Shipping Shock: It's For Real

Ever order wine online?  If you have - or think you ever might - consider this: wine that's been jostled is subject to shipping shock.

Yes, shipping shock, the lesser known, but no less insidious cousin of bottle shock, is for real.  We're not going to get into the science behind what happens to wine under duress because, frankly, it would likely bore you to tears.  Moreover, this author can't really explain it other than to say that it's a real thing.  Kind of like the aurora borealis - it's there, you can see it, and there is an explanation for it.  Just not in this article.

Back in October a PR firm sent over a handful of samples from an Australian vintner for a virtual tasting.  They arrived the day of the tasting and were, well, nasty.  So nasty that only a few of the bottles were opened.  Suspecting shipping shock, no reviews were published and the remainder of the bottles spent a few months relaxing in the cellar - until last night. A 2010 Chateau Tanunda Shiraz from the Barossa (one of the bottles that had been so undrinkable) was a concentrated pleasure of density and darkness - nothing like it had been in October.  Nothing. 

And this is not an isolated instance.  Garagiste founder Jon Rimmerman, whose natural wine selections seem more vulnerable than most, dispatches a couple of missives a year imploring customers to hold off on opening their wines for a while.  By casual observation, these require upwards of 6 months recovery time before being palatable.  Andrew Murrray, too, is concerned enough with shipping shock that he includes notes in all shipments asking customers to restrain their enthusiasm for a couple of weeks lest they be crestfallen by lackluster quality in his wine.  But this does not apply only to small production/hand-crafted wines - fans of Cameron Hughes know that he compounds bottle shock (resulting from the violence of the bottling line machinery) with shipping shock by releasing his wines sometimes within a couple of weeks following bottling - a frustrating and often disappointing experience for consumers.

Yet, there are occasional examples of wines completely resistant to abuse.  The 2008 William Hill Cabernet, having arrived on a 96 degree afternoon and shortly thereafter, was sensational enough to remember several months hence.  Are some varieties, like the Cabernet, less susceptible to shipping shock than others?  I doubt it.  Rather, I'd venture that the presence or absence of sulfites can have a pretty big impact on a wine's vulnerability, though this is surely not a single point of causality.  At the end of the day, a resting period of at least a few weeks is recommended for all wines which have been transported through different time zones, wildly varying temperatures, and pressurization changes.