Improper storage can make a 25 year old wine taste like a 5 year old one.
Table of Contents
- What size/capacity should I get?
- How many temperature zones do I need?
- Should I get an under-counter model or a free-standing one?
- Do I want any additional features?
- What's my budget?
Aged like a fine wine...
If you're like most wine drinkers, you know that many wines have the ability to evolve and improve with time. What fewer know, however, is that for that process to work correctly, the wine must be preserved and protected during its aging journey. It's been said that wine is a living and breathing thing, and it's a drink as delicate as it is versatile.
Aging Your Wines Correctly
If stored correctly under ideal conditions, good wine can last years and age properly, eventually blessing your senses with refined, full-bodied flavor and delightful notes.
If stored incorrectly... quality can be sacrificed, and even the best of wines can be ruined. Improper storage can make a 25 year old wine taste like a 5 year old one. What a terrible waste!
Temperature, humidity, light, and vibration can all affect a wine while it is being stored.
Temperature: The perfect temperature is between 45°F and 55°F for whites and between 55°F and 65°F for reds.
- If the wine gets too hot (70°+) it will get ‘cooked’, and it is at risk of losing its flavors/aromas.
- Too cold (<40°) and it can get icy, which is bad for the wine and can cause cork shrinkage or push the cork out, allowing air to seep into the bottle. This can also have the unfortunate effect of pulling in odors... pulling in nearby food smells if the bottle is surrounded by any food.
Humidity: Dry air will dry out the cork of a wine bottle, causing air to sneak in and spoil the wine. The ideal humidity is between 70-80 percent, though the safe range is a broader 50-80 percent. A dried out cork results in musty-smelling “corked” wine. Ideally, your wine is in constant contact with its cork during storage to help keep the cork moist, such as when it is stored horizontally (like it is in a wine cooler or a wine cellar).
Light: Light is wine’s enemy. UV rays can degrade and prematurely age wine. One of the reasons why vintners use colored glass bottles? They’re like sunglasses for wine. Your wine likes it in the dark.
Vibration: The ideal vibration is no vibration. Shaking, moving, or rolling the bottle can disrupt the maturation process.
Standard Refrigerators Can Harm Your Wine
Many people know that they must store wines away from light, heat, and humidity, and so they turn to a useful home appliance that would seem perfect for that job - your every day kitchen refrigerator. Unfortunately, this could be one of the worst places for storing your wines long term! Standard refrigerators are not suitable for long term wine storage for a variety of reasons.
- Are too cold. Your average refrigerator is set between 32°F and 40°F degrees, while wine should be stored somewhere between 45°F and 65°F (depending on type).
- Don’t store wines in the ideal horizontal position, or allow rolling if placed horizontally.
- Have poor humidity control. Regular refrigerators are built to flash-cool and dry their contents out quickly, which is the opposite of what we want to do with our wines.
- Introduce too many opportunities for exposure to odors, which can seep into wine and foul it.
- Introduce too many opportunities for vibration (from people moving things around or trying to access other items, not to mention the hefty motor powering the appliance), which can disrupt the maturation process.
- Likely get opened and closed quite often, which can cause its temperature to fluctuate. Constant temperature fluctuations are harmful to bottles of wine, negatively impacting the aging and chemical processes happening in the wine.
- Are full of competing items and limited storage space. You only have so much room for wine before you have no room left for food (and other beverages, but that's why you get a beverage center). Your collection is limited to just how much your significant other will put up with before saying ENOUGH is ENOUGH. The family's gotta eat!
As you can tell, storing your wine in your standard kitchen refrigerator can be actively harming your wine collection... There are much better ways to store your wine collection!
Wine Cellars Are Great... If You Have the Space and Money
Wine cellars are one possibility. This is where you have a dedicated, sealed off room and purchase a cooling unit to keep the entire room at ideal wine storage conditions. But this ranges from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, and requires a dedicated room in your house that has been sealed in an airtight manner. The airtight insulated door alone will set you back $500 to $3,500, and there are a number of other costs on top of that.
Wine coolers, also known as wine refrigerators, are a better answer.
Affordable, aesthetic, and capable of holding anywhere between a few dozen up to a few hundred bottles, they are the ideal solution for storing your wine collection and allowing your fine wine to age properly.
- Built with your wine’s preservation in mind. Wine coolers are built to protect your wine from all the detriments and dangers of poor wine storage, including dangerous fluctuations in temperature, low humidity, harmful UV lighting, and excessive vibration (wine coolers are built with special low-vibration compressors to minimize movement).
- Keeps your collection at the perfect temperature for storage AND serving, so you will always have ready to drink wine bottles on hand. There's nothing worse than having guests over and having to scramble to quickly chill a bottle of wine to serve!
- An impressive means to display your collection in your home. With options that tout luxurious LED lighting, gorgeous digital displays, and a variety of styles/finishes, you can customize your storage to suit your home and your tastes.
- Eye catching appliance that can be a centerpiece in your entertaining world. Be ready to serve your guests the perfect beverage at any time, or allow your guests to pick a bottle from your impressive LED-lit wine refrigerator.
Modern digital temperature controls provide easy to use climate adjustment. Set your cooler to the perfect temperature for your whites, your reds, and anything else, whether it was picked from a vine or not.
If you care about drinking, collecting, or storing wine at all, then you should own a wine cooler.
Deciding Which Wine Cooler/Fridge Is Right For You
Ok, so now that we've established that a wine cooler/refrigerator is the answer to your wine collection's storage needs, what comes next?
Anybody who has looked into purchasing a wine cooler before knows that they are immediately faced with a wide range of product choices: different types, zones, brands, and so on.
Though it may seem overwhelming at first, there are only a few questions that you need to answer in order to know which type of wine cooler is perfect for you and your needs.
Let's walk through these one at a time.
What Size/Capacity Should I Get?
Whether you are just beginning your wine collection journey or you already have dozens of favorites to store, there's a wine cooler to fit each and every one of your bottles, guaranteed. With sizes ranging from small single-bottle counter top models all the way up to full-scale, industrial level wine refrigerators that can chill hundreds of bottles, there's an option for every collector.
The size/capacity you get primarily depends on the answer to two questions - the first, how much space do you have for the wine refrigerator/wine cooler, and the second, how large is your current collection. Or, maybe a better question, how large could your future collection grow to? One word of advice from a few experienced collectors: Whatever number you’re thinking of when it comes to bottle capacity, double it. Once you’ve started accumulating wines to drink later, it can be hard to stop!
It is generally recommended that you select a wine refrigerator with the storage capacity for 20-60% more wine than what you have on hand. That way you’ll have enough room for your collection to continue to grow and always have enough wine on hand to entertain.
On top of that, your capacity needs depend on what other beverages you are looking to store in the unit. Some units are designed specifically to only house wine, while others can store other beverages — including beer, canned soft drinks, and bottled water — which make these sorts of units a great choice for entertainment areas and places where families might gather.
How Many Temperature Zones Do I Need? (And What Are They, Anyways?)
When it comes to wine coolers, the term temperature zones refers to the different distinct temperature-controlled zones in the wine cooler/refrigerator, usually separated by a partition of some sort and each boasting it's own set of controls.
The amount of zones that you need directly correlates with how many types of wine you want to enjoy and store, as well as if you want a designated 'serving' zone to chill wines to the perfect serving temperature for you and your guests.
If you collect only one type of wine (red or white), then a single-zone cooler could be enough. Then you will just set the entire unit to the ideal temperature for the type of wine you are storing.
However, if you have an equal love for both red and white wines, then a dual-zone cooler might be the better answer. A dual-zone wine cooler will benefit you most since you can then set each zone to the ideal temperature for each wine.
Additionally, dual-zone coolers present the option to set one zone to storage temperature and the other to serving temperature. White wine's are generally best served a bit cooler, so if you anticipate you will be uncorking a bottle in the near future, you can simply move your wine from the storage to service zone for about 30 minutes to an hour before you wish to enjoy it.
Though the majority of collectors will be fine with a single or dual zone wine refrigerator, there are also multi-zone coolers offering even more granular control.
A triple-zone cooler, for instance, will allow dry red, dry white and sparkling wine to store in their respective temperature zones. Some particularly dedicated wine collectors get creative by "building" their own four-zone wine cooler by buying two or more dual zone freestanding or built-in large capacity wine coolers, and then mounting the doors with hinges on the opposite sides to achieve a "French door" effect. Wine connoisseurs taking this approach can easily end up with four temperature zones capable of storing several hundred diverse bottles of wine for a truly impressive collection.
A common misconception with temperature zones is that dual-zones are always large fridges, or that single-zones are always smaller fridges. Some dual zones can be as small as a 30 bottle fridge – making them ideal for even beginner-collectors, and some single zones boast impressive capacities ranging in the hundreds. It really all depends on your needs!
Should I Get An Under-Counter Model or a Free-Standing One?
Wine coolers can be broadly classified into two types depending on how they are supposed to be installed, under-counter (or built-in) and free-standing.
As the name implies, free-standing coolers are standalone units. They are portable, easy to use in any room in your house, and offer a variety of attractive design options. They are ideal for situations where you might like to move the unit around at any point, or don't have a dedicated space for the unit. These units usually feature either rear or side vents, which means they require room to breathe and should NOT be installed into cabinetry.
Alternatively, under-counter/built-in coolers are built to be integrated into cabinetry and provide a sleek, custom look to the space they are added to. They are equipped with front ventilation, which allows them to function properly within an enclosed space. Designed to fit between base cabinets, built-in units are an ideal choice for new construction or complete kitchen renovations. The benefit of this is that it frees a lot of space, looks awesome, and isn’t in the way – but they also can't be moved around easily like with freestanding coolers.
Because they have finished sides and tops, built-in refrigerators don’t actually have to be “built in” to anything. They function beautifully as freestanding units, making them one of the most flexible choices. Models are available in a variety of widths so they can be retrofitted into existing cabinetry. Some wine refrigerators are also built panel-ready, so the fronts can be customized to match your existing cabinetry.
The decision between built-in and freestanding really comes down to the kind of space you have available, or if you are planning to do the house work necessary to build space that meets the proper ventilation requirements.
On top of these two there is actually one more type, which is a counter top model. These usually only store from 1 to a few bottles. While their storage space is limited, their impressive looks, functional features, and small stature can be a great counter-top option for those who simply want to keep a bottle or three around for entertaining.
Something of note for new purchasers - some coolers do not allow you to change the side of the door, while others are adjustable. So if that's important make sure to double check you get one with the door on the side that works for you, or one that can be adjusted.
Do I Want Any Other Additional Features?
There are a number of additional features that you may want to consider when shopping for your wine cooler:
- If you live in a home with small children, you may want to look for a wine cooler that features safety locks or built-in door alarms. This will ensure bottles stay secure.
- Luxurious interior LED lighting can take your collection display the extra mile, showcasing your bottles elegantly.
- Protected glass
- Choosing a cooler with triple pane glass or glass with UV protection will help reduce wine's light exposure even more.
- Adjustable racks
- Some coolers have racks that can be adjusted to different heights.
- Some coolers also have fancy wooden racks, while others boast stainless steel ones.
- Adjustable doors
- Some coolers will allow you to switch the swing of the door. This will allow you to move the cooler and make sure that you can use it in any space you choose.
What's My Budget?
Size, features, and brand are some of the biggest variables that account for the wide price range in wine coolers. There are options at all levels that can provide the features you want at affordable prices.
These appliances should serve you for years to come, so aim to choose one large enough to house the collection you want to have in the future, and make sure to budget for one when you’re planning a kitchen remodel or outfitting an entertainment room. They can be the difference between a "nice" entertaining space and an unforgettable one.
Whatever your wine cooler needs – there is something available just for you. Whether you’re a newbie looking for something small to start with, or whether you are a seasoned connoisseur with an extensive collection of wines – you can rest assured there is something to suit your every need.
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