Choosing a wine cooler

Unlike the refrigerator in your kitchen, most dedicated wine coolers use thermoelectric technology, which cools without a compressor. Thermoelectric coolers are more affected by the ambient air temperature than a regular refrigerator; that means you wouldn't want to keep a wine cooler in a garage or other area that experiences extreme temperatures. Wine coolers aren't particularly energy efficient. As editors point out, wine refrigerators as a class of appliance are not part of the federal government's Energy Star program.

Wine experts say a regular fridge is too cold for storing wine; opinions vary, but generally, the recommended temperature for white wines is 48 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the varietal. A regular kitchen fridge is too cold (generally 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit). For most red wines, 60 to 65 degrees is a general guideline. The best wine coolers maintain a uniform temperature and provide enough humidity to keep corks from drying out.

It's important to note that wine coolers are not meant for storing a wine collection over the long term, allowing the bottles to age and appreciate in value. Wine cellars or wine cabinets designed for this purpose cost much more, and maintain temperature and humidity levels that are best for aging wine.  Experts say compact wine coolers should be used to store wine that you intend to drink within about a year. Likewise, wine coolers should not be confused with wine chillers, which are designed to quickly cool one or two bottles of wine prior to serving, not store wine over a period of time.

Wine coolers come in many sizes and shapes, from units that store only a few bottles to models that hold 100 bottles or more. Smaller coolers can sit on a countertop; larger ones are designed as freestanding or built-in units, and many of the built-in wine coolers are designed to be installed under a counter. Some coolers have two separately controlled temperature zones to accommodate different types of wines at different temperatures.

No matter which wine cooler you choose, check warranty and return policies. Across the board, we found a lot of complaints about reliability Look carefully at the warranty and the requirements for getting a unit repaired or replaced. Read user comments on customer service and repair services.

Experts say to keep the following in mind as you shop for a wine cooler:

  • Flexible or adjustable shelves. Owners of some wine coolers complain that the space between shelves is not wide enough to accommodate larger bottles. To avoid this problem, look for a wine cooler with universal shelving, or removable or adjustable shelves. Also consider how easily shelves slide out, and how well they hold bottles in place and keep them from sliding around.
  • Upright storage for open bottles. Some wine coolers have an area where you can store a few bottles upright or tilted, handy for open bottles.
  • Insulated, tinted glass doors. The best wine coolers have double-paned glass doors.  Most glass doors are also tinted or have some other protection against ultraviolent rays, which can damage wine.
  • Temperature range of 45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If you prefer temps in Celsius, look for that feature; not all can display in both temperature formats.
  • For a mix of reds and whites, a dual-zone cooler. There's a middle ground if you tend to drink a mix of heavier white wines (like Chardonnay) and lighter reds (like Chianti and Pinot Noir) of around 60 degrees. But if you like a lighter whites and heavier reds, you might prefer a dual-zone wine cooler so you can keep each type at an optimal temperature.
  • Exterior temperature display.  If you can access controls for the temperature and interior light without opening the door of the wine cooler, you won't cause as many temperature fluctuations.
  • An interior light. Lots of wine bottles look similar, so a light is nice.

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