Wine coolers, also called wine refrigerators, are designed to keep red and white wines stored at a consistent temperature that best preserves their character and quality. Wine coolers are meant to store wine you intend to drink within about a year; they're not intended for the long-term storage and aging of high-end wines. Many people use wine coolers in the kitchen to supplement a standard refrigerator (which are covered in their own report), but they can also make a nice addition to a wet bar or party room.
Depending upon the size of the wine cooler, it may have one or two temperature zones. Two temperature zones make it convenient to store more than one type of wine. Experts say that white wines should be stored at 48 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, depending upon the type. Red wines, on the other hand, should be stored at between 60 and 68 degrees, again, depending upon the type. Usually, the number of available temperature zones will depend upon the size of the wine refrigerator. Smaller, countertop units usually have only one zone, larger units will have two or more.
There are two types of cooling technology found in wine refrigerators: Compressor-based and thermoelectric. Wine coolers with compressors work like traditional refrigerators, using coolant and fans to cool the air inside the wine cooler. Hot air is vented out the front, away from the cooler. Thermoelectric wine coolers do not cool air, rather, they rely on heat transfer to remove the heat from inside the compartment, and the heat is usually vented out the back. That means that thermoelectric coolers require a fairly generous amount of space around them to allow the air to circulate. While wine coolers with thermoelectric cooling systems can be used as built-ins if the installation is planned carefully and plenty of room is left for circulation, most experts advise against it and say if you're going to have a built-in unit, go with a compressor-type wine refrigerator.
Another drawback to thermoelectric systems is that they are sensitive to the temperature outside the unit since they can only cool the compartment to about 20 degrees below the ambient temperature. If the air around the cooler is too warm, the unit may not be able to maintain a temperature below 55 degrees, meaning that your wine may not be held at a stable temperature, or at the correct temperature for some wines. By the same token, if the ambient temperature is too cold, say, below 50 degrees, the wine cooler's temperature may drop below what's ideal. However, if you keep your thermoelectric wine cooler in a climate-controlled environment -- heated during cold winters and air-conditioned during hot summers -- they are extremely affordable and attractive appliances that come in a variety of styles and sizes.
If you plan to store fewer than 20 bottles in your wine cooler, countertop models are the most cost effective. By far the top-rated of these is the Haier 6-bottle Wine Cellar with Electronic Controls (Est. $90). This thermoelectric wine cellar is the smallest in a line of wine storage refrigerators that also includes 8-bottle, 12-bottle and 16-bottle capacities. However, the 6-bottle wine cooler is very popular with those who have little floor space and just need a small wine refrigerator to provide them with a steady supply of chilled red or white wine. It fits nicely on the kitchen counter of even small apartments or RVs, owners say, and consistently maintains the chosen temperature. The 6- and 8-bottle Haier units have only a single temperature zone, while the 12- and 16-bottle wine coolers in the same series have two temperature zones.
The Haier 6-Bottle Wine Cellar has a temperature range of 45 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit, which is in the suggested range for either white or red wines. It's also reported as very quiet and sturdy, and we saw no significant durability complaints.
The Wine Enthusiast 6-Bottle Touchscreen Wine Cooler (Est. $125) is another small, countertop wine refrigerator that gets solid reviews from owners. It's very close in overall size to the Haier, but, instead of stationary wire racks, the Wine Enthusiast cooler features pull out shelves that users find very convenient. However, we did see some comments that this wine cooler will only hold six rather slender bottles, and does not hold six bottles of larger-sized wines, such as champagne. Like the Haier, this thermoelectric unit also has one temperature zone that can be adjusted from 46 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Owners say it's attractive, quiet and maintains a consistent temperature.
The Avanti 12-Bottle Wine Cooler (Est. $125) is twice the size of the Haier and Wine Enthusiast wine fridges, but it also gets very good reviews as a countertop wine cooler -- if you have a bigger space. The Avanti wine cooler can hold eight bottles horizontally on racks and four upright, which reviewers say is very handy for open bottles. A readout on the exterior displays the temperature in either Celsius or Fahrenheit and the temperature range is 47 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. It is only a single-zone cooler, but those who drink just white or just red wine say they appreciate having wine at the perfect temperature. This thermoelectric cooler gets poorer reviews for durability than either the Haier or the Wine Enthusiast cellars, but most say it works very well and Avanti gets good reviews for its customer service.
If you want to store more than just a few bottles of wine, you'll want to consider a freestanding wine cooler. More affordable than built-ins, which we discuss below, freestanding thermoelectric wine coolers cost less because they don't have to accommodate the front venting and zero side and back clearances that under-counter wine coolers require, though you'll need to find a spot with plenty of clearance so air can circulate around the appliance. However, they still perform very well and accommodate more bottles of wine than a countertop wine cooler will. These larger, freestanding units also usually have dual temperature zones.
The Koldfront 24 Bottle Free Standing Dual Zone Wine Cooler (Est. $260) is a very highly-regarded wine cooler by owners, who say it's an extremely attractive addition to their kitchen. It has a black cabinet with stainless steel trim and convenient pull-out wooden shelves that reviewers say blend in with a variety of decors. Although it holds up to 24 bottles of wine, most note that the Koldfront cooler is tall and thin, rather than squat, so it has a fairly small footprint that makes it suitable even for smaller spaces. However, the door has to open 180 degrees to be able to pull out the shelves, so be sure you have the clearance for that in whatever space you have planned. Also keep in mind that the door is not reversible and only opens from left to right.
The Koldfront is a dual-zone wine refrigerator that has an upper zone with a temperature range of 54 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit, and a lower zone with a temperature range of 46 to 66 degrees. Owners say both zones reach the desired temperature quickly and maintain it very well. An LED display shows the temperature for both zones, and it's simple to set or change. Most say it's very quiet; complaints that this wine cooler is noisy are few and far between.
The NewAir AW-210ED 21 Bottle Wine Cooler (Est. $300) doesn't get as many reviews overall as the Koldfront, and they're more mixed, but plenty of owners are big fans of this wine cooler. They love its looks and the easy-to-use, pull-out wire shelves. The shelves are also adjustable for different sizes of bottles -- although if the bottles are larger it may not hold its full capacity of 21 bottles.
We did see a few durability complaints with the NewAir AW-210ED, but, to be fair, thermoelectric wine coolers don't seem to have a particularly long life span in general. In addition, some very low ratings are due to the requirement that this wine cooler have plenty of space around it for air circulation, again, something that all thermoelectric coolers need. Those who understand those limitations give the NewAir wine cooler very high ratings across the board, and NewAir gets kudos for its customer service.
Finding a dedicated space in your kitchen for a built-in wine refrigerator is becoming an increasingly popular option for wine lovers. Built-in wine coolers are discreet, stylish and look as if they're merely part of the overall décor, just like any other modern kitchen appliance. The one big difference with built-in coolers as opposed to the freestanding models profiled above is that they use compressor technology, rather than thermoelectric, so that they don't need air-flow space around them and can be set flush into the available space, just like a standard refrigerator.
By far, the best reviews we saw for a built-in wine cooler were for the NewAir 46 Bottle Wine Cooler (Est. $900). Its 46-bottle capacity is large enough for all but the most avid collector of vino, and it gets raves for its attractive appearance -- a stainless steel/black design with wood shelves. The shelves pull out for convenience and are adjustable for different-sized bottles.
The dual-zone NewAir has two temperature compartments to store white and red wines separately. The temperature range in both compartments is 40 to 64 degrees, so can be used for either type of wine. Owners praise the NewAir's performance, saying it holds the set temperature very well and there is no crossover between zones.
Most reviewers say they have the NewAir Wine Cooler installed by a professional, either as part of a new construction or as a kitchen remodel. However, some handy folks say they have cut out a cabinet or part of the wall support underneath a kitchen island and installed this wine refrigerator with no problem. Keep in mind, however, you need to have access to an electrical outlet. If you're not sure how to do that safely, seriously consider hiring a professional. The door on the NewAir can be installed to open from either side, which expands its installation options. Although popular as a built-in, the NewAir can also be used as a freestanding unit, and it gets good reviews from those who use it that way as well -- just plug it in and fill it with wine, they say.
If you want a built-in that's a bit smaller -- and is tall and thin rather than square -- you can't do better than the EdgeStar Built-In 18 Bottle Wine Cooler (Est. $550). Like the NewAir, it's very attractive, with a black cabinet and brushed stainless trim and wood-trimmed slide-out shelves. The door is also reversible. This 18-bottle wine cooler has only one temperature zone, with a range of 40 to 65 degrees, so it's best for only whites or only reds, but owners say it holds its temperature very consistently and its digital controls are easy to set. The Edgestar 18-bottle wine cooler makes for a tidy built-in -- about the size of a trash compactor, say owners -- but it can also be used as a freestanding unit as well.
There are no recent, comparative professional reviews of wine coolers, so we carefully analyzed thousands of owner reviews we found at retail sites, such as Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, AJMadison.com, WineEnthusiast.com and WineCoolerDirect.com. In addition, the latter two sites, which deal with all things wine-related, are great resources for learning about wines and wine coolers and helping you make the best choice for your needs.