How to Choose a Wine Cooler: Your Ultimate Buying Guide

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 unit 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 what's best for you? There's a lot to consider, which is why we put together this complete buyer's 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.

 

The Benefits of a Dedicated Wine Chiller in Your Home

 

Thinking that a wine and beverage cooler is a frivolous purchase? Think again! There are plenty of reasons why having your own wine fridge is a great investment — especially if you plan to build a fine wine collection that's larger than just a bottle or two. Consider all the benefits of a wine cooler in your kitchen, dining room or home bar:

 

  • Constant Temperature: Wine experts agree that keeping your wine at a consistent temperature will help it last longer. When wine is subjected to heat, the aging process speeds up. This means the flavors and colors can change, taking your wine past its best moment and causing the delicate flavor compounds to break down. Temperature fluctuations can destroy the flavor of your wine, so keeping things consistent is key. Inside most houses, temperatures can vary quite a bit between seasons, but it's always constant in an insulated wine refrigerator.
  • Cellar Cooling: The right temperature for both long-term and short-term storage of wine is 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That's much cooler than room temperature, but quite a bit warmer than your kitchen refrigerator, which is set at about 38 degrees. Professional storage temperatures mean that your wine will last as long as possible and age appropriately.
  • Proper Humidity Levels: Corked wine also needs sufficient humidity to keep natural corks moist and expanded. The very dry environment in a too-cold refrigerator can cause corks to dry out and shrink, which allows air and bacteria to enter the wine bottle through the gaps. If you purchase only bottles with screw caps, you're in the clear, but corked wine benefits from the constant humidity offered by a dedicated wine cooler.
  • UV Protection: UV rays cause chemical reactions that can wreak havoc on your wine. Too much sunlight can cause discoloration and off-flavors, but a good wine fridge will block out light as well as heat to protect your wine. UV protection is especially important for wines in clear bottles.
  • Proper Serving: In addition to keeping wine temperatures cool and constant, a dedicated wine fridge is superior to your kitchen fridge because it allows you to serve the wine at the perfect temperature for sipping. White wines typically taste better when served cold, while red wines work best closer to room temperature. Set your fridge for the optimal temperature for drinking, and your wine will always be ready to enjoy.
  • Better Home Organization: A wine fridge makes it easy to organize your wine bottles so you can find what you're looking for. It also provides dedicated storage so you can use your kitchen cabinets, food refrigerator and even your actual cellar for other purposes.
  • Smart Home Design: A beautiful wine cooler also makes a statement when it comes to your home decor. It 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.

 

All About Temperature

 

Temperature control is the biggest reason to invest in a wine fridge, but what temperature ranges and features should you look for to store wine and keep it at its best? Before diving into the nitty-gritty about your refrigerator cooling options, it's helpful to know a bit more about the ideal serving temperature for various types of wine.

 

The Right Temperature for Every Kind of Wine

 

As mentioned above, 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, after all, in the days before refrigeration.

 

The best temperature for serving wine is another story. As a general rule of thumb, 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, though, 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.

 

There's a big difference among varieties of red wine, though, and you can get even more specific with your serving temperatures to get the best flavor out of your favorites. Full-bodied wines like Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon taste better on the warmer side, while lighter-bodied Pinot Noir and Beaujolais work well served a bit cooler.

 

Single Zone Wine Refrigerators vs. Dual Zone Wine Coolers

 

Because temperature is so crucial to the care and keeping of your wine — not to mention its enjoyment once you pour it — deciding on the number of temperature zones you need in your wine fridge is a big decision.

 

When to Buy a Single Zone Wine Cooler

 

If you have a standard kitchen refrigerator, you're already familiar with single-zone cooling. This simply means that the interior of the wine fridge is all the same temperature, so every shelf keeps all your wine evenly cooled. A single cooling zone is great when:

 

  • You want a compact storage solution. The smallest wine coolers — including countertop models — tend to be single zone.
  • You are interested in long-term storage. All wine does well at 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can keep them all together if you plan to store your collection for a long time.
  • You already know what you like. If you're all-in with rich French reds or light Italian whites and don't plan to branch out, you probably don't need to store your collection at different temperatures because they're already from a similar flavor profile.
  • You're outfitting an extra-large storage area. If your wine cellar consists of hundreds of bottles, a single-zone refrigerator for each type of wine (red, white and sparkling) can make organization a lot easier.

 

When to Buy a Dual Temperature Wine Cabinet

 

Dual temperature zones allow you to fine-tune your wine storage by providing two compartments that each have 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 storing sparkling wines along with standard bottles. Consider a dual zone wine cellar when:

 

  • You entertain frequently. Having two temperature zones allows you to store your reds and whites at the right temperature for serving, which means that you'll always be able to offer your guests a perfect drink — no planning ahead required.
  • You have eclectic tastes. If you're just beginning your exploration of the wine world, having the ability to collect a variety of wines and store them correctly allows you to bring home anything you find interesting on your travels — without worrying about whether you can keep it properly.
  • You value convenience. No need to search high and low for a certain bottle when you can keep both reds and whites in the same unit. With dual temperature controls, your next drink is always at your fingertips.

 

Types of Compressors and Cooling Systems

 

You probably don't give much thought to how your refrigerator gets its job done, but understanding how your wine cooler functions will help you make the right choice when you're shopping for your home. Here's what you should know:

 

Traditional Compressors

 

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.

 

Compressor wine coolers are highly efficient cooling systems, but they do need proper ventilation to let all that unwanted hot air escape. 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 maximized 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.

 

Thermoelectric Cooling

 

Not all wine coolers use a compressor, however. Thermoelectric wine coolers use no chemicals and instead run by forcing electricity through a very small, metal plate called a heat pump. Thermoelectric heaters are completely silent and produce no vibrations, making them a great choice for collectors who wish to age fine wines without worrying about stirring up sediment in the bottles.

 

Note that thermoelectric wine fridges don't get as cold as compressor coolers. Their temperature depends on the ambient temperature, so they won't work in hot climates unless you run your home air conditioner regularly. It's a great choice for a wine cellar cooling unit, though, as the average basement temperature is much cooler and steadier than elsewhere in your house.

 

Safety and Special Features

 

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:

 

  • 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.
  • LED Lighting: Finding the perfect bottle of wine shouldn't be difficult. To make it easy to read labels at a glance, choose a cooler with interior lighting that illuminates your wares. LED lights are efficient and don't put out much heat, so you'll never be in danger of overheating your wine.
  • 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 paning for effective insulation. This will keep your wine cool while helping your unit run efficiently.
  • Wine Racks: Not all beverage coolers are designed for wine. Choose a model with smooth rolling, wooden shelves designed to store wine bottles on their sides. This makes it easier to see every bottle and ensures that corks stay moist during storage.
  • Stainless Steel: 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.
  • 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.

 

The Best Wine Coolers for Every Budget

 

If you've always thought that a dedicated wine refrigerator is something only available in the most luxurious custom kitchens, think again! There's a wine cooler at every price point, so you can get the right combination of storage capacity, features and looks to build the home beverage center you've always wanted.

 

Under $200:

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The NewAir AW-121E Single Zone Thermoelectric Wine Cooler holds 12 bottles at a constant temperature on your kitchen countertop. It's ideal for apartments and anyone with a small collection of wine they want to enjoy at the perfect temperature.

 

$200-$500:

 

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Dual zone cooling, wooden wine racks and a stylish stainless steel door for under $500? It's all possible with the NewAir AW-211ED 21 Bottle Dual Zone Wine Cooler. This thermoelectric model is a great way to get quiet good looks and great bottle capacity without spending a fortune.

 

$500-$1000:

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If you prefer a dual-zone built-in fridge for a kitchen upgrade, the NewAir AWR-460DB 46-Bottle Dual Zone Built-In Compressor Wine Cooler provides a lot of bang for the buck. With the capacity to hold nearly four cases of wine, two cooling zones and a powerful compressor cooling system, this fridge offers everything your wine needs to stay fresh and delicious until the moment you pop the cork.

 

Over $1000:

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For serious wine collectors, the NewAir AWR-1600DB is a 160 bottle wine cooler is packed with features like a digital display, dual zone cooling for reds and whites, LED lighting and a locking mechanism. If you have bottles from France to California and everywhere in between, this enormous fridge will hold them all.

 

The Do's and Don'ts of Proper Wine Storage

 

To get the most out of your new wine cooler, keep in mind these do's and don'ts to make sure your wine is stored properly for the long term:

 

Do:

 

  • Keep your wine cooler out of direct sunlight. Wine needs to be protected from UV rays to maintain its delicate balance of chemical compounds. Also, sunlight can create significant heat, which will make your wine fridge work harder to keep temperatures low.
  • Store wine bottles on their sides. A wine cooler with racks designed to hold bottles on their sides will keep corks moist and plump to seal out bacteria for years. This is also useful for aging fine wines because it maximizes the surface area of wine allowed to oxidize and age in storage.
  • Keep humidity balanced. If your wine cooler offers humidity control, set it to 70 percent relative humidity to properly condition corks. If this feature isn't available, a steady temperature of 55 degrees will typically provide 70 percent relative humidity inside a closed system.

 

Don't:  

 

  • Rotate or move bottles more than necessary. Moving bottles can stir up sediment, which can alter the taste and texture of the wine. Whenever possible, it's best to keep bottles in the same position until they're ready to drink.
  • Place freestanding wine coolers in tight spaces. Compressor coolers need airflow to release hot air. if you prefer your cooler to slide in between cabinets, choose a model designed for built-in installation to ensure proper functioning.
  • Over-chill wine in a standard kitchen refrigerator. With the exception of some sparkling wines, it's best to serve wine a good 20 degrees warmer than the temperatures in your kitchen refrigerator. Too-cold temps can flatten out delicate flavors and deaden your taste buds, ruining your enjoyment of the wine.

 

The Bottom Line: Your Wine Cooler Checklist

 

There are lots of wine accessories out there designed to make sipping your vino more enjoyable, but none is more important than a wine cooler when it comes to maintaining freshness and perfectly balanced flavors. To help you 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

 

Consider all of these factors as you shop to 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.

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