Wine coolers, also called wine refrigerators, do what regular refrigerators are not designed to do: Keep red and white wines stored at a consistent temperature that best preserves their character and quality. Wine coolers are not meant for long-term wine collection and storage, where wine is allowed to age and appreciate in value over years. High-end wine cellars or wine cabinets designed for this purpose -- some costing tens of thousands of dollars -- have far more sensitive temperature and humidity levels. Instead, wine fridges are meant to store wine you intend to drink within about a year, and they can make a nice addition to a wet bar or party room.
If you plan to store fewer than 20 bottles in your wine cooler, countertop models are the most cost effective. Brands include Danby, Vinotemp, Haier, and Avanti, and all of them make countertop wine coolers that sell for less than $200. However, few of these wine refrigerators are reviewed by professional sources like Consumer,Reports.com or Good Housekeeping, and most of them receive just a handful of user reviews. The majority of countertop wine coolers that do earn user reviews at retail sites like Amazon.com and HomeDepot.com get poor scores from owners for quality and durability.
The Avanti EWC1201 12-Bottle Wine Cooler (*Est. $110) doesn't get a huge number of owner reviews, but the ones that it does get are mainly positive. The Avanti wine cooler holds 12 bottles -- eight horizontally on racks and four upright -- handy for open bottles. A readout on the exterior displays the temperature in either Celsius or Fahrenheit; this Avanti countertop wine cooler has a temperature range of 47 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (the right range for storing red or white wines). It comes with a one-year warranty.
The Danby DWC1233BLSC Maitre' D wine cooler (*Est. $100) also holds 12 bottles, but it can't store any upright bottles, and it's better for unopened wine. Otherwise, it has many of the same features as the Avanti version: chrome shelves, touchpad controls and an interior light. It has a temperature range of 50 to 64 degrees. We found no expert reviews of this Danby wine cooler, but more than 40 people rate it an average of 4 out of 5 stars at Walmart.com. Almost all of those who give it negative reviews say the unit broke down after six months to a year.
If you want to be able to store many bottles of wine, your choices are a freestanding or a built-in cooler (most built-ins are designed to be installed under a counter, much like a dishwasher). Freestanding wine coolers cost less, because they don't have to have the front venting and zero side and back clearances that under-counter wine coolers require. We found a few reviews for the GE Profile Deluxe Wine Center PWR04FANBS (*Est. $400), which holds 29 bottles; the lower rack tilts for storing open bottles.
Although user reviews are not plentiful, the GE Profile wine cooler does earn positive scores from about 30 users at HomeDepot.com and from about a dozen users at BestBuy.com. It did not perform as well as other freestanding wine coolers in tests by a leading consumer publication, however, largely because of its poor energy efficiency. Compared with other wine coolers in the same price range, this GE wine fridge offers a number of extra features. For example, its glass door can be mounted on either side (so it can open either left or right), and it has a recessed handle and a built-in lock. There are preset temperature settings for red and white wines, but with a single interior compartment, you can't store white wine at one temperature and red wine at another.
If you want to store red and white wine, the Haier HVZ040ABH5S 40-bottle wine cellar (*Est. $450), has two separate compartments and temperature zones. The chrome racks have wood fronts, and the curved glass of the door is tinted blue-gray to help block UV rays (exposure to UV light can degrade wine). There are pre-set temperatures for red and white wines; each compartment has a range of 39 to 65 degrees. We found only a handful of user reviews of this cooler, including some complaints that it doesn't last but about a year or two. We couldn't find any dual-zone wine cooler that receives more than four or five owner-written reviews.
Expert reviews of wine coolers are not plentiful, but we did find a few. ConsumerReports.org has the best, with ratings based on objective tests, but the ratings chart is available to subscribers only and it dates back to 2008; most of the reviewed wine coolers are no longer available. TopTenReviews.com, has some detailed descriptions of wine cooler models as well as advice for buyers. Like TopTenReviews.com, there are several other sites that recommend wine coolers but provide no information about the site's authors and no evidence that any testing was performed. In lieu of quality expert reviews, we found helpful user reviews on Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com and Walmart.com, though not as many as we would have thought. Retailer AJMadison.com is also worth a look.