There comes a point in almost every wine lover’s life at which wine enjoyment turns into wine collecting. It might happen when you’re at a wine festival or winery tour and discover a wine so wonderful that you take the plunge and bring home a case.
Once you have a few bottles of wine on your hands, you need to store them properly. Some people are fortunate enough to have a basement or other cool area in their homes where they can store wine at an appropriate temperature and humidity level. For the rest of us, the best way to keep our wine at 55 degrees Fahrenheit may be to purchase a wine cooler.
Wine coolers come in all shapes and sizes, from small under-cabinet models to large units that hold hundreds of bottles. For the novice wine collector, deciding which type of wine cooler to buy can be a daunting experience. Here are some features to consider when selecting a wine cooler.
As you stand in your kitchen, looking at a few bottles, the idea that you may some day need a wine cooler large enough to store many cases of your favorite wines may seem extremely far-fetched. Lifestylist and wine collection specialist Maria Gabriela Brito recommends purchasing a 30-bottle wine cooler if you are not sure how large your collection may become. “It’s small enough,” says Brito, “to fit in any apartment without compromising too much space and it will also fulfill the goal of keeping a collection that is big enough to be enjoyed by the collector or to be used for purposes of entertaining.”
Matthew Goldfarb, freelance wine cellar management and storage professional, suggests buying a larger wine cooler than you think you will need. “Many of the advertised bottle capacities of wine cooler units are purely estimates based on a standard Cabernet or Bordeaux shaped 750ml bottle and don’t take into account larger, taller or fatter bottles,” he says. “The advertised capacity almost always assumes that bottles are stacked on top of each other or are “nested” to get the greatest number of bottles in the smallest amount of space,” Goldfarb continues.
If you’ll be using your wine cooler primarily for storage, then you’ll want to keep your temperature at right around 55°, but ideal serving temperatures will vary both based on the type of wine you’re drinking and your personal preferences. Most wine coolers will have a temperature range of at least 45°-65° and let you set the temperature yourself based on your personal preference. Double-check that the model you buy offers a range that includes the temperature(s) you prefer and be sure to go for a dual-zone if you drink both red and white and want to serve them at different temperatures.
Quality and Features
Wine coolers vary greatly in quality. As you would expect, a basic wine cooler will store your wine at the proper temperature and relative humidity, but it won’t do much more than that. “Higher quality units offer separate cooling zones for tempering and storing of whites and red wines,”.
Wine storage expert Matthew Goldfarb suggests looking at a wine cooler’s shelf construction before you buy. “You want shelves and gliders that will hold a substantial amount of weight, sometimes up to 35 pounds each (the equivalent of a standard case of wine),” he says. “If it looks like it’s going to fall apart before putting anything in it, don’t buy it.”
Dual zone wine refrigerators are fantastic for multi-varietal collections. You can keep both your reds and whites at their optimal serving temperatures. If your collection is heavier in one varietal though, you’ll want to pay attention to both the temperature range and bottle capacity of each temperature zone.
Sometimes each zone has the same capacity and same temperature zone, but other times the zones are intended for either white wines or red wines. If the latter is the case, then the temperature ranges will be slightly skewed to warmer or colder depending on which varietal is meant to be stored in that zone. If you drink mostly reds, look for a dual zone unit featuring warmer temperatures in its larger capacity zone and visa-versus.
Even the most basic wine coolers don’t come cheap. Expect to pay handsomely – in the thousands of dollars – for larger capacity and for special features. You may also have to pay to have the wine cooler shipped to your home.
Last but not least, one of the most important factors to consider when looking for a wine cooler is bottle capacity. It’s what most people shop by and it’s typically included in each unit’s title.
Contrary to popular belief and to the dismay of many new wine cooler owners, the supplier-stated capacity doesn’t apply to every collection. There are many confounding variables that can affect your bottle capacity, sometimes making it much smaller than you thought. It’s important to know what these are, because whether it’s an array of wine types or only your favorite varietal, you want your collection to fit.
So, here are the factors you should consider in order to find the right bottle capacity in a wine cooler:
When looking at bottle capacities, most people don’t take into account the variety of bottle sizes available. Depending on the type of wine, the shape of your bottles could be completely different. Cabernet Sauvignon bottles have high shoulders, while Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bottles have low, sloping shoulders and a wider base. The bottle capacity of most wine coolers, unless stated otherwise, is determined using Bordeaux-style 750 mL wine bottles.
However, it’s been our experience that Bordeaux, Rhine, Mosel, and Alsace style bottles fit with no issues. Alternatively, Rhone, Burgundy, and Champagne style bottles tend to present capacity issues.
As a general rule, if your collection is comprised of larger-style bottles, you’ll want to purchase a wine cooler with a larger capacity than the quantity you’re looking to store.