Wine Stress? Beware of Bottle Shock

Vintage Alamedan

For Bob and Barb Babbitt of Ballena Bay, it was a culinary nightmare come true.

Bob's boss from the BMW dealership was coming to the Babbitt home for dinner, and Barb wanted everything to be perfect. A big job-boost for Bob hung in the balance.

Barb's menu for that evening was bounteous. For cocktails, Bombay martinis; and for appetizers, broiled butterflied shrimp with garlic butter. Then, a beautiful baby spinach salad with basil, bacon bits and brie was to be served. For the main course, tenderloin of beef with béarnaise sauce, braised Brussels sprouts with bleu cheese, baked potatoes and fresh bread; for dessert, brownies and Benedictine and brandy.

For the wine, Barb went for broke. She bought some Barolo in Berkeley.

For awhile, the dinner went better than expected. The occasion was bibulous. Bob's boss claimed it to be one of the best meals ever, while Bob found himself boasting about Barb's culinary beneficence. Then came time to break out the Barolo.

Bob poured his boss a big goblet. Bob's boss sniffed the wine, arched his brow, then tasted it. "Bleecch!" he blurted. "This Barolo! It's bitter! Blaaaah! Bring me a beer!" Both Bob and Barb were embarrassed beyond belief. And Bob bet Barb that he wouldn't be getting his badly needed boost.

Needless to say, the next day a belligerent Barb bustled back out to Berkeley to berate the wine seller in his cellar, the bottle of bad Barolo in a bag. The shop owner sniffed the Barolo and then tasted it. "Bottle shock!" he blurted. "Barb, this Barolo isn't bad — it's suffering from stress! You've bruised and abused it! Did you bash and bang it about before you breached the bottle?"

Barb was baffled. She'd never heard of bottle shock before. But it was true, for two days after she'd bought the bottle the Barolo was buried beneath debris in the back of her BMW. It received a lot of bouncing about. Then Bob took it from the BMW, brought it into the house and blithely stood it on the back of a bookcase. This was barely beneficial for a big Barolo. No wonder it was stressed and bitter. When Barb told Bob about bottle shock and wine stress, a bewildered Bob answered blankly, "Barb baby, how could that be?"

Bottle shock is quite common. Many wine merchants, including Alameda's High Priest of Potables, the generally affable Jeff Diamond of Farmstead Cheeses and Wines, acknowledges that wine stress, aka bottle shock, can be a real concern to wine lovers. This is why Diamond and his Farmstead staff, who are on call daily to guide Alamedans through their wine and cheese emergencies, recommend that most wines be rested after the rigors of shipping and handling.

One month in a dark, cool, temperature-stable place seems to be an adequate period of repose for a wine to regain its intended character.

So, next time your wine tastes wonky, give it a rest — it may be stressed.

Tastes fine to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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