I’m using a microwave to age high-alcohol drinks. Could I use this technique on wines too?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’m using microwave for aging high-alcohol drinks. Could I use this technique on wines too, or will I destroy the "structure"?

—Henk, Holland

Dear Henk,

Just when I thought I’d heard it all, I looked this up, and it does appear that some people are “nuclear aging” their hooch by putting it in a microwave, often with wood chips or vanilla beans, as a way to flash-infuse flavors to mimic the taste of barrel-aged bourbon or whisky.

I would not recommend this with wine. Wine's barrel aging is complete by the time it is bottled, and the aging process that happens in the bottle is very different (and slower!). There’s a lot of science that I won’t bore either of us with, but over time, as wine ages, the phenolic compounds—originally found in the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes—link together or polymerize. When this happens, they drop out of suspension and become sediment, and that’s what causes a wine’s color to fade and turn brown. This is also what causes fruit-forward and fresh wines to transform into quieter wines with more spice and earth notes and other secondary flavors. This takes years, and heat doesn’t speed the process up. Rather, it changes the direction of the evolution: Wines that have been exposed to heat taste "cooked," with fresh fruit flavors transformed into stewed or baked notes. In fact, I get a lot of questions from readers concerned that their wines are ruined when they are exposed to heat, and for good reason.

All that said, this isn’t the first time I’ve answered a question about microwaving wine. A few years ago, a reader asked about using a microwave as a tool to heat up wine, and we also covered an experiment about how microwaving grapes can lead to shorter fermentation times in winemaking.

—Dr. Vinny

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