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Tips on Buying a Wine Fridge

Serving temperature has a big affect on how a wine smells, tastes and feels in your mouth. Even a very good wine can be awful at the wrong temperature. Improper storage temperature can also shorten a wine’s life or ruin the wine completely. Regular refrigerators are too cold for most wines. “Room temperature” is too warm.

The best way to keep wine at the right temperature is with a temperature-controlled wine cellar or a wine refrigerator (also known as a wine fridge or wine cooler.) Wine fridges are readily available these days. You can buy wine coolers online, from wine shops, department stores and even warehouse stores.

More about proper wine service temperatures...

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What to Look for in a Wine Fridge

Capacity

The first thing you need to decide is how many bottles you want to keep in your wine fridge. The answer depends on whether you’re storing for aging or for drinking, how many bottles of you want to have ready at a moment’s notice and how many different types of wine you want available. Wine coolers come with capacities ranging from 6-bottles to 300+. I recommend getting one that's a bit larger than you think you need. If you're serious enough about wine to be buying a cooler, you'll fill it faster than you'd expect.

Where to Put Your Wine Cooler

Do not put your wine cooler in the garage. The big temperature ranges of a garage will make the cooler run too often, shortening it’s life. If the temperature in your garage gets too high, and it probably will, the cooler won’t be able to keep up and your wine will get warm. Likewise, the garage may get too cold in the winter. Wine fridges can’t keep wine above a certain temperature, only below.

Don’t put your wine fridge in an unventilated area, such as a closet. Wine coolers give off heat and they suck in air. In an unventilated space, the cooler will be sucking in its own hot air and will have to work harder, shortening its life.

Don’t your wine cooler next to an oven, regular refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher or clothes washer or dryer. They all give off heat through their side walls and that will make the wine cooler run too often. Some of these appliances also vibrate a lot and that’s not good for wine either.

Vent location

Wine coolers have vents that expel warm air and fans that pull in room-temperature air. These vents and fans need breathing room so that the cooler can work efficiently. Wine coolers can be purchased with front, rear or top venting. If you’re going to putting it under-counter make sure to get a front-vented cooler. Rear venting usually requires at least 6 inches of clearance in the back. Top venting allows the unit to be flush with a wall but needs about a foot of clearance above.

Size and Shape

Wine coolers come in many sizes, but four basic form-factors. Those for 20-bottles or fewer are typically intended to go on top of a counter. Coolers holding between 20 and 60 bottles are usually designed to work for under-counter installation. Larger coolers, especially those over 70-bottles, are almost always designed to be a freestanding appliance. Some are cabinet-style, tall and narrow. Others are console style, wide and half-height.

Once you know where you will put the wine fridge, you can figure out what the best orientation and specific dimensions are. Make sure to account for a couple of clear inches on each side plus enough air space for the venting so the cooler can work efficiently.

Rack Design

The racks inside wine coolers come in two basic styles, fixed and sliding. Sliding racks pull out like a drawer. You pull out a rack, place the bottle on its side then slide the rack back in. Fixed racks are like pigeonholes. You push a bottle, bottom first, into an open hole and then lower it slightly into place.

I prefer sliding racks. It’s easier to find a bottle when you can pull out a rack and easily see all the labels. I also find it’s easy to scuff or tear a label when moving bottles in and out of a fixed rack. This is especially true if you’re in a hurry or the bottle is a little over-sized. If you do opt for a sliding rack, make sure that the drawer mechanism works smoothly and easily. Bare metal wire sliding in plastic grooves doesn’t work well, especially when the rack is fully loaded.

That brings us to the next issue, rack size. There are a lot of wine coolers with racks that don’t accommodate over-sized bottles. I’m not talking about magnums either, very few coolers can handle those. I mean Champagne bottles and Burgundy/Pinot Noir bottles. These bottles have thinner necks but a larger diameter at the base than a “regular” Bordeaux bottle. I strongly recommend taking a bottle of Champagne or Pinot to the showroom so you can see if it fits.

Some racks are plastic, some are bare chrome wire, others are metal wire with wood fronts. I don’t recommend plastic for durability reasons, but beyond that, it’s a cosmetic and economic choice.

ProductPhotos-VT-50SBW10 TopR 800x600H480W640A1
A Vinotemp 50-bottle wine cooler with glass door, refrigerator hinge, front vent, wood-front sliding racks and one temperature zone.

Insulation

The better insulated the cooler, the less often it will need to run and the less energy it will consume. Insulation is measured in R-factor. The higher the number the better.

Hinges

The are two basic hinge types. One is continuous, like a piano hinge. Those are strongest and the most energy efficient. The other option is refrigerator-style, with one hinge at the top and another at the bottom. Most manufacturers let you choose which side the hinge will be on. Some come with the ability for you to put it together either way. That’s convenient in case you move and need to change the orientation.

Noise Level

Most winecoolers use something similar to a refrigerator compressor and they also have fans. This makes noise. A noisy wine cooler can be distracting or even cause discord on the home front. Try to get the manufacturer-measured decibel ratings for the wine coolers you’re interested in. You want something that’s not too much above 40 decibels at worst. (40 decibels is similar to a typical office environment or the sound of light rain. 50 decibels is a dishwasher... You don’t want that because, unlike a dishwasher, the cooler will be running very frequently.) Also be aware that having the wine fridge semi-enclosed, as it would be under a counter, will magnify the sound rather than decreasing it.

One or Two Temperature Zones

Most wine coolers give you the opportunity to set the temperature you prefer, usually between 45° and 65° (Fahrenheit). Some have two thermostats, each manages one half of the cooler. You might set one part for 50° degrees for white wine service and the other at 58 or higher for red wine. If you’re only going to store red wine, you may not need two zones. On the other hand, you might want two so you can have Pinot Noir at 54° and Cabernet Sauvignon at 62°.

Door Style

Some wine coolers have glass front doors, others are solid wood or metal. The main benefit of a glass front is that it looks cool. Some fridges also have internal thermostats that you can read through the glass. There are two downsides to glass doors. One is that they may be less energy efficient. The other is that it makes your wine collection more obvious, a potential security concern.

Build Quality

You don’t always get what you pay for, but you almost never get what you don’t pay for. Buying a cheap wine cooler nearly guarantees you’ll get to buy another one much sooner than you’d like because the compressors tend to fail early. You’re better off paying $1,100 once than $700 twice. Other issues with inexpensive units are scant insulation, poor seals and noisy performance. Choose a reputable manufacturer. Reading user reviews on sites such as Amazon can also be helpful.

Manufacturer

There are many brands of wine coolers. Some companies specialize in wine fridges, others make other kitchen appliances. Some just buy wine fridges made by some company in China and then put their own label on it.

Any of these companies might have a product that works well and meets your needs. In my opinion though, you’re best off buying from a company that specializes in wine coolers. They have the most experience producing them and working with customers who care about wine. These companies may have better information about how wine should be stored and have spent making steady improvements. Above all, since their entire business is focused on wine coolers, offering good quality and satisfactory customer service is essential to the companies’ future. Many online stores offer a wide range of wine coolers from reputable manufacturers.

Cosmetics

Some wine coolers have a high-tech stainless steel and glass look that’s also easy to clean. This is appropriate for a kitchen or bar area. Others have furniture-quality cabinets made of oak, cherry, etc. These may have solid wood doors, plate glass, beveled glass or even stained glass. Top manufacturers will customize the look to your preferences.

 

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.