How to Choose a Wine Refrigerator

Once you realize you need a wine refrigerator, there are a lot of choices – but it’s really not too hard to narrow it down to the right one for you.  Follow our approach and it’s surprisingly easy to choose a wine refrigerator. The key questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do you want to store a collection or just keep some wine cool for drinking?
  • How many bottles of red and/or white do you want to store?
  • Do you drink both red and white wine?
  • How much space do you have for the wine refrigerator?
  • Do you want the sophisticated look of a built-in and are willing to pay for it, or is the more popular, portable and less expensive free-standing unit a better choice?
  • What is your budget?

In this guide we’ll take you through the these questions and help you answer them. Write down your answers as you go, and then we’ll show you how to pick the top-rated wine refrigerators that will meet your needs.

How Many Bottles?

How many bottles do you need to store?  Once you decide, over half your choices will simply go away making it much easier to choose a wine cooler.  If you only have a limited space for your wine refrigerator, the max capacity is going to be limited by that.

But let’s put aside space and budget for the moment and and see what you ideally need.  This is tied to your approach to drinking and storing wine.  That will tell us your ideal wine fridge size. Find yourself in this list and you’ll know what capacity you need.

  • You buy a few bottles at a time and drink them. 6 to 12 bottles
  • You like to stock up on your favorite wine, or wine on sale.  You usually have a case or two on hand but most is consumed within 12 months. 12 to 24 bottles
  • You don’t consider yourself a collector, but your wine racks are full.  You are not going to drink it all this year.  You need to start storing it properly for the long run.  24 to 48 bottles
  • You have a growing collection.  You appreciate that good wine gets better with age.  You realize you can save money by buying it when it’s young. 48 to 96 bottles
  • You are a serious collector with many cases of wine.  If you don’t keep it cooled and horizontal, your investment is at risk. 96+ bottles

Red or White – or Both?

Do you love white wine but red gives you a headache? Or do you think red wine is pure bliss and white wine has no taste? Or, like us, do you love both?  You take delight in a chilled glass of white wine on the patio in the Spring or Summer, and savor the complexity and finish of a robust red wine with a juicy steak dinner?

Or are you undecided – Lana, my better half, was a confirmed red wine-only drinker until she tried Conundrum, and she’s been an ambi-vinophile ever since!

Why does this matter?  If you only want to store your wine, it doesn’t.  Both reds and whites will keep well at the same temperature,  around 55 degrees F.

But if you are also interested in keeping some white wine chilled to the ideal drinking temperature, in the 40 to 50 degree range, you’ll want a wine refrigerator with two separately controlled temperature zones.

Let’s see where you fit:

  • You drink red or white wine but not both.  You don’t entertain enough to need a supply of both red and white at ideal drinking temperatures.  Single Cooling Zone 
  • You drink both red and white wine.  You want the convenience of ready to drink wine at the ideal temperature.  Dual Cooling Zone
  • You already have a wine refrigerator to keep some red and white wine “ready to drink.”  But your collection is growing and you need another wine refrigerator to store wine safely.  Single Cooling Zone

When you choose a wine refrigerator, make sure the “dual zone” models have independent, thermostatically controlled zones.  The first wine refrigerator we bought years ago was advertised as “dual zone.”  We later discovered that this was achieved with an incandescent light bulb near the top, warming the top bottles more than the bottom ones!  It was cheap, but it gave us no control over maintaining the proper temperature.

Size Matters

Earlier we said to forget about space and money and figure out your needs.  Now it’s time to come back to Earth and narrow your choice based on your available space – and budget.  Wine cellars come in three basic styles, in order of increasing capacity:

  • Countertop (small)
  • Undercounter (medium)
  • Full Size (large)

Installation

All three sizes, countertop, undercounter and full size are available as free-standing units. Undercounter and full size styles are also available as built-ins.

Free-standing units:

  • Need space on all sides for ventilation
  • Are finished on all sides except the back so they look good when sides are exposed to view

Built-in units:

  • Are ventilated in the front, usually under the door.  They can usually be installed flush in a cutout with very little space needed on the sides or rear
  • May not be finished on the sides as it is assumed the sides will not be visible.

Many wine coolers are suitable for either built-in or free-standing installation – they are vented in the front, and finished on sides and top.

You might want a built-in if you have a standard-sized space available and need something that fits, or you are ready to create a custom installation around the wine cooler(s) of your choice.

The most common built-in is a mini-fridge sized and occupies an undercounter space in your kitchen.

At the top of line you’ll find full size wine refrigerators.

Serious collectors will line a room with full-size wine refrigerators, which usually requires bringing more electrical power to the room and making sure there is adequate ventilation.

Size and Installation:  Your Choice

Let’s see what’s right for you:

  • You have room for a microwave-sized appliance.  You only want to keep a few bottles chilled and handy.  You’re tired of compromising by storing wine in your main refrigerator.  Countertop
  • You need to store a couple of cases of wine.  You have enough room for a small dorm or bar fridge.  Undercounter
  • You are getting serious about your collection.  You have six or more cases of wine to store.  You will store some for more than a year:  Full Size

Countertop units are easily affordable, generally hold 6 to 8 bottles, and almost everyone can find room for these microwave sized appliances. By their nature, they appeal to people looking to store a few bottles for near-term drinking, and who are tired of trying to squeeze wine bottles into their main refrigerator. Or – you just want one because it looks cool and makes a statement!

Undercounter units are the most popular. They won’t hold a big collection, but 80% of people who enjoy wine keep less than two cases on hand and just want a place to keep it out of the way and ready to drink.  Wine refrigerators are very attractive appliances too, and they can add some real pizzazz to your kitchen, dining room, family room or bar.

Full size units are a must if you are a serious collector or starting to become one.  Even if the wine you buy is not super expensive, good wine gets better with age – if it is stored properly.

Great wine becomes undrinkable if it’s not kept at the right temperature, out of the light and undisturbed.

Now let’s pick your installation style:

  • You want the super finished look of a built-in unit or already have a space for one.   Built-in
  • Your installation area has room for ventilation and one or both sides will be exposed to view.  Freestanding

Budget

If money is no object, you’re done!

For most people, our choices will be restricted by budget as well as space.

But don’t worry, the increasing popularity of wine over the last couple of decades has increased competition – and thus value – in the wine refrigerator category.

Even if you only have $100 to $150 to spend, you will be able to get your wine out of the refrigerator and into a much better storage situation.

If you have $150 to $300 to spend, you’ll have a lot of choices and you’ll be shopping in the most popular niche.

From $300 to $1000, you’ll find more sophisticated styling and features.

Around $1000, you’ll start to find full size units.

From there, the sky’s the limit, with gorgeous full wall furniture-style units running in the thousands of dollars.

Next Steps:  Choose a Wine Refrigerator!

You now have a good sense of how you will use your wine refrigerator.

And you know the key factors that will narrow your selection down to units that meet your needs:

  • Number of bottles
  • Single or dual cooling zones
  • Countertop, undercounter or full size
  • Free-standing or built-in
  • Budget

Armed with these answers, you can focus on the units with the best reviews and with the look and features you want.

You could spend weeks doing research online to find the right unit, plowing through thousands of pages of specs and user comments on retailer and manufacturer websites.  Or, leverage the time we’ve already spent doing the research for you.

Our CoolChoice™ proprietary wine refrigerator rating system ranks wine coolers by Feature, Style, Quality and Value and assigns a total CoolChoice™ score to each unit we review.

Narrowing it Down

To help you decide between the units that all meet your key criteria, consider these factors:

  • Is it important to be able to lock the doors to prevent unauthorized drinking or protect your valuable collection?
  • Sliding shelves are incredibly convenient to help you find that right bottle of wine
  • Removable and adjustable shelves are a must if you are storing a mix of bottle sizes – often to get the highest “number of bottles” rating, manufacturers space the shelves just far enough apart to hold a standard Bordeaux-sized bottle.  If you store a lot of Champagne, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, the bottles are typically larger and you’ll want to make sure there is enough room to store them.
  • Consider the lighting – incandescent or lower power consuming and cooler LED?  Blue or white or … ?
  • Noise – compressors are usually noisier than thermoelectric cooling systems, and as a rule, the more expensive the fridge, the more has been invested in keeping it quiet – but check the individual reviews to be sure.
  • Style – are you looking for something plain and functional, or something stylish that could be the center of attraction of your space?

Now You are Ready to Choose a Wine Refrigerator!

Now it’s time to make your choice!  Let our EZChoice™ wizard help.  You can filter the list by your key buying criteria.   Then read the reviews of your chosen models, rank them by their CoolChoice™ score, and follow our links to buy your wine refrigerator — without having to drive all over town!

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