Your wine collection is growing, and you've finally decided to take the plunge and purchase a wine cooler.  These free-standing units, also called wine refrigerators, come in many shapes and sizes, not to mention price levels.  As you browse websites and look through catalogs, you begin to realize just how many wine coolers are out there.  How will you ever choose?

To help make the decision process a little easier, IntoWine asked a panel of wine storage experts for their wine cooler recommendations, particularly for those new to wine collecting.

Small and Medium-Sized Wine Coolers

Wine blogger Amanda Maynard, who writes about her wine experiences at The Wine•ing Woman, recommends starting with a smaller wine cooler from The Wine Enthusiast.  "I personally have their 18 bottle fridge," says Maynard, "and it keeps a fairly consistent temperature, though it does get filled fairly easily if you buy wine in bulk."

Johnson Ho, President of Pantheon Wine Cellar Services, LLC and Pantheon Wine Shoppe, LLC, recommends that beginning collectors start out with an inexpensive wine cooler.  "Find the coolest area of the basement," he says," and purchase a Haier or other lower-end unit that holds 50 to 200 bottles."

Colleen Kasel, who represents Vinotemp International, suggests the new Vinotemp wall-mounted thermoelectric wine coolers, particularly if space is a challenge.  This vibration-free cooler holds six bottles and uses less electricity than traditional wine refrigerators.  For novice wine collectors with more floor space, she recommends Vinotemp's Portofino series, which offers a variety of features, styles and colors.  

Luxury Wine Coolers

As your wine collection expands, you may wish to upgrade your wine cooler to a larger or more ornate unit.  High-end wine coolers and wine cabinets offer many options and special features.  According to Colleen Kasel, some of the most popular options include alarm and call-back systems (the wine cabinet's cooling system alarm will alert you when the temperature inside your unit is not within your selected range), customized cabinet doors, pouring areas and specialized shelving and racking.  Vinotemp offers completely customizable cabinets; you can even add a biometric fingerprint lock to your wine cabinet.

Amanda Maynard recommends the EuroCave brand of wine coolers to collectors wishing to store large amounts of wine for longer periods of time.  "Their larger storage units have two different temperature zones so the whites can be kept cooler than the reds, if you so choose," she says.

Brand Versus Features

Freelance wine cellar management and wine storage professional Matthew Goldfarb suggests that collectors looking at luxury wine storage options focus on high-end features, particularly multiple temperature zones, digital displays and sliding shelves, rather than on a particular brand of wine cooler or wine cabinet.  "The digital temperature and humidity display takes the guesswork out of having a dial or knob that controls the temperature," he says, adding, "When it comes to these two factors, it's important to be accurate and consistent." 

Conducting your own wine cooler research may take time, but knowing which features to consider within your price range will certainly help you narrow down your search.  Reading wine cooler and wine cabinet reviews online and in consumer publications, talking with other wine collectors and looking at wine coolers in person are all excellent ways to get more information about units that will meet your long-term wine storage needs.