Getting started with small (counter-top) wine coolers
Not everybody needs to store hundreds of bottles of wine at a time. For many wine lovers, all they need is to have a few bottles on hand at the proper serving temperature, plus maybe one or two that they are saving for a special occasion. For these wine drinkers, as well as those who simply don’t have the space in their home, there are a variety of options available for small wine coolers.
Sometimes called countertop wine chillers, these products generally store between six and 27 bottles. A very common product in this class is the 12-bottle wine cooler. Not everybody’s wine collection is an investment portfolio, and for those who don’t have long term storage needs, these units are great.
Most wine produced is not meant to be aged, and should be drunk within a few years of bottling. After this time, wines can start to take on overripe qualities, and lose their character and complexity. These are the wines that most wine drinkers buy and consume. For those whose storage needs doesn't go much beyond their weekly rotation of wines, and perhaps an occasional dinner party or barbecue, small wine coolers can be the perfect balance.
While they tend to be more affordable than larger wine cabinets, small chillers still represent an investment in the enjoyment and protection of your wine. The selection can seem overwhelming, and though they're small, there is still a lot to consider when shopping for a small cooler. Start with this guide, and you'll find the perfect model for your needs in no time.
Single or dual-zone
The first factor to consider is whether you will need two separate temperature zones to store your reds at a higher temperature and your whites and sparkling wines at a lower setting. If you primarily drink a mix of both red and whites, or if you plan on having a few special bottles of red that you will keep on hand for over six months, then a dual zone is probably the right fit for you.
For those who mainly drink whites, or don't mind popping their reds into the fridge for 20 minutes before opening, then a single-zone chiller can suffice. A basement or even a closet that maintains a cool, steady temperature can be an acceptable place to store most red varietals. If you don't need a dual zone unit, you'll find savings in money and space – space in the cooler for whites, and around the cooler because you can get by with a smaller chiller.
The next thing to think about is your capacity needs. Luckily, the potential range is small once you've settled on a counter-top cooler; buyers of larger units can have to choose from 50 bottles up to hundreds and hundreds. You should have a pretty good idea of your storage needs based on your wine consumption, though if you are only just discovering the world of wine, you may want to leave a bit of room for your passion and collection to grow.
Thermoelectric or compressor
Most small coolers will be thermoelectric, though not all. There are various tradeoffs to consider when choosing between the two. Thermoelectrics are usually quieter and produce less vibration, though they all must have a fan that comes on and off regularly to spread the cold around. They tend to consume less energy as well. Compressor-based coolers will have a similar humming sound to a refrigerator.
Another issue with thermoelectrics is that they are dependent on the ambient room temperature. This is to say, they can only cool to a certain amount below their outside temperature.
A typical model will be capable of 20-25 degrees below room temperature, so on a 90 degree summer day in an un-air conditioned home, your wines could be as warm as 70 degrees. In climate-controlled spaces this is generally not an issue, except in making it slightly difficult to achieve an exact temperature.
As the cooler will most probably sit on your kitchen counter-top, or another similarly prominent place in your home, it is important that you like the look of it. Small wine coolers tend to be all black, or black and stainless. Options are limited for less modern looking products. Read through user reviews to make sure a particular product isn't too cheap or plastic-y looking.
The temperature display and controls are another aesthetic consideration, as are internal LED lights. Blue for both displays and internal lighting is by far the most common among these small units. Most people like the look, but it's not for everyone. If it will not be the right fit in your home, select a model that doesn't use this.
As you begin shopping for a small countertop wine cooler, you will quickly see that there is a wide price range available. Once you've decided on your budget (admittedly, not the easiest task), it should narrow down the options quickly. Consider your needs, and refer back to this guide when necessary. You'll find the perfect option for you, and before you know it, your next dinner party will have a perfect selection of wines, chilled and ready for your guests.