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.
Straight forward, single zone cooling with intuitive controls that nailed our temperature tests.
Two compartments separated by a seal inside the door — this is dual zone taken seriously.
Are there California Pinots littering your countertops? A crate of whites stashed under the stairs? Wine has four arch enemies — heat, vibration, light, and humidity — and your bad storage habits exposes it to them all. The best wine cooler will protect your collection and easily keep all types of wine (and bottles of all shapes and sizes) at the right serving temperature. We researched hundreds of models before choosing the Wine Enthusiast Silent 8-Bottle Touchscreen and the Sunpentown Dual-Zone Thermo-Electric as our favorites.
“Light can quickly raise the temperature and ‘cook’ a wine,” Metropolitan Market Wine, Beer & Spirits Specialist Mark Takagi explains. “The most common storage mistakes leave wine vulnerable, like racks on top of kitchen countertops that are exposed to sunlight, under-cabinet lighting, and stove and oven heat, plus vibrations from frequent foot traffic. Storing wine on top of refrigerators is another big one: Not only does heat from the room rise; the fridge also vents a lot.”
You don’t have to be a cork-sniffing connoisseur to appreciate that cooking your wine is a bad idea — but even if you prefer Two Buck Chuck to high-end tipple, your wine will taste better served at the right temperature.
How We Found the Best Wine Cooler
Our test coolers, from left to right: the Whynter, Equator-Midea, Vinotemp, Sunpentown, Wine Enthusiast, and Jenn-Air.
Wine coolers are designed for short-term storage as opposed to cellars, which are for longer-term aging. The biggest difference is that while coolers protect against light, vibration, and temperature fluctuation, a cellar also protects against humidity.
Expert's Pick Best Cellar
Eurocave If you’re in the market for something to store your wines long-term, our experts all recommend the EuroCave ($2,000 and up). These wine cellars (ahem, wine cabinets) are the gold standard for storage, but with a temperature range of just 50 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit, they’re definitely not meant for serving.
In fact, a lot of the wine experts we talked to suggested that a wine cellar might be what you really need. Matthew Goldfarb, a wine cellar consultant in Los Angeles, pointed out that the ideal storage temperature for red and white wines is 55 degrees — which happens to be a great serving temperature for a lot of them too. “For many clients, I recommend investing in a high-quality cellar as opposed to a dedicated wine cooler, and just chilling whites to temperature in the kitchen fridge for a couple of hours before serving,” he says.
But who wants to wait?
For this review, we focused only on wine coolers that’ll have your wines at the right serving temperature at any moment — no need to pre-plan. We looked at 151 units from 46 of the top manufacturers, including models that can hold up to 30 bottles, the size of cooler that 90 percent of consumers seek out for home use.
We eliminated any cooler without adjustable shelves.
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.
Adjustable shelves offer flexibility, especially when it comes to mixing and matching bottles of different sizes.
We made sure they could keep both whites and reds at the right temperature.
According to Wine Spectator, the optimum temperatures for serving are: 40 to 50 degrees for light dry whites, rosés, and sparkling wines; 50 to 60 degrees for full-bodied whites and fruity reds; and 60 to 65 degrees for full-bodied reds and ports. We cut any cooler without that full range of 45 to 65 degrees.
We took into account energy efficiency — or at least, we tried to.
Manufacturers are not actually required to list energy consumption for wine coolers, unlike larger appliances such as full-size refrigerators. Part of this is because, for a long time, wine coolers were considered luxury items and few residences had one: Regulating their energy efficiency just didn’t matter. As they (and wine in general) become more popular, more testing and regulations will apply — in fact, as recently as March 2016, the Department of Energy began developing a proposal to include wine coolers as covered products under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and California Title 20 already has minimum standards to regulate the energy efficiency of wine chillers sold in the state.
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).
Some manufacturers do estimate the energy consumption of their coolers; of our 65 remaining contenders, 15 used 400 kWh/year or less, which is right at the California Title 20 cutoff for coolers this size.
We got our hands on six wine coolers (and a bunch of bottles of wine).
The 15 models that listed their energy consumption were from just six manufacturers, so we ordered one from each. To keep our comparisons as consistent as possible, we chose the 16- to 18-bottle cooler from each brand.
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: typical Bordeaux bottles, a 14.5-inch tall sparkling wine, a 13.5-inch Riesling, and a chubby Moscato.
(We also popped some corks and downed some wine — for the science!)
The worst wine coolers of the bunch were awful: Their doors weren’t level; their controls weren’t accurate; and the “touchscreen buttons” just didn’t work. The best were stylish beauties, with sensitive controls and air-tight seals.
Two of our test coolers, the Vinotemp 15 Bottle Touchscreen and the Equator-Midea 16-Bottle Wine Cooler, fell far short of expectations.
The Worst Wine Cooler
We disliked the Equator-Midea right out of the box. From its sticky, tough-to-remove protective shrink wrap to a dented interior dial thermostat located way at the back, we knew at first blush it wasn’t likely to win us over. And then we saw that the door hung a half-inch lower on one side than the other.
After we plugged it for a few days, we opened that janky door to see the ceiling of the unit was wet and icy after being on for a few days (hello, soggy labels). There was no interior light and no digital temperature setting — instead you twist a plastic dial and just hope for the best between Min., Normal (?!) and Max. It was the most reminiscent of a college dorm mini-fridge of all the models we tested and, what’s worst, at $299 it’s not even the cheapest.
An icy interior formed not long after we plugged in the Equator-Midea 16-Bottle Wine Cooler.
Runner-Up for Worst Wine Cooler
The Vinotemp couldn’t really fit the full 15 bottles. The lower half of the compressor unit has a bump-out to accommodate the cooling mechanics, leaving it only 8.75 inches deep. (How long is an average wine bottle? 11.5 inches.) It only has one contoured shelf and that shelf only fits four bottles; the other 11 need to find room on a second, non-contoured rack, standing up, and/or stacked lengthwise across the bottom. It works, just not very elegantly, like packing your first suitcase really nicely, and then smashing the rest of your clothes into a duffle.
When we tried to adjust the temperature, pressing directly on the touchscreen temperature controls didn’t do much — it worked better just to jab around until we lucked out on the sweet spot. The controls also had a locking “feature” to keep temperatures from fluctuating due to a careless tap in passing; it took us a few tries to realize you also had to unlock the temperature controls to turn on the interior light. We don’t need to lock ourselves out of a rogue mis-tap and don’t think you’d need it either.
Our Picks for the Best Wine Coolers
Looks alone do not make a wine cooler great, but this was the runway model of the contenders we tested: tall, slim, and flawless. 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).
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.
Our super-tall 14.5 inch sparkling wine didn’t fit lying in the racks, but could squeeze in diagonally with the bottom rack removed; the 13.5 inch Riesling fit in the racks just fine. In our temperature test, the Sunpentown killed: The whites were within 0.3 degree of their target 49, and the reds were within 0.5 degree of their target 64.
The prize for best single zone wine cooler went to Wine Enthusiast. We set out to test wine coolers of similar capacity — around 18 bottles — but that size in Wine Enthusiast’s Silent Touchscreen line didn’t have the temperature range we were looking for. We opted to get both the limited-temperature (but larger) version and the smaller (but more versatile) eight-bottle version. We like them both for their straightforward single zone cooling.
The exterior control panel on each was simple and sensitive to the touch: just two arrows, a button to turn on the interior light, and a blue digital display.
The only difference in control between the two is the eight-bottle model also has the option to flip between Fahrenheit and Celsius and beeps at a higher pitch when you push a button. The wire racks were just like the Sunpentown’s (nothing fancy), but they pulled out more easily. Again like the Sunpentown, the 14.5-inch sparkling wine was too long for the racks — but couldn’t even fit standing in the smaller Wine Enthusiast model.
Because both of the units are single-zone coolers, we expected them to nail the temperature test. We weren’t wrong: wine from the larger model set to 60 degrees poured at 60.4 degrees, and the smaller model set to 49 degrees was a little off at 51.4 degrees.
Our top picks, side by side: the Sunpentown on the left, and smaller 8-bottle Wine Enthusiast model on the right.
Other Wine Coolers to Consider
Our immediate reaction to this stainless steel beauty was, “Ooohhh, swanky!” followed by, “What’s with all these dents?” This chiller was so dinged up that we suspected it was a used model, but after calling the retailer, we were assured it was new, delivered straight from the Whynter warehouse. Disappointing, but we were promised a new one — and you would be too.
This compressor-cooled refrigerator is the only one we tested designed to be either freestanding or built into a cabinet or countertop, a level of versatility we appreciated even though we weren’t quite as impressed with a few of its design choices. The controls didn’t work nearly as effortlessly as the Sunpentown’s and, while it’s larger and could accommodate even our longest and largest bottles, the drawers felt cheap compared to the exterior — surprising for something with a $500-plus price tag.
The upper compartment has racks designed for six bottles and a lower zone that can fit 11. In the temperature test, this cooler did fine; it had a harder time cooling a white wine (2 degrees warmer than we wanted), but was close to the mark with the red (registering at 59.1 degrees instead of 60).
The Jenn-Air in the running was really a multi-purpose refrigerator — much bigger than the other units we examined, with a two-drawer, beechwood lower compartment designed to store wine and a larger area up top for other food and beverages. This guy is hefty, but the extra room meant it fit all our bottle shapes — even if the chubby one was a tight squeeze.
The control panel is on the interior, with four presets for the wine compartment to account for different varieties. The swankiest part? Tap the button for the exact type of wine you’re cooling and bingo-bango the temperature is set. Hit Champagne and it cools to 46 degrees; hit Red Wine and it cools to 64. (We were disappointed to find that the upper zone maxed out at 40 degrees, making it only really suitable for keeping dry whites and celebration bubbly.) Most notable were its dulcet dings whenever you press a button, and a Sabbath setting that keeps the overhead light from coming on when you open the door.
Easily the largest of our finalists, the Jenn-Air 24’’ Under Counter Beverage Center sports good looks and advanced control options.
For most, this big, multi-use built-in isn’t going to quite fit the bill, especially ringing up at over $2,000. But, if you’ve got the space and like the look, then go for it. The Jenn-Air also comes in a version with more wine-specific shelves that holds up to 46 bottles.
The Best Wine Coolers: Summed Up
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Did You Know?
You’ll choose between a thermoelectric and compressor cooler.
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.”
Freestanding units need room to breathe.
If you want your wine refrigerator built in alongside your other kitchen appliances, they need to have a front exhaust fan, like the Jenn-Air (which is designed to be only a built-in) or the Whynter (which can be either built in or freestanding). Freestanding wine coolers, which vent to the rear, overheat if they are under a counter or directly against a wall — although some models can be recessed as long as they have a few inches of clearance on the sides, rear, and top. Check the owners manuals or give the manufacturer a call to find out if that’s possible for the model you have your eye on.
Wine coolers aren’t a forever investment.
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. In all our research, EuroCave was repeatedly touted as the go-to top-tier brand, and its cooler and cellar prices start in the thousands.
They are an aesthetic choice.
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. As much as intuitive, accurate temperature controls and energy efficiency are important, this is an appliance that’s going to be sitting on your countertop or taking up some floor space in your kitchen. A big part of picking the best wine cooler for you is answering the question: What’s going to look great?
The Bottom Line
The sleek and simple Sunpentown and Wine Enthusiast models won us over, competing side by side with coolers ten times their price. Sure, they’re similar in style, but when something works, it works!
Find the Best Wine Cooler for You
Do you drink whites, reds, or both? 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 (like the Wine Enthusiast 16-Bottle Touchscreen Wine Refrigerator) could still be a great choice.
Does the room where you plan on keeping your cooler get very hot or very cold? 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.
Where’s it going? 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?