How to Choose a Wine Cooler – Features to Consider
As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. So, just buying the least expensive wine cooler with the capacity you want is not usually the best approach. So, what to look for?
That depends on a large number of factors – capacity, of course, location where it will be kept, appearance (if it’s in a living area), the duration for which your wine will be stored, and, certainly not least, the value of the wine in your collection. Obviously, if you intend to store your wine for very long periods of time, and have an expensive collection, technical features and reliability are of utmost importance. On the other hand, if your budget for your wine cooler is considerably smaller, and you intend to store your everyday wines for a couple of months, your choices in a wine cooler would be considerably different.
So, on to the features.
Capacity (Bottle count)
Bottle capacity may well be the most important feature of all in choosing a wine cooler, in your mind. First, you’ll want to make sure your wine cooler is large enough to hold the number of bottles you intend to collect. If you’re just buying a case or two of wine now and then, to be consumed within the next several months, a 24-bottle wine cooler may seem like plenty. Keep in mind, though, that virtually every comment we come across that mentions cooler capacity says that the wine cooler owner wished they had doubled or even tripled their original estimate. Excess bottles tend to be collect in the same area of the home as the wine cooler, under undesirable conditions.
If you’re a true collector, and wish to age some wines for several years, you’ll need a considerably large wine cooler to store all of your aging wine, along with your regular supply for earlier consumption. Again, we recommend that you estimate your needs, and double it, or more.
Basic (inexpensive) units come with chromed wire shelving, sometimes adjustable, and sometimes not. Better wine coolers use vinyl-coated wire shelves, or sturdier wooden racks or wood-framed wire grids. Since wine bottles do vary in size and shape, it’s nice to have the flexibility to adjust the shelves, to make room for those non-standard wine bottle shapes. (Some people have complained not being able to store a larger wine bottle in their wine cooler at all.)
Shelves also come in fixed form (like your kitchen refrigerator), and slide-out form. Slide-out shelves, preferably on rollers, make it simpler and easier to browse through your collection and choose the right bottle easily. (My wooden wine bins require me to pull the bottles out one at a time to find the bottle I want, and often scratch or tear the labels in the process.)
Many wine coolers feature glass doors, for the visual appeal of the cooler. However, the glass door can actually be a detriment to your wine, because it may let in light, which is damaging to wine. In addition, the glass door may not insulate as well as a solid door, resulting in more temperature fluctuation and higher energy costs. If you do opt for the glass door, you should check that it contains UV-shielding at least, and that it’s double-paned glass, hopefully gas-filled “low-e” glass. And, since many glass-doored wine coolers also contain internal “mood-lighting”, be sure to turn the light off – it’s a source of heat and (of course) damaging light.
Vibration is also harmful to wine, although experts don’t agree on how damaging it is – and its effects are far less than those of heat and light. However, vibration does matter over the long haul, as excessive vibration can cause sediment to interact with the maturing wine. So, it’s best to minimize vibration. Thermoelectric coolers do this best, since they don’t use compressors at all, but as noted elsewhere on this site, they can’t cool temperatures to less than 20 degrees or so below ambient (room) temperature, so are often not an option. The next best thing is to select a wine cooler that has vibration reduction features, such as rubber mounts on the compressor and coated shelves.
Locks are available on many wine coolers, and although you may not have considered them, there’s good reason to do so. Consider the scenario where you’re hosting a party and serving a very nice wine, while your personal favorite ages quietly in your wine cellar. A curious guest may wish to browse your collection, and even ask if they can open that special bottle you’re saving for some special occasion. Even worse, consider the possibility that your kids’ friends may help themselves to something while you’re out for the evening. A locked wine cooler could prevent a very undesirable outcome.
Often when folks are looking for appliances, they focus on size, features, colors, and overall appearance, completely ignoring reliability. This may be fine when the goods that would be spoiled are a week or two’s supply of groceries. But, if you’ve gathered even a modest collection of special wines, the loss could be significantly worse. So, reliability – in both brand and model, is really a critical factor in choosing a wine cooler. Before buying a lower-end wine cooler, consider the cost of replacing its contents if it fails, in addition to your having to replace the cooler itself.
Of course, price is almost always an important consideration for any purchase, and the purchase of a wine cooler is no different. So, you’ll need to find the capacity, features, and reliability combination that best matches your budget. I would caution against letting price become the most important factor, however. As in most things, you get what you pay for. And, you’re better off paying twice as much for a reliable wine cooler, than re-investing in a series of substandard coolers, and possibly losing their contents in the process as well.
So, where to start? Check out our quick pick wine cooler recommendations.