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06.26.2006

Weird Wine Questions

Last night Ruth and I met some friends at a local taqueria for dinner. As we were munching on chips, waiting for our burritos to arrive, Ken stopped the conversation by turning to me and announcing the following:

"Alder, I want to ask you what I think is quite possibly the stupidest wine question you will have ever been asked. But I don't care how stupid it is, I want to know the answer"

"And I want to see the expression on your face when he asks it!" chimed in Lila, who had gotten a preview of his query on the way to dinner.

With that sort of setup, who could resist?

I braced myself, and Ken asked his question:

"So, a while back, a friend gave me a nice bottle of some Merlot -- I forget who makes it, it started with a 'B' I think. Anyhow, I've started buying this Merlot to drink at home occasionally but I don't finish the bottle, so I usually just put the cork back in, and throw it in the fridge until the next time I want some wine."

I nodded - nothing wrong with that, I do it myself.

Ken continued, "the other day I came in from a walk, and wanted some wine, so I pulled out the bottle from the fridge and poured myself a glass. The only problem was, it was really cold. I don't like cold red wine -- I like it at room temperature. So I just popped the glass into the microwave for about nine or ten seconds."

I don't know if I satisfied anyone with my expression, but my face must have done something because everyone laughed.

"My question," Ken went on to say, "is, did I ruin the wine or anything like that?"

As someone who ostensibly knows a bit about wine, I do get all sorts of questions, at dinner parties, at bars, via e-mail, and even standing at the bus stop.

But, as I told my snickering friends at the table, this is definitely the weirdest wine question I've ever gotten. While it is a bit bizarre, however, it's a perfectly reasonable question to ask.

"Now, I'm not a physicist, nor do I really fully understand microwave technology," I said, "but as far as I know, microwaves work by agitating the atoms that make up the water molecules in whatever we're cooking, causing the electrons to move about in ways that generate heart."

Everyone at the table nodded, as if that were their understanding as well.

"There's certainly plenty of water in wine," I said, "so there's lots to work with there, and I have a hard time imagining that the microwaves were going to make any significant changes to the phenolic compounds, acids, and proteins that make up the bulk of what we taste when we're tasting wine, but who knows."

"Did the wine taste any different?" I asked.

"No," replied Ken, "tasted just fine to me."

"Then there's your answer. No problem," I said with a chuckle.

Of course, to anyone who might face the same problem, I suggest a slightly more aesthetic approach: taking the bottle out of the fridge a bit in advance and letting it warm up a bit on its own. Or for slightly quicker results, pour a glass and cup it with both hands while you swirl the wine gently in the glass, letting your body heat warm up the wine gradually. At thend of the day, while it might be gauche, the microwave does do the trick for those of little patience.

It's worth mentioning the oft repeated adage that most people drink their white wines too cold and their red wines too warm -- the optimal serving temperature being 55 degrees Fahrenheit for the former and 65 degrees for the latter.

So now that we've gotten the microwave question out of the way, I want to know what other weird wine questions are out there. Anything you've been wanting to ask but felt was too silly to bother? Have YOU been asked bizarre wine questions?

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud