Questions to ask when purchasing wine coolers
The primary purpose of most wine coolers is the temporary storage of wine prior to serving. Many wine coolers have dual zones for maintaining both white wine and red wine at desired serving temperatures—warmer than a refrigerator but colder than a wine cellar.
For wine enthusiasts with small wine collections, nothing beats a wine cooler. Wine coolers are offered across the entire spectrum of quality and style, including affordable wine coolers from China and high-end wine coolers made in the U.S.A. Most wine coolers are offered in a black or stainless finish, can be freestanding or built-in, and some provide overlay kits to match the trim in your home.
Serving vs. Storage
Wine coolers also are excellent for entertaining, because they are designed to maintain ideal serving temperatures for wine that will be consumed in the near term. Wine cabinets generally are offered as furniture-style or refrigerator-style pieces, and are larger in size than most wine coolers. Wine cabinets are designed to maintain constant temperatures AND ideal humidity conditions for storing and aging wine over the long term.
Wine coolers will differ by size, finish, installation, features, performance and customer service.
How to choose
For the most part you'll get what you pay for with a wine cooler. Ranging in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars, it's best to narrow down the choices based on size, finish and installation, and then purchase the wine cooler that provides the best combination of features, performance and price.
Under-the-counter wine coolers are commonly offered in two sizes: 15 inches (wide) and 24 inches (wide). Narrow wine coolers typically hold 25-30 bottles and the 24-inch wine coolers hold around 50 bottles.
Less common taller wine coolers can be found. They are typically built-in, refrigerator-size with capacities ranging from 75 to 180 bottles.
What size is best for the space
Most collectors use coolers as temporary storage for serving rather than aging, so 25-50 bottles usually will meet most short-term needs. The 15-inch wine coolers were designed to fit in and replace trash compactors. Taller wine coolers come in different shapes and sizes, and generally fit into spaces that are designed to accommodate refrigerators.
Black, stainless, and overlay
Many wine coolers come in a choice of finishes, including black, stainless steel, and "overlay", which allows you to install wood on the door to match the surrounding cabinetry.
If the wine cooler will be built-in, focus on the finish of the door, because that will be the only visible part of the wine cooler. If the wine cooler will be free-standing, you will need to focus on the finish on the body in addition to the finish on the door, because the entire cooler will be visible.
The inside of the wine cooler should be checked—the more expensive wine coolers will make use of more metal parts, which will last longer than plastic.
Some wine coolers offer different door pulls to match the appliances in your kitchen. Before you purchase, check to see whether you have a choice in door pulls or other accessories for your wine cooler.
If you want to install the wine cooler under-the-counter and/or between cabinets or other appliances, the unit will be "built in" and only the door will be visible.
If you place the wine cooler in a standalone location, it can vent from the front, rear or sides.
Built-in wine coolers must have front-ventilation in order for the compressor to work properly. Most wine coolers offer front-ventilation as a standard option.
Many wine coolers advertise multiple zones for storing white, red and even Champagne bottles.
Most wine coolers offer the ability to choose which side the door is hinged; however, some require the decision to be made prior to purchase, whereas others can be modified after purchase.
Wine coolers usually have sliding metal shelves for easy access to your wine. Some wine coolers have wood trim on the face for an added sense of luxury. Some wine cooler shelves have wheels and tracks, which creates a better feel and reduces vibration. Some wine coolers have display spaces for prominently storing prized bottles.
Dials vs buttons, LED displays, choice of Celsius vs. Fahrenheit, open-door alarms, Sabbath blackout—these are some of the additional features that are offered on different wine coolers.
If a certain feature is of particular importance, check to make sure your unit offers it. In some cases, manufacturers will offer several versions of the same wine cooler under different brand names, the only difference being the features offered with each brand.
Wine coolers vary greatly across brands in terms of temperature and humidity performance. The high-quality brands will do a better job of maintaining temperature consistency and stability inside the cooler, and will maintain humidity in the range of 50-70 percent. They also will perform better in hot temperature environments.
Storage vs Serving
How you consume your wine should play a big role in which wine cooler you select. If you generally drink your wine soon after you purchase it, temperature variations and low humidity conditions won't affect your wine.
If you intend to store and age wine in your cooler, you'll need better performance from your cooling unit. Similarly, if you plan to place the wine cooler in a harsher environment, you'll need a wine cooler that offers maximum BTU.
Most important, be careful about purchasing a low-end wine cooler that may freeze up. Cheap wine coolers, usually made in China, have had well-documented problems with icing up.
You can tell a lot about the wine cooler from the warranty that comes with it. In addition to the length of the warranty, look at what's covered—ie parts, labor, the entire system, in-home, etc.
In general, you will find that better warranties are offered on products that are manufactured in the U.S.A.