that the wines might still be suffering a bit of bottle shock. They were indeed just bottled plus they made the long journey from the winery in Sonoma all the way to Coeur d’Alene. Transporting wine even over short distances can also create bottle shock so his words of caution were important, and we are patiently waiting to give the wine time to settle.
For wine consumers it is important to know not only about the existence of bottle shock but also to recognize the effects and know how to manage it. When wine gets bottled, it runs through an automated bottling line, that pumps the wine out of large tanks through the mechanism that dispenses wine into each bottle, the bottles are then corked, labeled, in some cases foiled and then into the cardboard boxes which are sealed and stacked on palates. For wine this whole process is quite traumatic, as the wine is exposed to large amounts of oxygen as it runs through pumps and dispensers. It is also jostled about as the bottles are placed in boxes and boxes are stacked.
This oxygen exposure and bouncing around of the wine is what causes the wine to go into shock. The result of bottles shock is aromas and flavors will frequently be off. They may seem disjointed in that aromas and flavors will not match or be in harmony. If the wine is unfiltered, it will appear cloudy in the bottle or glass. All of these characteristics can be quite unappealing.
Transporting wine via shipping it or even driving it in your car can create the same problem of bottle shock. Wine likes to be still so all of that bumping and bouncing frequently will cause some of your favorite bottles to just not taste quite right. In the case of bottling causing the shock the winery will almost always manage this for you. After they bottle their wines, they will typically store them for several weeks up to several years just to let the wine calm down.
When the shock is the result of transporting wine though the responsibility for managing bottle shock will fall to you the consumer. If you have wine shipped to you or you drive it in your car on a long trip or if you check it as luggage on a flight you should let the wine calm down, and rest if you will. 48 hours is the minimum time needed to let the wine settle out, but if you can 4 days or up to a week will ensure the wine is back to its normal state.
If you are taking wine on vacation this may be a challenge, but if you choose to crack into recently transported bottles, you should be prepared for them to taste not quite right.
One other note on bottle shock, a little while back there were some who suggested shaking bottles up, running the wine through a blender, or placing the bottle on a devise that shakes the bottle. The notion being that this motion would get the wine to soften and open up. This is absolute bunk! All of these tricks and devices are akin to introducing bottle shock and will cause the wine to taste worse not better, and even more importantly it will not taste as the winemaker designed it to taste.
Bottle shock is indeed real and the effects are in all cases deleterious, give your bottles some time to calm from traveling so you don’t get shocked when you taste them.