For those who want their wine ready at hand, a great wine cooler is an excellent addition to the kitchen. The real question for the connaisseur is what size and how to judge the cooler overall. After all, there are a ton of them out there and it’s often impossible to know which is best at first glance.
Fortunately, there are a few key ways to make sure you end up with the best wine cooler around. Read on and we’ll dig into the heart of the matter, giving those aficionados that want to step their game up just the right information to pick a wonderful cooler to help aid their vino passions.
Tight temperature control of fine wines usually begins from the manufacturer. It’s an essential element of the entire bouquet which contributes to the experience.
Wine coolers usually aren’t necessary for someone who has an occasional glass of wine. Instead, they’re best used by those who truly want to make sure they get the full experience coming out of every bottle.
It’s not just snobbery either. Wine is a complex chemical mixture and is usually intended to be served at just the right temperature. Those who produce it often store it in caves and cellars which are designed to keep everything just right and it’d be a shame to let a nice Chardonnay go sour in the sun.
Of course, your regular fridge can often preserve these elements. The problem is that wine bottles take up a lot of space and you’ll still have to wait for the wine to warm up since the recommended serving temperature of many wines is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit while your refrigerator is mostly likely set at least twenty degrees cooler to slow the spoilage of meat and other perishables.
If you just like to pick up a bottle on the way home and have a glass the investment may not be worth it. But the tight temperature controls and convenience make a good wine fridge an excellent addition to the home of any enthusiast.
The ideal wine cooler has a few essential qualities:
As long as the core product is good, the rest is up to the prospective owner. They should be aware of what they want out of the following.
The most commonly sold wine fridges are also the cheapest for the most part: countertop models. They’re usually a simple, 8-16 bottle cooler with a glass front. They’re lightweight enough to be placed on countertops and as convenient as the footprint will allow them to be.
For many people these will do. Even if they’re not filled to capacity the extra racks can be a convenient way to match the temperature of the glass and wine for even tigher temperature controls.
Built-in coolers are made to be installed as an appliance and come in a wide variety of designs. Naturally they store more wine bottles and use more energy, but they can be fairly efficient.
Lastly, free-standing coolers turn part of a room into a wine cellar. They can have capacities measured in the hundreds of bottles but they’re often very expensive. They’re also less likely to be thermoelectrically cooled which can make them more expensive to run.
There are more ways to cool things down than just a compressor and some refrigeration gas.
Many wine coolers use an alternative system which is called thermoelectric cooling. It’s a complex mechanism of electrical laws, but the easiest way to explain it is that two pieces of metal have current passed through them and thermal energy passes through them.
The process runs constantly, with temperature controls keeping the setting just right. Unfortunately, the energy efficiency of a thermo cooler goes down with the size of the unit and compressors will outstrip them rather regularly once you get anything bigger than a small countertop cooler going.
The advantage is that they’re extremely quiet and if properly installed there’s very little vibration and they can be used to reliably power smaller units. In some of the smallest examples there really aren’t even compressor models available. They can also be considered more “green” since they don’t use refrigerant gasses.
Thermo coolers are also cheaper for an equivalent size unit.
On the other hand, compressors are much more powerful and end up using less energy as the size of the unit increases. They also have the ability to cool farther and maintain a more consistent temperature in changing climates.
Compressors are ideal for larger coolers, areas where the ambient temperature isn’t consistent, and for those who may want to occasionally use their wine cooler for something other than just keeping their wine at the right temperature.
Wine coolers come with different temperature zones to allow for storing both red and white wines at their ideal temperatures.
Two zone coolers are obviously more expensive. Thermoelectric coolers, in particular will suffer in their energy efficiency as the result of a two zone cooler since both of the cooling elements will need to be used.
However, the ability to keep whites and reds in the same cooler is quite convenient and with certain coolers people have even found use putting craft beer alongside their wine making it a two-for-one-win in temperature control.
If you have kids in the house or are planning on keeping rare vintages you really don’t want everyone at the house party snatching up… you’ll need a lock.
Built-in wine counters generally have the best protection since they’re nearly impossible to remove and don’t have a breakable display. They’re not quite necessary for those who aren’t worried about keeping thieves out of their collection however.
In most cases a simple lock can help to avoid a lot of potential problems.
Most people think of wine bottles as coming in just one size. For the most part…that’s true, most of the standard bottles which come into the home will be 3-3/8″ in size. Most racks are designed to accommodate bottles up to this size or a bit bigger, 3 1/2″ is the usual standard for racks.
However, if burgundies, ports, or Champagne is on the menu your bottles may be large format. While containing the same amount of wine as a standard bottle they can be up to 3 3/4″ which won’t fit in many standard racks.
For those who wish to store magnum and larger bottles, special accommodations will have to be made in most cases.
Ideally, all storage for wine should have some level of humidity control. It not only creates a more stable environment for the wine to age or just rest in, it’s also essential for long term storage.
Cork requires a decent humidity level. Above 50%, to be exact, but this is only for long-term storage. If your bottles will be resting from a few days to a few months at most humidity controls are an expensive and unnecessary solution.
When it comes to buying a good wine cooler many people make the mistake of either over-or-undersizing themselves.
In general, countertop models are for light wine drinkers or those who have an actual wine cellar located in their home. They’ll mostly be used to keep wine, and possibly a couple of glasses, at the right temperature for ready consumption. A capacity of 8-16 bottles is perfect in this case, and there are some very small models available for those who only drink wine rarely.
For those who entertain frequently and may go through a case or more of wine during social engagements, a freestanding or built-in model is ideal. Somewhere in the range of 20-50 bottles can make sure even the wildest social engagement doesn’t have to deal with the wrong temperature of wine.
For long-term storage for collectors there are models available which hold hundreds of standard size bottles. Many of these will also allow racks for larger measures of wine than the standard Bordeaux bottle which makes them even more tempting.
If long-term storage is one’s intended use, they’d do well to also make sure the cooler they select has a good humidity control. Long term storage should be able to hold a mid-point between 50-80% steadily, above or below that range bad things can happen to corks and the wine contained by them.
In any case it’s a good general rule to plan for a bit bigger of a size than you need. You never know when a favorite might be on sale, you might stumble across a rare bottle, or even just be gifted a bottle you don’t have room for.
A few empty racks doesn’t hurt, but having everything full can lead to difficult choices for those who don’t have backup storage.
There are some common, and easily-avoided, mistakes which come along with a person’s first wine cooler.
One of the most common is going with a single zone cooler with the intention of keeping both types of wine and saving money. While this can work for a general drinker, it’s really best to have seperate zones if you’re planning on keeping both white and red wines in stock.
True enthusiasts will really enjoy the difference.
The other common mistake mostly occurs with electrocooling models of wine chiller. Use a thermometer to make sure the temperature is actually correct. Some of this is a side effect of electrothermal coolers simply being cheaper in most cases, but the effectiveness of the cooling can be effected by ambient temperatures.
Placing wine coolers directly against the wall is also a common mistake. The included manual should give one the optimal distance for their own cooler but at least 2” to 6” is needed in the majority of cases. The latter is more common.
The elements which vent heat are located in the rear of most units so it can cause problems with overheating.
Pay attention, however, as some coolers are designed to dissipate heat through the top. If that’s the case then you’ll have to ensure that there’s enough room above the wine cooler for it to exhaust heat.
Lastly: wine has two big enemies.
Heat is the first one, which you’re trying to beat back with a wine cooler.
The other big enemy is UV radiation, almost always originating from sunlight. Clear bottles are more vulnerable but all wine will suffer quickly when exposed to too much solar energy.
Because of that, you’ll want to be careful of placement. Outdoor wine fridges will suffer more, since there’s almost always a window inside, but if you opt for a “display” front made of glass you should also pay attention to where the sun in the intended room is headed.
The price range for a wine cooler varies a lot depending on what you’re looking for. An 8 or 12 bottle countertop model with sufficient quality will usually run you ~$100. Sometimes less depending on the exact model and any sales which are going on.
Built-in models, or those freestanding ones which are designed to be used as a build in are often closer to the $500-$800 range.
A top of the line model may run into thousands of dollars, but often remain comparable in price per bottle that can be stored on the default racks.
When you’re talking collections which have hundreds of bottles it can be more economical in the long run to seek out other more complex solutions like wine cellars or custom-built wine cabinets.
However, there is one factor that will keep almost everyone on their toes: energy costs.
Wine coolers typically require less energy input than a similarly sized mini-fridge or other option due to the higher average temperature.
While thermoelectric models are reputed to be more efficient we’ve found this drops off as the size of the cooler goes up. They simply need more elements in order to remain effective across a larger area.
Even in high-energy cost states you’ll probably be looking at $130 or less per year. The cost isn’t negligible but it’s not comparable to adding full central air conditioning to your home.
One thing that people don’t often consider when they’re comparing between a compressor and a thermo cooling model is that modern refrigeration systems are complex.
Many residential models aren’t even made to be serviced and would require a considerable amount of time and expertise from an experienced technician to even diagnose. Even relatively minor issues like fans and other electrical components will lead to an expensive fix. Anything involving the gas system requires licensing and simply isn’t feasible at home.
Thermo cooling models have some basic electric parts and a fan to move the air. They’re simple devices and far less likely to experience a catastrophic failure.
So, keep in mind that a high-end wine cooler may be able to be serviced in the future but those which are smaller and run with compressors really aren’t worth bothering to fix.
Q: What temperature should my wine cooler be at?
A: The ideal temperature range is said to be 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As a general rule, tart whites sit around the bottom of this scale while a heavy red will be closer to the top. Most experts agree that 55 degrees is perfectly safe for all wines in storage, but a 10 degree temperature difference in a dual-zone wine fridge can make a pretty big difference.
Q: Why are thermo electric wine fridges so much cheaper?
A: The short answer? They require a lot less engineering in their construction. A standard wine cooler is built around it’s own, specific refrigeration system while a larger thermo electric can often use the same elements as a smaller one in larger quantities.
Q: Does a wine cooler or fridge guarantee long term storage?
A: No, not really. Instead, you give your wine at a better shot of making it over the long term. Those thinking of stashing bottles for multiple years will want extremely tight controls and to disturb the cooler as little as possible. In any case, even a $40,000 wine cellar can’t guarantee the wine has been handled properly for it’s entire history.
Q: Is it okay to store beer in a wine fridge?
A: Lots of people store both, but with a caveat: the temperature serving ranges for pilsners and light lagers is below what most wine coolers can achieve. On the other hand, darker beers like stouts are often best served around 55 degrees, which means a wine cooler is a good solution. Especially for those who like both.
Q: How noisy will a compressor refrigerated wine cooler be?
A: Probably a bit louder than a regular refrigerator/freezer combination if it’s in the mid price-range for the size of cooler. This is just due to construction being a bit lighter, most of us get used to our fridges buzzing on and off over time and it’s the same here. Compared to a thermo cooled model they cause quite a racket.