How to Purchase a Wine Refrigerator

You might be wondering how a blog about how to purchase a wine refrigerator belongs on a productivity website. One of the keys to maintaining high productivity levels is relaxing and recharging. One way to recharge is to enjoy a glass a wine. Storing wine doesn’t require a wine refrigerator, but it sure is nice to have some chilled wine handy.

Another reason why I decided to share this information is because when I finally made it a goal to purchase a wine fridge, I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of information that’s floating around out there. To save you time (yeah!), I’ve collected the top criteria you’ll want to think about and compare when making your decision about which wine refrigerator to purchase.

Do you want a wine refrigerator or a wine cooler?

Just like your regular size refrigerator, a wine refrigerator has a compressor and refrigerant. It uses a combination of a motor and coolant to keep the fridge at a constant temperature. A wine chiller or wine cooler is a thermoelectric cooling box. One or more fans are used to distribute cooling temperatures from a seemingly magical temperature gage. (It’s obviously more complicated than that, but I can’t really explain it other than to say that a cooler doesn’t have a compressor and refrigerant.) The warmer it is in the environment, the harder a cooler needs to work to chill the wine to your desired temperature. If you plan to keep your wine chiller in the garage, it will burn out faster than one stored in the house because it’ll have to work harder to lower the temperature. Additionally, the bigger the differential between your environmental temperature and your desired chiller temperature, the more electricity it will use. Most “wine refrigerators” listed on the market today are actually coolers. If you’re what I call a serious wineaux (you’ve got expensive wine, you invest in wine, or you store wine that can’t be disturbed by vibrations or temperature fluctuations), you probably want a refrigerator and not a cooler. 

Note: for the rest of this blog post, I will interchange the terms refrigerator and cooler and chiller.

What’s your budget for a wine cooler?

There’s no need to tease yourself with glorious options, only to find out that the “perfect” wine refrigerator you found is $2000 more than you can afford. Decide on a maximum amount so that you only compare the wine coolers you can afford. How much are you willing to spend for what might be only a two-year appliance?

How much space do you have for a wine refrigerator?

An obvious measurement is the outside dimensions of the refrigerator. But an important measurement to consider is one that most people don’t realize. Wine refrigerators require anywhere from two to ten inches of ventilation space behind and/or next to them. If your fridge can be stored anywhere, this measurement doesn’t really matter. But if you have a specific location in mind, you’ll want to measure how much space you’ll have not only for the outside dimensions, but the recommended ventilation space as well.

Will your wine fridge be free-standing or installed as a built-in?

If you are planning to house your wine refrigerator as a built-in inside a cabinet or underneath a counter, you’ll need to find a model specifically designed for that. As mentioned above, wine refrigerators require a certain amount of ventilation space. Built-ins require a different ventilation system. You can move a built-in chiller to a stand-alone or free-standing location, but you usually can’t move a free-standing fridge to a built-in location.

What type of temperature ranges will you need for your wine fridge?

This will have to do with the types of wines you want to store. Reds are usually stored at cellar temperature, which is around 55-60 degrees. Whites are stored at a cooler temperature, around 45-50 degrees. Yes, I know that experts disagree on the exact temperature you need to store red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, champagne and rose. But at least this gives you an idea of what to shop for. For example, if you love whites, you’ll want to avoid a fridge with reviews that condemn its ability to chill down to 45 degrees. If you only need to chill one kind of wine, you only need a single temperature fridge. If you want to store both reds and whites, you’ll need a dual-zone refrigerator.

How are the temperature zones divided in the wine cooler?

If you only plan to store one type of wine, this doesn’t matter. But if you want dual zones, you’ll want to pay attention to what type of barrier is installed between the zones. Some fridges only have a ventilated rack separating the two zones. That’s kind of like running your home’s air conditioner with your exterior door wide open and just the screen door closed. The fridge will need to work harder to keep the temperatures consistent. You’ll want at minimum a solid shelf between the two zones (medium price range), if not a completely separate door (high-end).

How many bottles would you like to store in your wine refrigerator?

Most people ask this question first. But if you want to narrow down your fridge or cooler choices faster, you should answer the aforementioned questions first before this one. If budget or space is a concern, you probably won’t be in the market for a 36-bottle (or larger) fridge. If you live in a small flat in New York City, you might only have room for a 4-bottle countertop chiller. Before you have a tantrum about, “How can I live with only a 4-bottle cooler?!” you really need to ask yourself what the chances are that you’d need more than four bottles of wine at the last minute. If you’re going to need more than that, you’ll probably know ahead of time, which means you can make plans to chill more than that beforehand. If you’re a serious wine collector who lives in a small space, you’ll probably have to choose between space for furniture and space for a larger wine refrigerator. How many bottles do you truly need to chill at any one time?

What size bottles do you want to store in your wine chiller?

Most wine fridges store standard size bottles. Champaign bottles might be too wide for standard cubbies. Most fridges cannot hold magnums. Think about the size and shape of your favorite bottles and find a wine cooler that will hold those.

How sturdy do you want the wine racks to be?

Some are plastic. Some are metal. All are of different capacity strengths. How often will you take bottles in and out? How rough are you (or your guests) on appliances? Pay attention to the reviews that discuss the strength or weakness of the racks.

In a nutshell, these are the major criteria to consider when making your purchase. If you’d like to consider even more criteria, here are some nit-picky options:

Is the sound of the motor or fan a concern to you? If so, study the reviews to determine if this wine fridge will be quiet enough for your tastes.

Do you want lights? If so, do you want functional lights or decorative or both?

Do you want any temperature alarms or alerts?

How long is the warranty? What is covered by the warranty?

If you have any other criteria you’ve thought of, feel free to share below.

The wine fridge we chose…

I’m usually asked what we wound up choosing, so I’m happy to share that with you. It doesn’t mean this will be right for you, but this was right for our needs.

We enjoy wine, but we’re not serious wineauxs, so we chose a cooler over a refrigerator. We prefer reds but occasionally have whites, so we chose a refrigerator with one larger temperature zone for our reds and one smaller temperature zone for our whites, separated by a solid shelf. It holds 24 bottles, which is more than enough for any last-minute wine needs. We planned to remove bottles and restock multiple times per week, so we chose sturdy metal racks. We’re not super picky about temperatures, so we chose a chiller that got good reviews for holding steady temperatures 10 degrees apart in the two zones, at an environmental temperature of 80 degrees – our warmest interior temperature during the hottest summer months.

We store our reds at 60, and that’s perfect for our tastes. We store our whites at 50. This is a little warmer than optimal for some whites, so we simply dunk our chosen white into a bucket of ice water for a quick chill before serving. That would probably cause some sommeliers to turn over in their graves, but it works for us.

In the end, all that matters are your storage limitations, budget, needs and tastes. Cheers!

About Helene Segura, M.A. Ed., CPO®

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