Wine Cooler vs. Refrigerator

Wine Cooler vs Refrigerator: What’s best for your collection?

Few topics in the world of wine are as multi-dimensional as wine storage. The ambient temperature, relative humidity, and levels of light touching the bottle while in storage impact not only how well the contents stay unspoiled, but also how quickly and effectively a wine ages. For the wine lover looking to build their collection, establishing a dedicated storage location such as a wine cooler or a corner in the kitchen refrigerator becomes an important consideration. A refrigerator will certainly chill your wine for you.  But is it just as good as a wine cooler in terms of doing what’s best for your wine? Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of a wine cooler vs refrigerator.

A wine cooler is similar to a refrigerator.  However, their design allow them to preserve wines for short- to middle-term storage. (As opposed to a wine cellar used for a long-term storage solution). You’ll find models with wooden racks and others with metal, models with wheels and others with adjustable feet as a more permanent solution. Mostly, wine coolers have a double-paned glass door that serves to insulate and preserve the stable temperature within the unit.  Yet you can see the attractive bottles from the outside.

Stable, Precise Temperature

A wine cooler will keep your wines at a stable temperature over an extended period of time.  Opposite, a refrigerator can not stay at a stable temperature. Because a refrigerator door opens and closes many times over the course of a day.  Therefore, the temperature inside the fridge is subjected to many minuscule changes.  And, these changes affect the way your wine ages. A wine cooler is also designed to keep your wines at a consistent optimal serving temperature so you can uncork as soon as you pull the bottle out of storage. Unless you have a conventional bar fridge dedicated exclusively for your wine, you’ll probably find that your wine becomes over chilled.  Thus, requiring some time on the counter before serving. A wine cooler is able to circumvent this problem by setting and keeping an exact desired internal temperature with nothing but your wine in mind. This is one of the most important benefits of a wine cooler vs refrigerator. A wine cooler is generally worth the investment for this reason alone if you’re considering long-term wine storage. Many wine coolers even have two chambers that regulate two different temperatures.  This is perfect for taking into account the differences between your reds and whites.

If you often store your wines at room temperature, a wine cooler may be your best option if you live in a very hot area or if your house experiences drastic temperature changes over the seasons. Drastic changes in temperature can prematurely age your wines and subject them to spoilage.

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Clean Air

Wine is able to breathe through its cork.  Therefore, it’s important to prevent dirty or polluted air from coming into contact with your collection. A refrigerator is full of food smells and particulate.  So, any rotting items will impact the health of your wine as the bottle breathes. A wine cooler solves this by removing those potential hazards from the equation. If you frequently find yourself cleaning old, rotting food out of your fridge, it may be time to purchase a wine cooler.

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Limited Vibrations

Refrigerators are notorious for emitting loud vibrations.  In addition to hearing them, you can feel vibrations through the floor across the room. Each time the compressor cycles on making adjustments to the fridge’s internal temperature, wine stored inside is subject to a bit of a jostle. While there’s no true consensus about the effects of vibration on wine, there are a few theories that claim that excessive vibrations can lead to overly rapid aging or spoilage in your wine or disturb any sediment found at the bottom of the bottle. Thermoelectric wine coolers’ design minimizes the amount of vibration they emit.  Having no moving parts, they virtually eliminate the chance of vibration affecting your wines. More traditional compressor-based models place their refrigeration units to minimize vibrations.  In addition they have adjustable legs on each corner enabling the user to level the unit. This is not a big deal for a lower quality wine.  But it’s worth reconsidering this point in the wine cooler vs refrigerator debate should you start to add a few luxury bottles into your collection.

Thermoelectric units are much quieter than traditional compressor units and are not as efficient at cooling, so decide wisely whether efficiency or silence is most important for your storage area.

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Storage Position

You can configure many refrigerators to hold a few wine bottles on their side.  Therefore, keeping the bottle corks properly hydrated.  However, this is a wine cooler’s primary function. Storage position is not particularly important for a wine that you will consume young.  Especially if you plan to consume it within a few days after purchase.  However, position is increasingly more critical for any wines that will age in your home.

In addition, most wine coolers are manufactured to fit Bordeaux-style bottles.  So, you may have difficulty holding Champagne and other odd-shaped bottles.  Therefore, check the model you’re looking at buying to verify your wine bottles fit properly. Just because a model says it holds 50 bottles doesn’t mean that bottles that aren’t uniform in size and shape will fit just as easily. Bring a few bottles along with you when you go shopping for a wine cooler to make sure your collection will fit.

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Humidity Controls

Similar to fine cigars, wine bottles – or, more specifically, the corks – should be kept properly hydrated when placed in longer term storage. A properly hydrated cork will resist cracking and help to prevent oxidation and spoilage. Supposedly, corks do best when held at 70% relative humidity.  A variable that even modern, state-of-the-art kitchen refrigerators don’t have the ability to change or monitor. Kitchen fridges remove humidity from the air, which can dry out the cork. Have you ever had trouble opening a wine bottle because the cork was crumbly? The bottle probably wasn’t stored at an optimal humidity.  Thus, the cork simply dried out. Not all modern wine coolers are able to control and maintain humidity at the optimal 70%.  However, they tend to average around 40%.   Resulting in fewer cracked corks. Remember that a cork that expands and contracts from changes in temperature and humidity.  Therefore, possibly causing the bottle to seep or oxidize.  This is another important point in the wine cooler vs refrigerator debate.

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A Dedicated Area

This is another critical point to consider when you are mulling over the benefits of a wine cooler vs refrigerator. Investing in even a small wine fridge means that you’ll have a dedicated area for your wine collection.  So, no more worrying about bottles being knocked over, broken, or spilled.  Because, unfortunately they often are when being stored in a refrigerator. Storing your wine in a wine cooler also means you’ll have more room in your fridge.  Making room for important groceries, especially as your collection grows beyond just a few bottles. Having a separate storage unit for your wines may seem like a nuisance at first.  However, it won’t take long to notice that having a wine cooler actually adds convenience rather than taking it away.

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Experimental Aging

One reason that many people choose to buy a wine cooler is to more easily and precisely age wines. Many home winemakers age their own batches.  A wine cooler is the perfect easily adjusted and precise receptacle to age wine. This is often a deal breaker in the wine cooler vs refrigerator debate for hobbyist vintners who may have been just getting by with a small kitchen fridge before creating a recipe worth aging. A wine cooler is a great option for aging in the short-term.  Additionaly, it is a solid investment for those home vintners who take pride in their homemade reds.

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Exposure to Light

Similar to vibration and temperature, wine is negatively affected by prolonged or intense exposure to light sources.  Wine is relatively safe from contact with light while on the inside of a fridge.  However, easily place a wine cooler in any location in your home with minimal UV light exposure. Internal refrigerator lights are often strong and harsh, and may affect a wine’s ability to properly age in storage.

It’s true that wine bottles made using dark colored glass block some of the harmful UV rays from contacting the contents of the bottle.   However, it’s still worth avoiding further contact by storing the bottles away from sunlight. Some wine coolers have clear glass doors requiring installation away from windows. Yet others have wood-paneled doors that would be perfect for storing your wine in a location that gets a lot of sun.

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A Proud Display

As a wine lover, you’re proud of the growing collection of vintages you’ve gathered. Why hide them away in a refrigerator when you could display them in an attractive case? Many wine coolers have clear glass fronts that allow you to see the arrangement of bottles on the inside. Similar to displaying a vintage firearm or a famous piece of artwork, many collectors choose a wine cooler that allows them to show off their hard-earned collection. If you ask them what they think of the wine cooler vs refrigerator debate, they’ll likely tell you it’s a no brainer in favor of the former. Wine coolers come in varying sizes.  From countertop models that hold only a few bottles to large, freestanding models that hold several hundred or more. So there’s a perfect model out there for your needs.  It’s impossible to showcase a wine collection held hostage inside of a refrigerator.  Perhaps you are interested in showcasing and discussing your collection?   Consider this important point when you deciding between a wine cooler and refrigerator.

More recently, wine coolers are available in sizes and models that fit under a countertop similar to a dishwasher. This is a great option if free space is an issue in your household.  Or if you simply want your wines to be within easy reach of your kitchen and dining area. Some models also have reversible doors so you can choose in which direction it will swing open.  This is a must for small spaces or high-traffic areas within the home.

Wine coolers are often available with a choice of metal racks or wooden racks. Wooden racks look nicer, but are generally more expensive.

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Staying Organized

Home vintners will often choose a wine cooler for their storage needs because they are easier to organize than a fridge. Some key factors include keeping track of when a bottle went in the cooler.  And, tracking the temperature and humidity levels.  In addition, keep up with when the bottle will hit its prime to be ready for consumption.  Also, organize your wine cooler into labeled sections.

A wine cooler will allow you to extend the life of your wine.  In addition, you can age it perfectly. A serious but useful investment for any wine lover, you’re sure to find a model that fits with your home, collection, and lifestyle.

Considering whether to purchase a wine cooler vs refrigerator is a complex process.   The process involves thinking about many different variables that are personal and can quickly change. Maintaining a stable, precise temperature at which to store and serve your wines is the most important and noticeable benefit of having a your collection stored in a wine cooler. Coolers are also ideal for aging and come in attractive models that can be used for display purposes in any room in your home. Remember that wine coolers come in all sizes, colors, and prices.  So, you’re sure to find a model that works best for you and your wine collection.  Keeping the above points in mind as you consider whether to store your wine in a wine cooler vs refrigerator will help you make the best decision.

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Buying a Wine Cooler

So you have come to the conclusion that you need a wine cooler.  Check out our wine cooler comparison page to learn more about the various types of wine coolers.  Our comparison chart helps making a decision on what model to buy much easier.