Best Wine Cooler Buying Guide

As a short-term storage unit, wine coolers provide you with instant access to your favorite wines for relaxing on the patio or serving guests at an elaborate dinner party. Most wines that possess aging characteristics perform well in wine coolers that maintain temperatures around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. With minimum temperature fluctuations, wine ages best inside of coolers that create a relative humidity of 70%. Wine coolers also must protect wines against the debilitating effects of vibrations and ultraviolet rays.
Now that you know the fundamentals of wine coolers, what are the 10 tips for buying a wine cooler that ensures the wines that you serve to friends and family members achieve optimal flavor and bouquet profiles? Let’s take a look!

Temperature Controls

Manufacturers design wine cooler temperature controls to provide wine lovers with easy access to maintaining the right temperature for their wines. However, manufacturers differ on how they provide easy temperature control access. Most wine coolers include temperature control dials that conveniently sit either on the inside or outside of the unit. All wine lovers have to do is move the gauge to set wine storage temperatures.
There are two types of temperature controls that you’ll find on most wine coolers: digital and dial (or manual). They both essentially do the same thing – that is, control the temperature in your wine cooler. However, they both have their benefits and drawbacks.

Digitally controlled wine storage temperatures often operate via a remote control device or, by the push of a few buttons on the outside of the cooler. They often feature an LED readout of the interior temperature and allow you to set the exact temperature of your cooler. Knowing the interior temperature of your unit is crucial to preserving the integrity of your wines and being able to program your cooler can help minimize any surprises.

Dial or manual controls are usually set on the outside of the unit, either on the side or the back. Simply turn the dial to your desired setting and voila! The downside to these types of units is that they often do not come with any sort of temperature readout which means you will need to purchase a separate thermometer if you want to know the interior temperature of your unit. In addition, it can be more difficult to control the temperature with a dial controlled unit.
In general, dial controlled units are less expensive – so, they can still provide a good value if you are looking for short-term storage. When it comes to temperature control, you get what you pay for.

Dual Zone vs Single Zone

Many wine lovers prefer to store aging red wines in a controlled environment, such as a wine cooler or refrigerator. A dual zone wine cooler, which provides wine storage for wines requiring two different temperature parameters, allow you to store both reds and whites within the same unit. For wine lovers that store reds in dark basements that remain at consistent temperatures, a single zone wine cooler offers a cost effective way to store wine.

Wine Bottle Capacity

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall might not appear to have relevance to wine storage, but the classic song reminds wine lovers about the importance of storage capacity. If you store wine for personal consumption only, you should consider wine coolers on the lower end of the capacity scale. The larger the wine storage capacity, the more costly the unit – both in terms of actual cost and electrical consumption.

Wine lovers that entertain guests frequently and store both reds and whites within the same unit need more space to store wine. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind when it comes to capacity (especially if this will be your first wine cooler) is to always purchase a unit that holds at least twice as much wine than you currently have to store. As you begin to accumulate more wine, you may quickly find yourself running out of space!

Wine Cooler Placement

Where should you place your wine cooler? Most wine lovers envision a freestanding unit that combines the elements of storage functionality with interior décor design. However, some wine coolers seamlessly blend into bar, kitchen and dining room designs as counter top or built-in wine storage units.

In the Kitchen: Both countertop and built-in wine coolers work well here. When installing a built-in wine cooler in the kitchen, the best location is away from other appliances such as dishwashers and garbage disposals that may cause vibration or give off heat during operation. In addition, a pantry or closet adjacent to the kitchen can also make a great place for a built-in wine cooler.

In the Wet Bar: Both freestanding and built in wine coolers can make a real statement in a wet bar. For smaller wine coolers, I’d recommend a counter top unit that can be displayed on top of the bar for maximum room appeal. But, with built in unit, you can really make your wine cooler the star of the show.

In the Dining Room: For dining rooms, I would go with a freestanding unit that is large enough to set on the floor. That means anything over 18 bottles, but that’s just a personal preference. The reason for this is that a freestanding unit allows you to move things around if you need to and can also make a nice showpiece.
It’s important to note that there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding the placement of wine coolers. As your unit cools, it pushes out warm air which needs somewhere to safely go without risking a potential fire. This is why built-in units have the airflow in the front. Freestanding or counter top units have a little more leeway in terms of design in this respect as they are not intended to be placed in an enclosed space, and will have the airflow in the back or on the sides.

Wine Cooler Shelving

The question of shelving involves both length and space between shelves. Large capacity wine coolers tend to include shelves that provide plenty of space between each shelf to store thicker bottles, such as the bottles that contain sparkling wine. Moreover, the larger the capacity of a wine cooler, the more shelves you have to store your favorite wines. Capacity and shelving go hand in hand for deciding on the type of wine cooler to buy.
Most wine coolers come with either wire shelving or wooden shelving. Both have their pros and cons. Wire shelving is easier to clean and better at resisting mold and mildew in humid environments. Wooden shelving tends to have a cleaner, more upscale appearance and is better at absorbing vibration. But, wood can also sag under the weight of too many bottles. In the end, it’s a matter of design preference and price.

Noise Level

A wine cooler can provide all of the essential elements that define superior wine storage performance, yet many coolers fall flat due to excessive noise. And, while no wine cooler will be completely silent, as it has to operate somehow, there is a way to determine acceptable noise levels. Think about the noise your refrigerator produces and use the tolerance level you have for that to decide on the type of wine cooler to purchase.
Keep in mind that most wine coolers sit away from high traffic areas, you probably won’t have it sitting in your bedroom. Yet, you still need to consider noise level, before bringing home a cooler to store your favorite wines – after all, you don’t want noise to be the reason your dinner guests happened to notice your new wine cooler.

Unit Size

Size represents the most straightforward wine cooler buying factor. You decide where you want to place a wine cooler and then find a cooler that fits within the space. Most wine coolers mimic the size of personal refrigerators that consumers use for convenience. However, some wine coolers such as those that hold hundreds of bottles, can approach the length of full size refrigerators. So, size and budget are probably going to be the two most important factors in choosing a wine cooler, or at least a good starting point.

Wine Cooler Design

For freestanding units, design plays an important role in the wine cooler buying decision. You want the wine cooler design to blend in with interior décor, not represent the defining characteristics of a kitchen or dining room. Design also matters for a wine cooler that you build into a wet bar, pantry or attach to a countertop since you will likely want to select something that integrates nicely into the design of your space and the cabinetry.

Cooling Mechanism

The type of cooling mechanism chosen controls the effectiveness of maintaining storage temperatures and will play a big part in the noise level of your unit. Most wine coolers come with either compressor or thermoelectric cooling mechanisms.

Compressor based wine coolers use the same cooling technology as the standard refrigerator. This can be a good thing if you are looking for a unit that you can install in an outdoor area such as a patio or poolside because compressors are great at holding a steady temperature regardless of the ambient temperature. The downside is that, like their refrigerator counterparts, they tend to be a bit noisy. They also tend to give off more vibrations that can stir up wine sediment, so probably are not the best choice for long term storage.

Thermoelectric wine coolers use fans and electrical current to remove the heat from the interior of the cooler. The benefit here is that because thermoelectric coolers have fewer moving parts, they cause less vibration. For long-term storage, thermoelectric wine coolers are the ideal choice. The downside however, is that temperature control can be a little bit more fickle with these types of coolers. They may take longer to reach optimal storage temperature and must be placed in a controlled environment as interior temps can fluctuate depending on the ambient temperature.

Insulation

Insulation determines how long a wine cooler retains its optimal temperature, whenever the cooler is off the power grid. Someone can inadvertently kick the cord out of an electrical socket and of course, you always have to consider power outages. Highly insulated wine coolers allow you to save money on energy costs by turning allowing the cooler to run more efficiently. A well insulated cooler is a wise investment.

From budget to capacity, cooling system to design – there are many factors to consider when purchasing a wine cooler. So, don’t just settle on the first wine cooler that catches your eye – go back through this buyer guide and use it to help you decide which features are most important to you. Read reviews on your top 3 wine coolers, and use our handy wine cooler comparison chart to help you make your final decision. Remember, a wine cooler helps you protect your wine collection, whether that collection contains 12 bottles or 120 bottles.