The Best Wine Cooler
Wine coolers aren’t for storing wine forever. They’re for getting it ready to drink. We talked to four wine experts, tested fridge temperatures, and drank our fair share of chilled rosés, all to find a good looking wine cooler with buttons that worked, could accommodate temperatures from 45–65 degrees, and didn’t develop freezer burn.
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October 15, 2018 – Our “best single zone” pick, the Wine Enthusiast Silent 8-Bottle Touchscreen Wine Refrigerator, is no longer available. We’ll plan to revisit this review in the coming months, but in the meantime, we still recommend the Sunpentown dual-zone fridge for most people.
The Best Wine Cooler: Summed Up
Our Top Pick
Sunpentown Dual-Zone Thermo-Electric Wine Cooler with Heating
Great storage capacity
Dual cooling zones
Minor rack issues
Why we chose it
Great storage capacity
This sleek, black thermoelectric cooler is about the size of a tall kitchen garbage can — perfect for fitting in a narrow space. It takes its dual zones seriously, with two compartments separated by a seal on the inside of the door (the Whynter dual-zone cooler we tested had two chambers, but no seal).
Dual cooling zones
Each zone’s light and temperature are managed independently with sensitive touchscreen buttons that beep with every (gentle) tap. The top zone is cooler, with temperatures from 44 to 64 degrees, and smaller — the shelves accommodate only six bottles, although they can be removed to fit a few more. The bottom zone comfortably fits up to 12 bottles at temperatures between 51 and 64 degrees.
Points to consider
Minor rack issues
The racks in the Sunpentown are designed in such a way that you can lay them down side-by-side to fit more in. However, we had some trouble fitting our super-tall 14.5 inch sparkling wine and had to turn it diagonally to make it work. It’s a minor complaint and one easily remedied provided you have enough rack space to finagle your larger bottles into position.
How We Found the Best Wine Cooler
Good temperature range
First, we made sure our fridges could keep both whites and reds at the optimum temperatures for serving, based on recommendations from Wine Spectator:
- Light dry whites, rosés, and sparkling wines: 40 to 50 degrees
- Full-bodied whites and fruity reds: 50 to 60 degrees
- Full-bodied reds and ports: 60 to 65 degrees
We cut any cooler without that full range of 45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
If shelves can’t be adjusted, you are limited in the number, size, and shapes of the bottles you can store — not ideal for anyone with a varied collection, let alone an upcoming dinner party. With removable shelves, you can fit more bottles by stacking them like firewood, plus have the option of storing opened bottles standing up.
The amount of energy a wine cooler uses depends on how many hours per day the fan or motor is running, plus variables such as how often you open the door and the ambient temperature of the room. It’s measured in kilowatt hours per year (kWh/year). In general, manufacturers are not actually required to list energy consumption for wine coolers as they are considered luxury items. However, some manufacturers do estimate the energy consumption of their coolers; 15 of our contenders used 400 kWh/year or less.
As we whittled down the contenders, we got our hands on six wine coolers. From there, we tested things like the controls, shelving, door mechanism, etc. We played around with them all, pushing buttons and pulling out drawers, then tested each unit to find the accuracy of their temperature settings at 49 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit and how easily they could accommodate wine bottles of different sizes.
How to Find the Right Wine Cooler for You
Ask yourself what kind of wine your prefer
If you lean heavily to just reds or just whites, a single-zone cooler will work great. If you prefer to mix it up, choose a dual-zone model. But don’t forget: all wines can be kept at 55 degrees until a few hours before being served, when you can pop them in the fridge to cool down or leave them out at room temperature to warm up. If you’re looking more for a short-term storage option (as opposed to a ready-and-waiting-to-be-consumed solution) a single-zone cooler with a limited temperature range could still be a great choice.
Assess room temperature
Thermoelectric models, while more efficient, struggle in anything but ideal temperatures. If you live in Florida and plan on keeping your wine cooler in an un-air-conditioned garage, a compressor model will definitely be the way to go.
Determine where you want the wine cooler
Most freestanding coolers don’t have a front vent, so they need several inches of breathing room around the back, top, and sides so they don’t overheat. For a more streamlined look, go with a built-in model that matches your appliances or cabinetry. Also consider your space: Do you want a tall-skinny guy? A cube? Something else?
Wine Coolers FAQ
Are wine coolers reliable?
Experts warn that smaller free-standing units can be fickle. Matthew Goldfarb says that many smaller, off-the-shelf units only work well for a few years, and that larger, built-in models have more structural integrity. “I’ve had mixed success with the smaller freestanding coolers,” agrees Erik Liedholm, wine director for several of chef John Howie’s restaurants. The wine coolers we tested all had one-year warranties (except the Jenn-Air, which had a two-year warranty), but Goldfarb emphasizes that if you have invested in a quality wine collection, it’s worth it to invest in a quality cooler or cellar.
What’s the difference between thermoelectric and compressor coolers?
Most wine refrigerators use either compressor or thermoelectric cooling. Compressor wine coolers use a refrigerant to cool, just like your kitchen refrigerator. They are generally heavier, louder, and more powerful. Thermoelectric models, like our two top picks, are quieter and more energy efficient.
They rely on the Peltier effect: Cooling happens as a result of current flowing between two conductors. Thermoelectric chillers will have less vibration, but since they do not actually produce any cold air, they are more susceptible to temperature fluctuations. They perform best when ambient temps are in the mid-70s — over 80 and they have a tough time getting and staying cold.
“Thermoelectric units are certainly more efficient and quieter than their compressor counterparts. However, they may not get as cold, especially if the ambient temperature of the room is high, and can have a shorter shelf life.”
Marshall Tilden III Director of Sales, Wine Enthusiast
Will a wine cooler match my decor?
Wine coolers come in all finishes: wood, stainless steel, sleek black. They come in all sorts of shapes too: tall and skinny, small like a microwave, as giant as a dishwasher, and even the size of a full room. This is an appliance that’s going to be sitting on your countertop or taking up some floor space in your kitchen. Luckily, there are a variety of aesthetics to choose from.