Choosing a wine refrigerator can be a more complex process than most people realize. Not only are there a countless number of options to choose from, but the issue of proper wine refrigeration is not as simple as having a cold place to keep your booze.
If you're a wine enthusiast or simply enjoy the occasional glass, how you store your wine can make an astonishing amount of difference to every sip. To help you make the best choice for your home and drinking habits, we've put together this in-depth guide.
We'll be covering:
- The basics of wine storage
- Why a Wine Refrigerator is better than using your current fridge
- A brief overview of the features you should be looking for in a wine fridge
- How to Consider Your Available Space when Purchasing
What types of wine fridges are there?
All compressor wine coolers need to include in their design adequate space for the dissipation of heat. This is due to the nature of compression refrigeration systems - which we won't get into too much detail about in this blog post.
Just know - compression coils get very hot in order to do their job effectively and thus need exposure to as much room temperature air as possible in order to function optimally.
- Built-in models are fantastic for saving space and maximizing your already existing décor, without having to make massive adjustments for a large wine refrigerator, however you'll need to be sure there's enough space around your cooler to allow optimal function.
- Free standing models have their cooling coils on the back of the unit typically, which allows them to hold more bottles and frees you from any need to measure discrete spaces to ensure cooling. Simply make sure the coils are a couple inches away from any other surfaces and you're set!
What are the Basics of Wine Storage?
Given that wine is made entirely of organic compounds (at least the good ones are), it's natural that storage would follow a few rules to age or store wine in a way that preserves or enhances flavor and keeps wine from spoiling.
There are a few major "enemies" of wine that you need to be aware of:
The storage of wine in cellars and caves evolved in large part as a way to prevent wine from being directly exposed to sunlight. Which, at the time that the fermentation of wine started showing up, was the only source of UV light available.
In short - the fermentation process that creates the wine which we know and love, doesn't stop when it enters the bottle. The process is much slower than it was when it first began, but it's still running. Sources of radiation (i.e. heat +UV light) can momentarily speed this reaction up, creating byproducts that can dramatically change the flavor of your wine, even with brief exposure to UV light.
Temperature and Humidity Fluctuation
As mentioned in #1, heat can play a big role in how (and how fast) your wine ages. Even a seemingly minor fluctuation in temperature can affect some wines negatively, especially if your wine is stored above 12 degrees Celsius (55 Fahrenheit).
Not only can heat affect the chemical processes happening in your wine by speeding them up at the wrong times, but they can also expand and contract your wine cork and bottle-allowing oxygen to sneak into the bottle, which will DEFINITELY ruin your wine. Oxygen is the best way to send your wine on an express path to tasting like vinegar.
With temperature fluctuation, often comes humidity fluctuation, which can lead to shrinking of your wine corks and broken seals. Which - as mentioned before - allows oxygen into your marvelous collection.
Vibrations (even the minor ones from a faulty fan in your fridge) can displace the sediment that is present in every bottle of wine and can cause that sediment to spread through the entire bottle. Once this happens, another set of unwanted chemical reactions can take place - affecting odor, color and flavor of your wine.
Typically, a solid wine refrigerator needs to protect your wine from all three of these.
What features should I look for in a wine fridge?
Now that we've covered the basics of wine storage, let's take a more in depth look at things you need to consider when choosing a wine refrigerator.
Ideally, your wine cooler needs to have adequate shelving for your expected collection of bottles. Pay special attention to the orientation of shelves within the wine refrigerators you're looking into.
Wine bottles always need to be stored on their sides as much as possible, but ESPECIALLY if you're expecting to store them for a long period of time. Storing a wine bottle on its side allows the cork to remain moist by staying in contact with the wine, regardless of how much is in the bottle.
Keeping the cork moist, mitigates the shrinking or expanding that can occur with humidity fluctuation, but also prevents the cork from drying out and shrinking regardless of humidity. If the cork were to dry out completely, oxygen would get into your bottle and very quickly cause your wine to spoil.
In short, ensure that your selected cooler has enough space for your collection and that the shelving is oriented for sideways storage of wine bottles.
Unlike a typical home refrigerator which cycles on and off maintaining a range of temperatures, your wine refrigerator will pretty much always need to be on. Remember - the objective of any of these refrigerators is to maintain conditions similar to a wine cellar, where there is limited exposure to temperature change and sunlight.
That being said - thermoelectric wine fridges use far less electricity than their compressor-based cousins. They are also quieter and typically vibration-free. However, they do tend to be somewhat more vulnerable to outside heat sources and typically have smaller storage capacity.
You can also consider choosing units with triple pane glass, which acts as an insulator and contributes significantly to maintaining stable inner temperatures.
If you're a budding wine enthusiast experimenting with the storage of a few bottles, then a smaller unit might be best for usage. Especially if you're in an environment that doesn't allow for a larger unit. A 29 - bottle unit for example can be a perfect starting refrigerator as you can allow your collection to grow for a couple years without much incident.
Having a wine fridge with dual temperature zones offers some flexibility when it comes to your collection. Typically, white and red wines are best stored at around 13 degrees Celsius, however they are best served at different temperatures. For example, red wines typically taste best when served between 15.5-18.5 degrees Celsius, whereas white wines tend to perform better at 10-15 degrees Celsius, when flavors can be distinguished.
Having a dual zone wine fridge allows you the ability to store wine at slightly different temperatures, while maintaining their long-term integrity. Dual zone wine refrigerators tend to be both bigger and more expensive however, so consider your budget carefully.
Finally, books shouldn't be judged by their covers, but your wine cooler certainly can be. Of course, you shouldn't let appearance dictate your entire purchase - we certainly recommend that you don't - but skimping on price and opting in to a less-appealing wine cooler can turn your fantasies of entertaining guests and maintaining a certain apartment décor or theme into a frustrating disappointment.
At the least, we recommend experimenting using images and a bit of perspective to see which wine refrigerators are best suited for your space.
Don't just sit on your laptop and pick the fridge that matches your specs best, get out your phone, download a few pictures of your best choices and use your screen to provide some perspective. Hold your screen up ahead of you and try placing your digital wine coolers exactly where your real ones would go and see how they fit!
This method is not perfect, but you'd be surprised just how much benefit you can get from a little perspective.