Americans drink roughly 280 million gallons of wine each year; 2.8 gallons per person. That’s a lot of wine, but since they can’t drink it all at once, they need a way to store it and keep it safe. Wine isn’t a stable solution. It’s an evolving mixture of chemicals, each reacting with one another. If it’s not stored at a stable temperature, these reactions can become unbalanced and ruin the taste of your wine. Though there are several different ways to store wine, Americans are increasingly turning to wine coolers as their preferred solution. Wine coolers create a carefully controlled temperature environment that preserves your wine’s taste and aroma. There are two different types of wine coolers to choose from: thermoelectric wine coolers and compressor wine coolers. Each one protects your wine, but using very different methods. If you’re on the market for a wine cooler, you should know what they are and the different benefits they provide.
Thermoelectric Wine Coolers
Compressor Wine Coolers
Large Bottle Capacity
More Storage Options
Protected From Outside Heat Sources
|Disadvantages||Vulnerable to Outside Heat Sources
Fewer Storage Options
Consumes More Power
Thermoelectric Wine Coolers
Thermoelectric wine coolers chill wine using the Peltier Effect, named after the physicist who discovered it: Jean Charles Athanase Peltier. He found that when you run an electric current between the junctions of a semiconductor plate made of dissimilar metals, one side of the panel begins turning electricity into heat, while the other side turns heat into electricity. This creates imbalance of thermal energy between the two sides of the plate. One side gets hot and the other side gets cold. In a thermoelectric wine cooler, the Peltier plate is attached to a heat pump, which pulls warm air out of the wine cabinet and disperses it using a heat sink made of aluminum fins. The fins absorb the heat and radiate it out into the surrounding air.
Advantages of a Thermoelectric Wine Cooler
The biggest advantage of a thermoelectric wine cooler is it’s energy efficient. Because the Peltier Effect requires only a small amount of electricity, thermoelectric wine coolers don’t cost very much to operate, and because you don’t need any moving parts to generate the effect, thermoelectric coolers are quiet and vibration-free.
Vibration is an important part of wine storage. As wine ages, its tannins gradually bind together, forming long chains of molecules called polymers. When these polymers grow larger, they fall out of the wine solution and settle at the bottom of the bottle, forming a layer of sediment. Sediment isn’t harmful. It’s a natural part of the aging process and indicates that a wine has developed some character, but it’s not good to drink. It has an unpleasant texture and a bitter, acidic taste that crowds out the subtler flavors in your wine. For this reason, wine collectors do their best to minimize vibrations when storing wine, even small ones. Keeping the wine still lets the sediment settle at the bottom of the bottle and prevents it from re-integrating back into the rest of the wine.
Vibration also increase the wine’s kinetic energy and accelerate its chemical reactions. The faster molecules are moving when they collide with one another, the more energy they have to initiate a chemical reaction. Small vibrations don’t have a serious effect, but if the wine is constantly exposed to them over a long period of time, their cumulative effects can have serious consequences, such as lower acid levels, fewer flavor compounds, greater sweetness, and diminished aromas, all of which are detrimental.
Finally, because the Peltier Effect doesn’t require complicated machinery, thermoelectric wine coolers are also lightweight and easy to carry.
The Peltier Effect is limited in its effect and provides comparatively weak levels of c
ooling. Though it is capable to chilling wine at its storage and serving temperatures (55-65°F), it can’t lower the temperature more than 20°F below the ambient temperature. If it’s placed in a exceptionally warm room, or a near heat source such as a stove or oven, the cooling system can get overwhelmed. Temperatures inside could spike and damage your wine. Even direct sunlight is a danger, if the cooler is exposed to it for an extended period on a hot day.
Thermoelectric coolers also have limited placement options. These units vent hot air through heat sinks in the back of the unit, and require at least five inches of space on each side, otherwise they may overheat and breakdown. This means thermoelectric coolers can’t be installed under your counters or in your home bar. The narrow confines impede ventilation, so thermoelectric coolers have to be used exclusively as freestanding units.
Compressor Wine Coolers
Compressor wine coolers use the same cooling equipment as a refrigerator: a compressor, condenser coils, and an evaporator, plus a refrigerant such as HFC-134a (Tetrafluoroethane). It starts when the compressor motor kicks on and pressurizes the refrigerant, transforming it into a liquid and raising its temperature. The refrigerant then moves through the condenser coils, where it to releases its excess heat into the outside air before it reaches the expansion valve. The expansion valve is a small hole in the condenser coils the refrigerant has to pass through in order to reach the compressor again. The small diameter of the valve creates a pressure imbalance that causes the refrigerant to boil over and vaporize as it passes through. The refrigerant than passes through the rest of the condenser coils, which are connected to the wine cabinet. The refrigerant pulls the heat out of the interior of the wine cooler and then gets pulled back into the compressor so the cycle can start over again.
Advantages of a Compressor Wine Cooler
The biggest advantage of a compressor wine coolers is its powerful cooling system. Compressor cooling is more effective and can lower temperatures far better than thermoelectric systems (some can reach as low as 39°F). More importantly, they aren’t susceptible to environmental stress. Placing a compressor cooler near a heat source might force the compressor to work hard, but it won’t raise the cooler’s internal temperature.
Temperature is the most important factor in wine storage. The more heat you apply to a chemical reaction, the faster it proceeds. Increasing the temperature of your wine increases the rate of polymerization, the rate of oxidation, and the rate of interaction between the acids and alcohol. Unfortunately, few of these reactions have the same heat threshold. Heating up a bottle of wine causes these reactions to accelerate at different rates, upsetting the wine’s balance and destroying its flavor. Just a few hours in a hot spot is enough to ruin it.
Their powerful cooling also lets compressor wine coolers hold more wine bottles. Peltier plates are only effective at cooling small containers. Bottle capacity is limited to about 40 bottles, max. If you want a wine fridge, something that can hold over 100 bottles, you’ll need a compressor cooler. All wine fridges are powered by compressors. They’re the only things capable of maintaining a stable temperatures in a large space.
Compressor wine coolers also provide you with more storage options. Most are equipped with front venting compressors, so they can be placed in tight spaces without overheating. They can be used as freestanding units, but they can also installed below your kitchen counters or in your home bar. Building them into your home provides quick and easy access to your wine without taking up any extra floor space. It also enhances the look of your home. Most people have positive associations with wine, and a built in wine cooler transfers those associations to whatever room it’s placed in.
Compressor wine coolers have two major downsides: they generate vibrations and they have high operating costs. Whenever the compressor kicks on, it vibrates the cooler. The effect of these vibrations is small, but if enough accumulate over time their effect can be significant. Compressors also consume a comparatively large amount of electricity, which is why you should be careful where you place them. Heat from stoves, ovens, and dishwashers will keep the compressor working harder and longer than normal, which can run up your electric bill and increases the risk of a burn out.
Compressors have a couple of minor downsides as well. First, they’re noisier. Like the ordinary refrigerator in your kitchen, compressor coolers emit a steady hum as they work. Some wine drinkers find the noise bothersome, but most learn to ignore it after a few days, the same way they do with any other refrigerator. Second, they’re heavier. Compressors are made of cast iron, so they weight a lot and are difficult to move. If you need to lift one, always use a dolly or have someone help you.
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