Wine is a finicky thing. Even after all the care that goes into it as the vines are tended, the grapes harvested and the wine made, fermented, aged, and bottled, it still needs to be treated with the utmost care. The slightest changes anywhere in the process – from vine planting to the wine hitting your palate – can impact and change the wine.
It is this extreme subtlety of course that makes wine such a wonderful thing. For the same reason that tiny changes can negatively impact wines, they can also benefit them immensely. No vintage is ever the same as any other. Even two rows of the same grapes in the same vineyard, just a few meters apart can impart widely different characteristics on a wine.
Because of this fragility, it is essential that even once a wine has been bottled, shipped, bought, and brought home, it still be handled and stored in an appropriate way. Most people don’t have large wine cellar rooms in their houses, and this explains the skyrocketing popularity of accessories designed to help store wine in the best way possible.
The biggest dangers to wine are extreme temperatures and ultraviolet light. Storing your wines in too-cold temperatures can prevent them from aging properly, and too-hot temperatures can cause a wine to “cook,” resulting in bad flavors.
Damage and breakdown caused by UV light is why you see the more fragile red wines bottled in dark green glass. A good home wine cellar protects your precious bottles from both of these scourges.
Types of wine cellars
Recent years have seen an explosion in demand for home wine cabinets, and manufacturers have responded with an ever-widening selection of models to suit any wine lover’s needs. From a single bottle chiller, up to cabinets that store hundreds of bottles, the range is immense. Finding the right model for your needs from such a huge selection can seem a daunting task.
Generally, wine storage fridges can be broken down into five types:
- Freestanding – These could be furniture-style units, or any unit with finished sides, designed to stand on its own.
- Built-in (tall) – Tall built-in units are typically built into kitchen cabinetry or used in a wine cellar room.
- Built-in (under-counter) – The smaller siblings to the tall built-in units, these usually find a home under the kitchen counter.
- Small (countertop) – Space-saving and designed for a smaller collection of wines.
- Single bottle – From simple ice buckets to computer-controlled appliances, single-bottle wine chillers can quickly bring a bottle of wine to the proper serving temperature.
Among the larger sizes, these can be broken down into single-zone and dual-zone models. Dual-zone have two separate temperature zones which can be controlled independently of one another.
Why buy a wine cellar?
As we stated above, temperature extremes and fluctuations are the fastest way to ruin wine. At around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the aging process is accelerated and flavors can become flat. If your wine gets much hotter than this, it will become “cooked” and some unpleasant flavors will be brought out in much the same way as an overripe piece of fruit.
Proper wine storage is essential for bottles meant to be aged for years or even decades. Most wines do not fall into this category, but storage is still important. A good wine fridge will allow you to set your optimal temperature, and give you the peace of mind that your bottles are resting safe and sound in your home.
In addition to ensuring that your wine is not damaged, having a wine cooler in your home gives the convenience of always having a bottle on hand at its correct serving temperature.
Fridges get cluttered, pantries get too hot, but a dedicated wine cabinet means always being ready, whether it’s a surprise guest, a dinner party with a dozen bottles, or just an impulsive decision to enjoy an evening glass of wine.
Wine cellars also look great and can enhance the décor of your kitchen, dining room, entertainment area or home bar. Built-ins are generally intended for kitchen use and usually have a modern look to match the black and stainless steel popular with most appliances.
Freestanding units typically have a more classic look that’s great in dining rooms. Beautiful hardwood finishes are often seen with these cabinets and they give any room a classy, elegant feel.
Choosing the proper model: the best wine fridge for your needs
Once you’ve decided to add the style, functionality, and convenience of a wine fridge to your home, you’ll have to narrow your search down or you’ll quickly become overwhelmed by all of the options.
First, think about the space where it will go. Do you need a built-in or a freestanding unit? If you plan on going with a built-in, will it be a taller model or an under-counter one?
Whether built-in or freestanding, there are noise and ventilation factors to consider. We go into this in greater detail in our guides.
Once you know which type of wine cellar is best for your home, you can narrow your search down further by deciding on how many bottles you think you will need to store at a given time. At this point, you’ll also want to decide if you need a single or dual-zone cabinet.
The typical wine drinker enjoys a mix of both red and whites, and has a balance between long term storage needs and bringing the wines to the appropriate short-term serving temperature. For these consumers, a dual-zone refrigerator is the best fit.
However, there is a market for single-zone units as well. Some people prefer to drink either reds or whites exclusively, or are fine with storing reds in their wine cellar and whites in their regular refrigerator. If you know what types of wines you typically drink and serve, you should have a pretty good idea of what is best for you.
The nomenclature of these units can be kind of tricky. While we typically refer to them as wine cellars or wine refrigerators on this website, we are referring to the appliance itself. But wine cellars can also mean a physical room in a house or basement, or—traditionally in Europe—even a cave in which wine is stored!
They are also commonly called “wine coolers.” While this term can be used interchangeably with wine cellars and wine refrigerators, it can also be applied to the cheap, sugary, carbonated alcoholic drinks that mix in low-grade wine or malt liquor. So to avoid any confusion here — we are not talking about wine cooler drinks.
However you choose to refer to them, these cellars/refrigerators/coolers are an investment in your wine collection, which is an investment in and of itself.
It’s important to take the time to make an informed decision before buying. We’ve put together this website, including reviews, tips, and buying advice to help you make the right choice for your budget and your needs.
As oenophiles ourselves, we know that once you live with a wine cellar, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. Enjoy!