Choosing the right wine cooler for your lifestyle
April 8, 2019
Before we discuss which type of wine cooler suits your needs best, its best to understand wine storage so that we understand the different types of wine cooler that are on offer as they cater for different sectors.
Wine storage can be segregated into 5 critical components which must be managed in order to ensure that the wines are stored in optimum conditions to allow the ageing process to develop the wines as they should.
These 5 elements, all occur naturally in a normal wine cellar which are deep underground. A wine cooler is effectively a good alternative to a wine cellar for someone who for example doesn’t have the space or budget for a full-blown wine cellar.
The key conditions are
This is one of the most important key factors, in order for a wine to age correctly the temperature of the wine must remain constant and not too warm or not too cold. If the wine is kept at a warm temperature for an extended period of time the wine will sour and ruin the taste. Where as if the wine is stored at a temperature too cool, then the ageing process will be stunted and may mean that if you leave the wine for 10 years it may not have fully developed.
The recommended temperature to age wine is 12°C, in a wine cellar this will remain constant as they are mostly deep underground and are not affected by outside temperature fluctuations or weather conditions. In a wine cooler, the internal temperature will not be constant as there is a cooling phase and an off phase as with a standard refrigerator. The wine cooler will cool to 2°C below the set temperature and then the compressor will start back up again once the internal temperature reaches 2°C above the set temperature. The temperature of the wine will remain constant at the set temperature as a liquid requires a lot more energy to change the internal temperature.
Within a wine cellar the humidity will remain very constant, with minimal fluctuations. When we are above ground, we see a great array of humidity levels throughout the world. The reason humidity is important to a wine is to ensure the cork does not dry out during the 5-10 years that it is being stored for. If the cork was to dry out, the fitment of the cork would be slightly looser which would allow wine to seep out and also allow oxygen to seep in which in turn will sour the wine.
A wine cooler will maintain the humidity inside the wine cellar between 55 and 85% it does this by allowing any excess moisture to condense on the back wall which then melts during the off phase, the excess water is then captured in a container next to the compressor where it evaporates away. If the humidity was to get too high, there would be issues with mould growth and in some cases the moisture can settle on the labels which can then smudge.
Wines like complete darkness in order to do their thing, at the very least they need not be exposed to any UV light as it has been proven that UV light can pass through the wine bottles and cause colour changes to the wine which will indefinitely change the taste.
A wine cellar will be completely dark of course, with UV free lights being turned on every now and then to check all is in order. A wine cooler though, will either feature a full solid door to ensure no UV light can pass through, or it will be tinted glass with UV protection (providing you buy a good quality wine cooler).
Vibration is key point and is often overlooked by some wine cooler manufacturers. When a wine is stored in a wine cellar, the only time it is moved is maybe one a year in order to mix the bottle slightly. The idea is that the sediment will concentrate near the cork which can be removed before sale. In order for a wine to develop properly it must be kept in a vibration free environment as any unwanted disturbances will cause denaturing of chemicals inside which can lead to odd tastes and maybe even spoil the wine.
Most wine coolers available will now feature a ‘vibration free compressor’ which basically means the compressor has been mounted on rubber bushes to ensure when it kicks in, there are no disturbances. A compressor that isn’t mounted on rubber bushes will also be noisy and can cause the compressor to fail quite quickly because of excessive movement.
The final key point is odours, believe it or not bad odours can linger inside a wine cellar as there is very little air flow. This can in some cases penetrate the cork and cause unwanted reactions which again, will spoil the wine. A wine cellar will normally have some way of introducing fresher air, constantly to ensure that any bad odours are removed through the air circulation this provides.
A wine cooler, will generally be equipped with a charcoal filter and a singular or maybe two fans which circulate the air inside the cabinet to ensure an even distribution of temperature. The charcoal filter is there to remove any bad odours that may linger inside the cabinet and should be changed once a every year or two.
Moving on to wine coolers, now that we understand the key elements to keeping and storing wines in their prime condition, there are many different wine coolers and wine cabinets which work in different ways and have different uses.
What Is A Wine Cooler?
A wine cooler is effectively a refrigerator just with slightly more complex technology and additional components added to ensure they look good, but also to make sure they store wine correctly without spoiling it.
Wine coolers can also be used to store other drinks such as cold drinks or beers, generally they will operate between 5 and 20°C, which is cool enough for a cold beer on a sunny afternoon or a glass of Prosecco.
As mentioned earlier, there are a few different types of wine cooler which include
Ageing cabinets, specifically designed for long term storage of wines.
Freestanding wine coolers, designed to sit on the floor with plenty of ventilation space around them. Built in Wine coolers, designed to be installed under a counter top, generally in kitchens or mini bars.
Integrated wine coolers, designed to be installed ‘in column’ usually in tower kitchen cabinets.
Mini wine cooler, usually used for counter top storage.
Ageing wine cabinets
This type of wine cooler is designed to store wines in their optimum conditions and can have a bottle capacity of 100 bottles right up to 300 bottles for the larger cabinets. Most will have a solid door which will prevent any UV rays coming through, however there are a selection of units which feature a full glass door as these units can also be used as a feature in anyone’s home. These wine cabinets are all freestanding models, which means they will require ventilation space around them and shouldn’t be installed were there isn’t a good flow of cool air.
Freestanding wine coolers
There is a huge array of freestanding wine coolers available on the market which offer different features in order to cater for the different requirements a wine drinker will have. Of course, this type of unit will be manufactured to meet different standards which is reflected in their price as you can pick up a small freestanding wine cooler for no more than £200, however its best to look at units that are manufactured to a good quality as it is likely that the lower end units will break down quickly which may cause the wines to go bad. Freestanding wine coolers will require ventilation space around them and should never be installed under a counter top.
Built in wine coolers
This type of wine cooler are the type that are most commonly seen in kitchens, bars etc where they have cabinets built around them with very little ventilation space. This type of wine cooler are specifically designed to create a seamless finish, there is an inbuilt ventilation system which means you can create a seamless look in your new kitchen or mini bar.
Integrated wine coolers
Integrated units are designed to be installed next to integrated microwaves, coffee machines and so on. They create a floating look in a kitchen, bar or restaurant as they are installed inside kitchen cabinets with the ventilation at the back of the wine cooler. These units are a specialist piece of kit, which means they have to be manufactured to very high standards and installed correctly. Expect to pay anywhere between £1,000 and £7,000 depending on the size and brand you choose.
Mini wine coolers
As the name suggests, these wine coolers are designed to hold between 6 and 20 bottles of wine and are perfect for people looking for some additional storage space or are short on space and only have a small wine collection.