Proper wine storage is essential for getting the most enjoyment out of each bottle.
Whether you're a long-term wine lover or are just beginning to develop your palate, proper wine storage is essential for getting the most enjoyment out of each bottle. Whether you choose a built-in wine cooler for your kitchen or a freestanding wine fridge for a dedicated wine cellar, adding a wine refrigerator to your home is the best way to ensure that your wine stays fresh and ages perfectly. You'll also be able to effortless serve your wine at the ideal temperature to maximize flavor.
But with so many cooling units on the market today, how do you know to choose a wine fridge that’s best for you? There's a lot to consider, which is why we put together this complete wine refrigerator buying guide. We'll break down all the essential features and help you consider your budget, tastes, and style.
And if you're not a veteran wine enthusiast, no worries! We'll also help you understand the basics of wine storage so you know exactly how to keep reds, whites and sparkling wine for short-term enjoyment or long-term storage. With the right wine storage solution, it's easy to look like an expert.
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Wine Storage Basics
Wine is a delicate, natural product. Like the fruits that it's made of, wine will eventually spoil if not properly stored. When wine goes bad, the compounds that make up its complex flavors and aromas break down, leaving you with something that tastes more like vinegar than vino.
To keep this from happening, wine must be protected from three big enemies: extreme temperatures, ultraviolet rays, and vibrations.
UV rays can damage wine the same way they damage your skin. Too much sunlight will cause the delicate compounds in your wine to break down, leaving you with wine that doesn't taste like it should. Experts describe this as a " cooked " flavor. Keeping wine in protective storage that minimizes exposure to sunlight and artificial light is key.
The all-around best wine storage temperature is 55 degrees, which is about the same as the year-round temperatures found underground. Caves and actual cellars were the original wine storage facilities in the days before refrigeration, because they made it easy to keep wine at these temperatures. When wine is kept at 55 degrees, it slows that aging process significantly, so you don't have to worry about losing color, flavor, or aroma.
Maintaining a steady temperature is also important. When wine is subjected to dips and spikes in the temperature, it speeds the decaying process. It also leads to fluctuations in relative humidity, which can damage corks and break the seal on your wine bottles. Shrunken corks can cause wine to spoil in just a few days.
Wines have a small amount of sediment in each bottle. If your wine is moved too often, that sediment can become agitated and spread throughout the bottle, where it causes chemical reactions that change the flavor of your wine. If the sediment is present when you pour, it also ruins the mouth feel when you take a sip. Wine should be kept as still as possible and protected from excessive vibrations from appliances.
Why Do You Need a Wine Fridge?
A dedicated wine fridge is designed specifically to address the needs of wine. It provides a steady temperature year round while blocking out excess sunlight and keeping artificial light to a minimum. Many wine fridges are designed with floating shelves and cooling systems that minimize vibrations.
The Drawbacks of a Standard Refrigerator
Unfortunately, a standard kitchen refrigerator does none of these things. Keeping wine in your kitchen fridge will leave it too cold, since the standard temperature for food storage is 38 degrees, not 55. The interior is also much drier, which can shrink corks and break the seal on your wine. Large food refrigerators tend to have large compressors, which create excessive vibrations. If you keep wine bottles in the refrigerator door, they'll be moving all the time, and subjected to plenty of temperature changes as you ponder what you want for a snack. All things considered, this is not a good way to store your wine.
Understanding Wine Serving Temperatures
Another reason to consider a wine fridge is to make sure that your wine tastes its best when you're ready to drink it. While the ideal temperature for wine storage is 55 degrees, the best temperature for serving wine is another story. Wines can be broken into three basic categories when it comes to serving temperatures:
- Red Wines: Traditionally, red wines are served at room temperature. Today's houses are kept much warmer than they were in the past, so this really means somewhere between 60 and 65 degrees.
- White Wines: White wines typically taste better chilled, but not so cold that you can't distinguish the delicate flavors. These should be served between 50 and 60 degrees.
- Sparkling Wines: Carbonated drinks are at their best when served as cold as possible. For Champagne and other sparklers, 40 degrees will do nicely.
A 38-degree kitchen fridge is too cold for any wine, but a dedicated wine fridge or dual zone wine cooler keeps your wine at just the right temperature to make the most of its flavor when you are ready to drink it.
How to Choose a Wine Fridge: Important Features
Where do you plan to keep your new wine fridge? This will have a major impact on how much noise you'll be able to tolerate from your appliance. Noise won't matter much in a wine cellar that's far removed from the rest of the house. On the other hand, a fridge in a media room or near the TV shouldn't interrupt your evening when it kicks on.
If noise is important to you, pay close attention to the type of cooling system the refrigerator uses. there are two main types:
- Compressor Systems: Most refrigerators operate with a compressor. This machine cools air by pumping a chemical refrigerant through coils. The refrigerant absorbs heat from the air inside your refrigerator and releases it into the air outside your fridge. The compressor is the part of your fridge that you hear humming when it's running. Large compressors can get loud when they cycle on, so check the decibel level. For reference, a whisper is about 30 decibels.
- Thermoelectric Systems: Thermoelectric wine coolers use no chemicals and instead run by forcing electricity through a very small, metal plate called a heat pump. Thermoelectric coolers produce no vibrations, making them a great choice for wine enthusiasts who wish to age fine wines without worrying about stirring up sediment in the bottles. They're also completely silent.
A wine cooler with racks designed to hold bottles on their sides will keep corks moist by keeping them in contact with the wine. This keeps corks plump to seal out bacteria for years. Storing bottles on their sides is also useful for aging fine wines because it maximizes the surface area of wine allowed to oxidize in storage.
Not all beverage coolers are designed for wine. Choose a model with smooth rolling, wooden shelves or metal wine racking designed to cradle wine bottles on their sides. This makes it easier to see every bottle and ensures that corks stay moist during storage.
A beautiful wine cooler makes a statement in your home. Choosing the right one shows that you're knowledgeable about wine and savvy about making additions to your kitchen or home bar that will increase your home's value — not to mention provide years of convenience and enjoyment.
As you shop for a wine fridge, consider the overall style of the rest of your home. There's no more popular look for kitchens and home bars than stainless steel, so don't settle for less if you crave a high-end look in your home. Black finishes also blend well in many design schemes and are always a classic. The finish of the refrigerator door and sides should blend nicely in whatever room you plan to keep your wine cooler.
To keep your wines at a steady storage and serving temperature, your wine fridge will always be on. To minimize the impact on your electric bill, pay close attention to how much energy each model uses, and look for these energy efficient design elements:
- Thermoelectric Cooling: One of the advantages of thermoelectric wine coolers is that that they use far less electricity than compressor systems.
- LED Lighting: Good interior lighting helps you read your wine labels quickly, but beware of hot bulbs that make it harder to keep your fridge cold inside. Low-temperature LED lights are the most efficient choice.
- Triple Pane Glass: If you prefer glass to a solid door to show off your wine, be sure to choose tempered glass for safety and triple pane windows for effective insulation. This will keep cool air in and help your unit run efficiently.
How large is your wine collection? Choosing a right-sized fridge will help you get the most out of your investment. Consider how many wine bottles you have on hand on any given day, and add 20% to give you room to grow — or just to hold extra bottles for a holiday. Choosing a fridge that's much larger than your needs will force it to work harder to cool empty space; choosing one that you outgrow immediately will just be frustrating. Nearly all wine fridges list their bottle capacities clearly on the box or in the product description.
Many — but not all — wine coolers offer dual temperature zones that allow you to set each section at a different temperature. This is a highly useful feature for wine collectors who love red and white wines equally. Dual temperature zones allow you to fine-tune your wine storage by providing two compartments that each has a separate control panel. You can set the temperature in one zone to be significantly cooler than the other, making this type of refrigerator perfect for serving different types of wine at the perfect temperature.
If you're looking for a very compact wine cooler, however, single zone fridges are your best choice. They're also more budget-friendly. Single zone cooling simply means that the interior of the wine fridge is all the same temperature, so every shelf keeps all your wine evenly cooled. They are also perfect for long-term cellaring of both red and white wines, since you'll likely be storing all bottles at the standard 55 degrees.
Built-in Vs. Freestanding Construction
Compressor wine coolers are highly efficient cooling systems, but they need proper ventilation to let hot air escape from the area around their cooling coils. The location of the compressor will determine how your fridge can be used.
- Freestanding Models: Wine coolers designed to stand alone, whether on a countertop or on the floor, can have their compressor coils on the back of the unit, which maintains a clean look and maximizes storage space inside. Rear coils must have adequate air flow around the fridge, so you'll typically need to maintain several inches of free space behind and around a freestanding wine cooler.
- Built-in Wine Refrigerators: Undercounter wine coolers designed to slide snugly in between kitchen cabinets cannot have their compressors pressed against the wall. These need to be specially designed with coils and an exhaust grate on the bottom, where air can easily escape the unit.
As you shop, remember that built-ins can be used between cabinets or as stand-alone units wherever you like, which provides maximum flexibility. Freestanding units can only be used with proper airflow around the appliance. Most thermoelectric refrigerators are freestanding.
Once you have decided on the basics for your wine cooler, it's time to think about special features. These are all the safety, convenience and style attributes that turn a basic wine fridge into something truly special. Here are some of the most useful features to add to your wish list:
- UV Protection: UV rays cause discoloration and off-flavors, but a good wine fridge will block out light as well as heat to protect your wine. If you prefer a fridge with a glass door, look for ones designed with UV protection.
- Child Locks: If you live with small children or curious teenagers, a fridge with a lock and key will give you piece of mind and keep adult beverages out of the wrong hands. It's also a great feature for serious wine lovers with very valuable collections.
- Reversible Doors: Details matter, so make sure a single-door wine cooler provides the option to install the door to open on the left or the right. This will allow you to save space and make sure your unit functions exactly as it should within your space.
Your Wine Cooler Buying Checklist
A wine fridge is crucial when it comes to maintaining your wine's freshness and flavor. As you research your options, use this checklist to track your must-have features and make comparisons of different makes and models.
Features to Look for in Your Wine Cooler
- Bottle Capacity sufficient to hold your collection and allow it to grow
- Temperature Range appropriate to chilling all your favorite kinds of wine at the ideal serving temperature
- Dual or Single Temperature Zones to provide temperature flexibility for your collection
- Freestanding or Built-In Design for the ability to place your fridge exactly where you want it
- Thermoelectric or Compressor Cooling to keep your wine at a constant temperature
- Child Locks for safety
- Triple Pane Glass or a well-insulated solid door to keep cool air in
- LED Lighting to save energy and keep UV rays to a minimum inside your cooler
- Wine Rack Shelves that allow bottles to be stored on their sides for proper long-term storage
- Durable, Stylish Design that blends with your decor and will stand the test of time
- Outstanding Customer Service to get answers to questions and prompt problem-solving for the lifetime of your appliance
- Free Shipping to keep your total cost to a minimum
Additional resources, like Ode's Magazine article ranking top wine refrigerators are great to review.
How to Set Up and Maintain Your Wine Fridge
Once you've chosen the perfect wine cooler to keep all those white and red wine bottles perfectly chilled, make sure you know how to take care of it. Proper installation and maintenance will keep your fridge running efficiently for years to come.
Choose the Right Location
Place your wine fridge on a hard, flat, stable surface for best results. Carpet should be avoided whenever possible, but if you must place your fridge over carpet, purchase a plastic mat to create a more stable base and catch any leaks or drips. Keep your wine cooler out of direct sunlight and in a room where the temperature is stable to help it run efficiently.
Check the Drip Tray
Nearly all wine refrigerators have a small pan or reservoir that catches excess water. The excess water isn't a problem — it's just condensation that's funneled out of the fridge so it can evaporate. Occasionally water can gather in the drip tray, which can lead to a musty smell or, in rare situations, an overflow of water onto your floor. Check the drip tray and pour away any excess water to stop problems before they start.
Solve Condensation Problems
All refrigerators create condensation due to the temperature difference between the interior and exterior. Normally excess moisture isn't a problem, but sometimes condensation can form on the inside of your fridge. If this happens, try adding an open box of baking soda or silica beads to absorb excess moisture.
Keep It Clean
Keeping your wine fridge clean — inside and out — is one of the most important ways to make sure it runs well. Follow these steps to give your appliance a thorough cleaning once a year:
- If possible, unplug and/or turn off the wine cooler before cleaning to avoid electrical shock.
- Gently remove wine bottles, keeping them on their sides as you move them to a secure location. Keep them in the same position to avoid agitating sediment.
- Carefully remove shelves or racks and wipe them down with a damp cloth. Microfiber is a great choice, as is an old cotton t-shirt.
- Wipe the interior with the damp cloth as well.
- If the interior of wine fridge smells musty or you can see visible mildew, get rid of mold with a damp cloth soaked in white vinegar or a 1:10 solution of bleach and water. Allow the fridge to air out for several hours.
- Replaced the interior fittings and wine bottles.
- Wipe down the outside with a soft cloth.
- Remove smudges on glass by wiping with vinegar-soaked newspaper. For smudges on stainless steel, use a specialty cleaner, or try polishing with olive oil and buffing with a soft cloth.
- Finally, use the crevice tool on your vacuum cleaner to clear dust and debris off of the compressor coils and away from vents.
- When you're finished cleaning, don't forget to turn your wine fridge back on!
When it comes to buying a wine fridge, there's a lot to think about. Consider all of these factors as you shop so you can narrow your choices and find the right combination of features for your wine cooler. There's no one "right" wine cooler out there — the best wine cooler is the one that has all the features you want at a price you can afford.