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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?

Comments (17)

Alder wrote:
06.26.06 at 3:51 PM

Incidentally, someone with more time on their hands than I should do a double blind experiment with the microwave and see if they think it changes the wine. Take a bottle, refrigerate it for an hour or two, then pour 5 glasses of wine and label them with numbers. Have someone else microwave two of them for ten seconds and then take one of the non-microwaved wines and one of the microwaved wines and mix them together in a 6th glass, discarding the two glasses that were used for the mixing. This will leave two glasses of non microwaved wines, one that has been microwaved, and one that is a mix of the two. Let them all warm up (or down) to room temperature for about 3 hours (have someone else wipe off any condensation on the glasses and mix them up randomly -- but not before making note of which humbers have been microwaved) and then taste them and keep notes. Reveal the identities and see if any differences noted correspond to microwaving!

Jeff B. wrote:
06.27.06 at 5:33 AM

Minor point, this, but in "How to Taste," Jancis Robinson- no less!- suggests using the microwave technique. I've always thought it kinda barbaric- surely it must hurt the wine?- but am a big fine of Alder's idea regarding the double-blind study...



Alder wrote:
06.27.06 at 9:13 AM


I had no idea that this was a Jancis endorsed method. My friend Ken will be so proud of himself for "inventing it" on his own!

brett wrote:
06.27.06 at 10:20 AM

Fun post. On the microwave thing I use it regularly. Though I've not done a blind comparative tasting, I've never noticed problems except on the very rare occassion when I've cooked the wine.

I work part time in a wine store so I have a few odd questions to share:

(1) A customer, unhappy with our selection of Beaujolais Nouveau, asked if we had any that were a couple years old or if he had to age them himself.

(2) Like many wine stores we post reviews of some wines. A customer was examining some Chilean Cabernets with reviews like "full of blackberry, cherry, etc.". He asked if we had any wines that were made of pure grapes, because he didn't like the ones where they add blackberries and other fruits.

(3) A customer wanted to know which champagne I would recommend she use to mix into her pancake batter.

Alder wrote:
06.27.06 at 10:23 AM

Good ones. Heh heh. I've been trying to find a Napa cabernet without any cherry added to it for years. Still looking. ;-)

But I don't mean to make fun of these questions (and I'm sure you don't either Brett). They prove just how much we need to continue educating the public.

Wino Bob wrote:
06.27.06 at 2:18 PM

If you have ever seen a presentation by Mark Phillips, "Wine Consultant", one of his segments revolves around freezing wine for long term storage, putting ice cubes in red wine to cool it and microwaving wine to warm it. I do not agree with much of what Mark presents but he is running around the country promoting these practices.

Alder wrote:
06.27.06 at 2:24 PM

The freezing thing sounds bizarre, but I can heartily endorse the ice cubes in a glass of red wine on a hot day. Makes all the difference in the world, and only barely waters down the wine.

Of course, I also don’t recommend drinking expensive red wine on hot days.

gabriela wrote:
06.28.06 at 8:42 AM

I'm not sure i've microwaved wine, but i do remember heating it through "Mary's bath", that is with hot water in a bucket and putting in the wine bottle covered with a cloth or inside a second bucket just for a few minutes.

Alder wrote:
06.28.06 at 8:58 AM


If I had to warm up wine in a hurry, that's the way I'd do it.

caroline m. wrote:
06.29.06 at 9:51 AM

i've put leftover wine in ice cube trays and used that for cooking. seems to work fine and doesnt really change the flavor, although i'm sure if i told my mom about that, she'd cringe.

06.30.06 at 8:41 PM

Although I have used small amounts of crushed ice, the trick to using ice to cool off red wine is to leave the cube in the wine just long enough to cool it and then fish the rest of the cube out with a spoon. Not real classy but it doesn't water the wine down that way.

Melanie wrote:
06.30.06 at 11:09 PM

So this may make me sound like a total wine noob, but really putting red wine in the fridge? I just usually cork it and put it on top of my wine rack...if there is any left over that is...Now whites I WILL put into the refridgerator, but reds? Am I ruining it by leaving it out?

Alder wrote:
07.05.06 at 10:46 AM


The chemical and biological processes which cause a wine's flavor to change after being exposed to air are slowed by cooler temperatures. Keeping opened bottles of red wine in the fridge will let them last a lot longer.

Jonathan wrote:
07.07.06 at 9:44 PM

I have used a microwave from time to time to make a wine better suit the style of wine I desire.

If I am tasting a wine that seems too cold, tannic or low in fruit, 6-7 seconds in the micro will warm it a bit and accentuate fruit and body.

On the other hand, chilling a high alcohol red (eg Barossa Shiraz) can reduce the sensation of extraction and perception of alcohol and sometmes render a more balanced wine.

Richard wrote:
07.10.06 at 1:34 PM

Odd questions? Sure. Someone came into my shop a few years ago asking if we had any of that famous red wine they make up in the Napa Valley: Carbonated Sauvignon.


jkhaycock wrote:
02.26.07 at 4:37 AM

Here's one I tried on a cold day. I flicked the oven to its coolest setting and put my bottle in for about ten minutes. Worked beautifully! Especially with a Zinfandel! Mmmm

Henre wrote:
07.28.08 at 8:13 AM

Personally, if you're looking to cool wine down and not dilute with ice, simply freeze some grapes and use instead of ice.


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