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. Or, perhaps a friend who is moving out of town brings you several bottles of wine, saying, "I can't take these with me, so I want you to enjoy them." Either way, your collecting days have begun.
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, also called a wine refrigerator.
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 40-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.
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," says Lori Dolnick, spokesperson for wine cooler manufacturer Miele. Other high-end features to look for include pull-out shelving for different-sized wine bottles, UV-protected glass, remote controls and digital temperature control panels. Miele even offers a monitoring system called RemoteVision. According to Dolnick, "RemoteVision monitors the cooler 24/7 for faults and alerts Miele through WiFi. Then Miele contacts the customer if there is an issue." Some wine coolers, such as the EuroCave Classic series, have alarm systems that sound if there is a problem with the door, temperature, filter or relative humidity level.
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."
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; a large wine cooler could set you back several hundred dollars in shipping costs. Some retailers offer free shipping on certain models or during specific seasons, so you should compare prices and shipping charges before you buy a wine cooler.
Wine Coolers or Wine Racks?
For some wine collectors, a combination of a wine cooler and wine racks in a cool space offers the most affordable wine storage alternative. Maria Brito recommends taking a careful look at your wine collection before deciding which bottles to store on wine racks. "Wines stored outside of a cooler unit or outside of a cellar built with the appropriate cooling system should be those that the collector know will be consumed within a short period of time, maximum of a couple of months and also those bottles that are not of great value for the collector," she says. Miele spokesperson Lori Dolnick agrees. "Some wines may be stored horizontally on racks outside a cooler," Dolnick states, "but the environment is key to allowing wines to age and develop in complexity."