How to Choose a Home Wine Fridge

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When people get serious about wine, they often purchase a refrigerator or cooler dedicated solely to wine. A wine fridge can keep multiple bottles of wine stored at the correct temperature (see my article on service temperatures) or provide a place to age the wines you want to keep for several years.
Why not keep your wine in your regular refrigerator?
If youre reading this, youre probably already convinced that a wine fridge is a good idea, but lets enumerate the reasons why:
Space - You probably dont have room in your kitchens refrigerator for more than a couple of bottles of wine at any time. If you want to store or serve more bottles, you need a dedicated wine fridge.
Temperature - The inside of your refrigerator should be about 40F, which is too cold for serving most wines and too cold for long-term wine storage. Interior fridge temperatures also fluctuate based on the temperature of the food placed inside and how often the door is opened. Temperature fluctuations are bad for long-term wine storage.
Vibrations - Your refrigerators compressor creates vibrations that are bad for long-term wine storage.
Major Types of Wine Fridges
Wine fridges typically maintain cool temperatures using one of two technologies: compressor and thermoelectric. Compressor-type wine fridges use the same technology as your home refrigerator. Thermoelectric systems use the principle of the Peltier effect to create a difference in temperature using electrical current and a fan to circulate air.
Each type has pros and cons, so before you make a purchase, make sure you compare your options to make sure the type you choose will treat your wine right! Read on to see how different types of wine fridges deal with the factors important to proper wine storage.
Temperature Control
Wine should be served somewhere between 40 and 65F, depending on the type. A wine fridge can maintain the proper service temperature for many bottles at a time. In order to age properly over the long term, wine should be stored between 50 and 60F. You may want to use a wine fridge for either one, or both, of these two purposes. My strategy is to keep my wine fridge set at 60F. This is both a good temperature for long-term storage and a good service temperature for most red wines. For the white wines in my fridge, I chill them a bit more in my kitchen refrigerator before serving.
Make sure any wine fridge you buy has exact temperature settings, not just a dial labelled 1" through "5 or cooler and warmer. Also, some wine fridges allow you to set only one temperature. Others offer dual zones, meaning that the interior is divided into 2 areas, and you can set a different temperature for each area. Be aware that some models limit one compartment to warmer temperatures (such as 55"65F) and the other to cooler temperatures (such as 40"55F). Better models allow you to choose from the full temperature range in both compartments. If the fridge is divided vertically, maximize efficiency by keeping the white wines on the bottom, since cooler air sinks.

This Is Not A Good Temperature Control

A Good Control Can Be Set To An Exact Temperature

A Better Control Supports Dual Temperature Zones
Thermoelectric and compressor-based wine fridges should have no trouble maintaining temperatures in the desirable range of 40"65F. However, each method has a drawback to consider. Compressor-based models will fluctuate around the selected temperature as the compressor cycles on and off, which is bad for long-term storage. Thermoelectric models create less temperature fluctuation, but cannot cool to temperatures lower than 20 degrees below the ambient temperature. Therefore, if your house is 75F on average, your thermoelectric wine fridge will have trouble getting below 55F.
Vibrations and Noise
Compressor-based wine fridges are cooled using the same technology as your home refrigerator. This method creates vibrations, which are bad for wine in the long-term. More vibrations also mean more noise, which can be annoying. Although compressor-based wine fridges are a fine choice for maintaining correct service temperatures, they are not a good choice for long-term storage or aging of wine because of these vibrations.
Thermoelectric fridges use a solid-state design which creates far fewer vibrations and noise, so they work well for either maintaining service temperatures or long-term storage.
Protection from Ultraviolet Radiation
Over the long term, light (UV radiation) damages wine. Better wine fridges have an opaque or tinted glass door, rather than a clear door, to protect the wine. You wont be able to show off your collection quite as easily, but your wine will remain in better condition.
Humidity Control
Ideal long-term wine storage conditions maintain humidity between 50% and 75%. However, most small-to-medium sized wine fridges do not provide humidity control. It is usually only available with a large, often customized, wine cellar installations.
Availability of Sizes, Shapes, Colors, Etc.
Compressor-based and thermoelectric models come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. You should be able to find one that fits your space and your style.
Because thermoelectric wine fridges require more space around them for ventilation, they are only available as freestanding units. They cannot be installed into cabinetry or under a counter. A compressor-based model would be used in those situations.
Consider the size and shape of the wine bottles youll want to store in the fridge. Do you buy large-format bottles, like magnums? Do you like Champagne or other sparkling wines with larger-diameter bottles? Do you like German wines, which often come in taller, thinner flutes? Some wine fridges are designed to accommodate these special shapes, and some are not, so check that your favorite bottles will fit in whatever wine fridge you purchase.

Some Wine Fridges Won't Accommodate Wider Bottles

Limited Bottle Sizes Without Adjustable Shelves

Adjustable Shelves Can Accommodate Many Bottle Sizes
Inside Lightbulb
A lightbulb inside the wine fridge can be useful, although in my experience the lights do not illuminate the wines enough for the labels to be read without removing the bottles from the fridge. If the fridge is full, the bottles block the light.

The Lightbulb Should Be Bright Enough To Be Useful
Locking Door
Some wine fridges come equipped with a lock on the door. If you live in a house with children (or roommates you dont trust), you may want to consider this feature.
Energy Use
Thermoelectric units are more energy efficient and cost less to operate than compressor units.
Price
The price of a wine fridge can range from less than $100 to many thousands of dollars, but compressor and thermoelectric models are fairly comparable in price. The greater the bottle capacity, the more the fridge will cost.
Check the chart below for a quick reference of all these factors, and make sure you invest in a wine fridge that will meet your needs over the long term!

 
I disagree with the claim that the compressor-based cooling units are nosier and have more vibrations than the Thermoelectric type. I have a 12 bottle Thermoelectric and I also use an upright freezer with an old Johnson Controls analog temperature controller as a wine storage unit.
There is no question that the Thermoelectric unit is much nosier to the point that I had to move ours out of a game room because you couldn't hear the TV at low volumes due to the hum it produced. On the other hand I have to actually open the freezer to even know if the compressor is running (the light will be on if it is) because it is so quiet.
As to the vibrations, I have felt the upright freezer when the compressor is running and if there are any significant vibrations they are news to me.
A big advantage to using the converted freezer is size--I currently have 39 bottles of wine and about 2 cases of beer in it and it is not even half full. I also put my kil-a-watt power meter on both units when they are set to 55 and the Thermoelectric wine unit uses about 3 times as much electricity as it runs constantly and I would bet is not nearly as well insulated as the freezer. This is the case even when the Thermoelectric unit is in an air-conditioned laundry room (where its noise isn't a problem) and the freezer is outside under a deck (due to its size and lack of aesthetic).
The advantage of the Thermoelectric wine unit is that it is small enough to fit between the washer and dryer in our laundry room as it is 6 rows/2 columns and is "presentable" enough to pass my wife's requirements for what goes in the house versus what is outside. That is why the freezer is in a dry area under my deck. These are my first-hand experiences for what they are worth.
 
I think I have made all the points I'm going to Austin. I want to write another article but on a different topic.
 
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