Wines are delicate beverages that are affected by environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, light, vibration, and odors.
Unless you have a wine cellar, you may have difficulty finding an area of the house that meets all of the criteria favorable to wine storage. To help preserve a wine’s flavor and bouquet, many people opt for a wine cooler or wine refrigerator.
Ideal Conditions for Wine Storage
Cool, Stable Temperature: Temperature variation is one of the biggest enemies of wines as they age. The type of wine will determine the ideal temperature at which to store it.
Temperatures that are too cold will prevent your wine from maturing, but low temperatures are not nearly as harmful as temperatures that are too high. Temperatures over 70° for a significant amount of time can permanently taint the flavor of wine. At temperatures of above 80° or so, you are starting to literally cook the wine.
Humidity: Corks can also dry out in arid environments, such as your kitchen refrigerator. The ideal humidity level is around 70%. Storing your wine on its side keeps the cork moist and reduces the likelihood that oxygen will infiltrate the bottle.
No Light: When light strikes wine, unwelcome chemical reactions can occur, leading to “skunky” aromas and flavors. It’s important to keep wine away from all light sources. Wine coolers with dark glass or a solid door significantly reduce the possibility of light getting into the bottles.
No Vibrations: Unlike the Beach Boys song, there are no “good vibrations” when it comes to wine. Food chemistry research shows that wines exposed to vibration can lead to a reduction in esters, resulting in dull flavors or even making the wine taste sweeter. Wine stored in your refrigerator, near appliances such as washer / dryers or even treadmills can suffer from the effects of vibrations.
Odor-Free: Strong odors can penetrate corks and damage the wine. Wine should never be stored in close proximity to anything that could potentially contaminate it, such as spices, cleaning products, or pungent foods.
Wine Coolers and Wine Refrigerators – What the Difference?
Wine coolers and wine refrigerators are terms that are often used interchangeably. Technically speaking, though, they are not quite the same thing. Wine coolers employ thermoelectric cooling using small fans inside the unit to evenly and consistently distribute cool temperatures inside. Wine refrigerators use a traditional compressor and refrigerant, like a traditional kitchen refrigerator.
The Pros of Thermoelectric Wine Coolers:
- Because they do not have a compressor, thermoelectric coolers produce almost no vibrations – fewer disturbances of wine sediments.
- Although not completely silent, thermoelectric coolers tend to be quieter than compressor type coolers.
- Considered environmentally friendly.
- Less expensive to purchase.
The Cons of Thermoelectric Wine Coolers:
- Thermoelectric cooling is not as powerful as compressor cooling, so it is only suitable for small capacity cooling.
- Thermoelectric cooling is not ideal in unstable temperature environments. A high ambient temperature significantly hinders the cooling capacity of a thermoelectric wine cooler.
- Even though thermoelectric wine coolers use significantly less energy than compressor-based wine coolers, it is worth noting that thermoelectric wine coolers are on all of the time, which can end up costing more money than you might anticipate.
The Pros of Compressor-Based Wine Refrigerators:
- Because of its powerful cooling, compressor cooling is generally used for large capacity wine storage, making it ideal for large wine collections.
- Compressor cooled wine refrigerators can better adapt to varying temperatures and extra heat loads, keeping a stable internal temperature despite environmental conditions. Consider this feature if you plan to keep your bottles in your basement or another uninsulated area.
- Can be less expensive to operate as it only turns on when necessary.
The Cons of Compressor-Based Wine Refrigerators:
- Because a compressor has many moving parts and can cycle on and off, compressor cooled wine refrigerators sometimes vibrate slightly. Most units compensate for this by using rubber bushings to absorb the slight movement.
- Again, because of the moving components, compressor cooled wine refrigerators will emit some noise, just as a typical kitchen refrigerator does. Rubber bushings are used to absorb and minimize the noise.
What’s Your Style – Built-in or Free-Standing?
Built In: A built-in unit (also called a zero clearance or under-counter unit) is designed to be built into existing counters and cabinetry. These models have a front vent located under the door that channels heat forward and away from the unit.
Free Standing: A freestanding unit is made to be placed anywhere there is space around it. Freestanding models are designed to dissipate heat from the back, so they need room around the back and sides. This ventilation prevents overheating so that it maintains its internal temperature. Free-standing units can be as small as a six-bottle capacity which can fit on top of your kitchen counter.
Other Features to Look For
- More companies are producing two-zone temperature wine chillers, which offer greater flexibility in storing sparkling, white, rosé, and red wines at different temperatures. Single-compartment models count on colder air settling to the bottom of the unit to provide various temperature zones.
- Integrated locks.
- Digital temperature controls accessible without opening the door to help keep the temperature consistent.
- Water bins to maintain high humidity.
- Tinted glass or solid door to protect wine from ultraviolet light.
- Removable shelving and space for larger bottles.
Cost Varies Greatly
As with any appliance, different types and models are available in a very wide price range. You can purchase a simple model for a few hundred dollars or spend several thousand dollars for the most up-to-date model with all the bells and whistles.
Whichever type you choose, wine storage can be a wise investment to preserve your wines for years to come.