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Dear Dr. Vinny,

How long would it take to microwave a refrigerated red wine to get it to cellar temperature?

—Jeb Lund

Dear Jeb,

For some wine lovers, the answer is “never,” because they wouldn’t dream of putting their vino anywhere near a microwave. But the microwave has become an increasingly useful tool, not just for wine lovers but even for some winemakers, too.

Even though it might seem like an aggressive way to warm up wine, all microwaves do is excite the water molecules. One of my favorite wine lovers, Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman has blogged about how useful the microwave has become.

As far as how long, there are too many variables to answer that question specifically. How much wine, how powerful your microwave is, how warm you like your wine and what kind of container you’re using will all affect the outcome. But considering that most microwaves can get a few ounces of water from room temperature to boiling in about a minute—the answer is not long. I’d start at 5 to 10 seconds and adjust from there, going up or down a few seconds at a time as needed—consider using a digital thermometer to measure the progress and hit your ideal temperature. If you don’t overheat the wine, no other chemical reactions are going to take place and you don’t run the risk of hurting the wine.

I should warn you that my research shows that there aren’t a lot of fans for using microwaves as a way to heat up any sort of beverages—from baby formula to water for tea—because they tend to not heat beverages uniformly. What happens is that sometimes the microwaves work too efficiently—the water can heat faster than the vapor bubbles can form. Sometimes this causes the water to kind of explode, or the vessel the liquid is in to get much warmer than the liquid itself.

With this in mind, you should never put a sealed bottle of wine in the microwave (and definitely no metal parts!), and consider pouring the wine into a microwave-safe or glass measuring cup for heating, give it a stir while heating. And definitely give it a swirl before taking a sip.

If you’re still uncomfortable using a microwave but want to warm up a bottle, you can run a bottle—or even better, put the wine in a decanter—and run it under warm water. You can also warm up the wineglasses as another method.

—Dr. Vinny

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