Bottle Sickness

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

bottle sickness, also known less politely as bottle stink, unpleasant and increasingly rare smell apparent in a wine immediately on opening which, unlike most faults, usually dissipates after a few minutes. ‘Bottling sickness’ might be more a appropriate term to loosely describe two rather different phenomenon that occur in the early months after bottling, one caused by excess oxygen, the other by lack of oxygen.

Operations such as racking and filtration used to stabilize a wine, together with the bottling process itself, may involve aeration and agitation of the wine, resulting in high levels of dissolved oxygen (see total package oxygen), which can make a wine taste closed and disappointing when the bottle is first opened. On the other hand, reduction may lead to the production of volatile sulfur-related compounds, which can also lead to off odours. Except in extreme cases, decanting can alleviate such problems. The once-common phenomenon of high levels of sulfur dioxide at bottling may also make a wine smell unpleasant if opened soon thereafter.