If you’re serious about wine, or simply find that you’re getting through a lot of it (don’t worry, we won’t judge), then you’ll know that temperature has a marked impact on the taste of the drink and in turn, how much you enjoy it.
Red wine is often served at just below room temperature, while white wine is traditionally served chilled. The storage temperature will also affect the way your wine matures – if it’s too warm, the wine will mature more quickly; if it’s too cold, those sediment deposits might build up at the bottom of the bottle.
In the past, we might have had to go to enormous lengths to keep our wine at the right temperature with a dedicated cellar or exterior building. Mercifully, technology has allowed us to achieve much the same effect without having to seek planning permission.
While a fridge might be adequate for storing a bottle or two of super-sweet sparkling wine in the short-term, it generally stores food at temperatures slightly colder than optimum for a white wine, and a lot colder than optimum for red wines. For those passionate about wine, it’s worth considering a specialist appliance known as a wine cooler. Like fridges, wine coolers come in a number of different forms. Let’s examine the available options, and see which might best fit your home.
Free-standing or built-in?
Wine coolers come in two varieties – there are free-standing models that slot into an existing space in your kitchen and integrated models that can be built into your kitchen units. The former tends to take up more room and floor space and may stand apart from the rest of your kitchen, but it also tends to offer more space.
The latter will fit in seamlessly with the rest of your kitchen cabinets.
Your choice between the two will depend on how much wine you’d like to store and the layout of your kitchen. You should also bear in mind the cost of built-in wine coolers as they tend to command a higher price and are more expensive to run.
What size wine cooler to choose?
Wine coolers, particularly freestanding ones, vary a great deal in terms of size. Some of them are relatively small, while others are taller than the average person. If you’re just looking to keep a few bottles of wine constantly chilled in preparation for serving, a smaller cooler might be all that’s required. If you’re looking to build your wine collection, then a 60-bottle cooler or even a 120-bottle one might be required.
As well as the dimensions of the entire cooler, we should also consider the flexibility of the space within. While most bottles of wine come in a standard size, some producers (particularly producers of sparkling wine) tend to package their product in larger bottles. So, do all wine coolers fit all bottle sizes? The answer is no, but the more capable coolers will come with adjustable shelves which can be tailored on-the-fly to accommodate any bottle.
How cold does a wine cooler get?
When considering a wine cooler, it’s important to think about the precise extent to which it’ll cool our wine. Optimal wine storage temperatures vary according to the sort of wine being stored. A full-bodied bottle of port, for example, might be best stored at around 19˚C, while Chianti might be stored at 15˚C, Chardonnay at 10 ˚C, and Cava at 5˚C.
Clearly, only the most dedicated wine enthusiast is going to keep enough different wine chillers to accommodate every single wine. For most of us, it’s sufficient to keep our wine chillers at a temperature that will roughly suit most of the wine being stored in them – 13˚C being the most often cited sweet spot.
What’s more important than the actual temperature is the extent to which the temperature fluctuates over time – a wine which is constantly getting warmer and colder will begin to lose its flavour.
The upper limit for wine storage is around 24˚C – at this temperature the chemicals present in the wine will begin to cook. The resultant expansion might even force the cork loose, leaving the wine vulnerable to oxidation. The result is a ‘flattened’ wine, whose colours, flavours and aromas are less potent.
Many wine coolers come equipped with not one, but two compartments, whose temperatures can be set independently from one another. This feature is especially useful if you want to bring wine straight to a suitable drinking temperature before serving. Or, if you’re storing a combination of red and white wines, you might wish to store each of them at slightly different temperatures. A wine cooler will allow you to do this.
Thermoelectric vs compressor wine cooler
Wine coolers tend to come in two different varieties. The first uses a compressor to pipe coolant in the same way a fridge or an air conditioner might, the second type is thermoelectric. Each has their merits, and it’s worth taking the time to understand them.
A traditional compressor-based chiller works by piping a special fluid, a refrigerant with a very low freezing point, between the interior and exterior of the fridge. At either end of this circuit are special coils, called the condenser and evaporator coils, that absorb and disperse heat energy. The compressor’s role is to squash the coolant as it leaves the condenser coils, causing it to shed its heat energy. This channels the heat steadily away from the interior of the cooler. Using fans, cold air is spread away from the condenser coils and around the interior of the cooler.
Thermoelectric coolers work via the Peltier effect, which causes heat to transfer from one side of two joined pieces of metal when a current is passed through them. Thus the interior of a thermoelectric wine cooler contains at least one heat pump, which consists of a semiconductor circuit sandwiched between two thin plates of metal.
Thermoelectric coolers are more environmentally friendly than compressor-based coolers, simply because they don’t contain any hazardous refrigerants. They’re also able to operate almost silently, since there’s no need for a motor. Another beneficial side-effect of this is that the cooler won’t vibrate, which many believe will disturb the quality of a wine over time. Finally, thermoelectric coolers will be able to maintain a more even temperature as the cooling apparatus is spread evenly throughout the cooler, rather than being concentrated on one spot and reliant on fans to distribute the cold air.
Thermoelectric wine coolers, however, aren’t (yet) quite as powerful as compressor-based coolers, and most are incapable of consistently cooling to beneath 10°C (which is just south of the ideal storage temperature for most wines). They’re also quite sensitive to the temperature outside of the cooler, so be sure to place it in a room where the ambient temperature isn’t going to fluctuate much.
Cost of running a wine cooler
When you’re shopping for a wine cooler, you won’t just want to bear in mind the cost of the unit itself; you’ll also want to pay attention to how costly it will be to run. Are wine coolers expensive to run? Well, it depends on a number of factors, including the size of the cooler, the technology it uses, and the temperature within and outside the cooler. In most circumstances, even the largest wine coolers should not consume more than 1 kWh/day, so you can be sure that your wine cooler won’t place too large a strain on your finances.
What about extras?
Many wine coolers come equipped with added features that help to make life that little bit easier. These include:
Humidity control – wine is sensitive to changes in moisture, so being able to monitor and set the humidity levels is worthwhile.
UV-resistant glass – this helps protect your wine from the harmful effects of UV-rays while still allowing you to see the contents of the cooler without opening the door.
Anti-vibration – in order to guard against the effects of vibrations, many coolers come with stabilising mechanisms that will ensure your wine is held as steady as possible.