Disturbing bottles of fine wine has always been a concern for collectors. They are often told by experts to give each bottle a quarter turn on a prescribed schedule. This process is called remuage. The purpose of this is to keep the cork wet so that the bottle remains sealed and no oxygen creeps into the wine. Though oxygen is a good thing when decanting, too much oxygen can age a wine quickly. Harmful bacteria that can spoil the wine can also slip into the bottle along with the oxygen. Careful turning of each bottle, it has been noted, will keep the corks wet and the wine protected. However, if your cellar conditions have adequate humidity, keeping the cork moist and plumped across the bottle will not require frequent turning.
Moreover, there is concern that every time the bottle is moved, any sediment in the wine will be disturbed and will make it necessary to decant the wine when it is ready to be poured. And, of course, decanting will force large amounts of oxygen into the wine, aging it rapidly, making it imperative to drink the wine as soon after opening as possible. Though some wines benefit from decanting for further aging and mellowing, not all wines do.
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The issue of disturbing wine, then, becomes more complex when a wine connoisseur moves a collection or has wine shipped to his or her cellar. Excessive shaking during transport is known as “bottle shock,” “bottle sickness” or “travel shock.” Some wine experts say that there is no such thing as this condition in wines that are moved from one place to another. They feel that bottle shock is a condition that occurs in wine during bottling when too much air is thrust into the wine. It is a phenomenon of modern bottling that uses machinery to vigorously pump and spary wine into bottles. Some recent innovation in the industry has produced more gentle handling at some wineries.
Bottle shock causes the wine characteristics and, most particularly, the fruit flavors to fragment. By allowing the wine to settle in cellar conditions, it can re-gather itself into the wine it was meant to be. Sometimes, this takes as much as three months of aging.
Bottle sickness or travel shock is rather controversial. Experts are split about whether it is an urban myth or whether it is a chemical reality. Many wine enthusiasts, however, have experienced it and now let their wines rest before drinking.
Bottle sickness or travel shock is said to occur during shipping or moving from one location to another. It produces muted or fragmented fruit flavors. Bottle sickness or travel shock is considered to be a temporary condition that can be corrected through rest. Depending on the amount of disturbance and the type of wine, the wine may need to rest for several days or several weeks.Heavy red wines with lots of tannin and sediment tend to be more affected by travel shock. White wines, however, more clearly show that they have been affected by disturbance because their color will appear clouded and off. In contrast, wines that have been filtered are not as affected by travel vibration and disturbance than other wines.
Some wineries, such as Williams Selyem, suggest to their customers that their wines should be rested for eight weeks after travel. Some wine experts wait four to six weeks to drink anything from a new shipment.
Sue Binney of Lake Chalice Wines in New Zealand, suggests that each wine drinker decide for himself or herself when the wine is drinkable. That often means tapping into a bottle every few weeks or months to find the right resting time for a well traveled wine or for any aging wine. After all, the real expert is the drinker’s palate. It knows what it enjoys drinking.