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Last week my friend Stephanie asked for some recommendations for a wine refrigerator. After spending nearly an hour emailing her back, I realized that I had the makings of a blog post on my hands! In case you, too, are looking into wine cooling options, here are my thoughts.

Generally speaking, you want to keep your wine in a cool, humid environment where it won’t be subject to a lot of movement or vibration, or dramatic fluctuations in temperature. There’s a reason why underground caves and cellars are good for wine storage – if you ever visit a Champagne cave in France, touch the walls. They will be moist from the humidity. (Also, wear a sweater, because it’s cold down there.)

Most wine can hold up just fine being stored in a house or apartment at room temperature, then chilling in the refrigerator, freezer, or a bucket of ice before serving. However, for wines you intend to store long-term (two to twenty years, or more), I recommend a wine refrigerator.

Wine refrigerators (or wine cellars as they are sometimes called – not to be confused with an actual underground cellar below your house) can a real pain in the ass. They pretty much all have some flaw, if not multiple flaws. Good luck finding one that has nothing but positive reviews.

That said, when reading reviews, you have to take into account other people’s stupidity. Some people attempt to put a wine refrigerator in a tight space (like a closet), or an excessively hot space (like a kitchen), and then complain that it doesn’t get cool enough. Well, duh. You want to place a wine refrigerator somewhere so it has clearance on all sides (unless it is designed to be a built-in cabinet-type unit). Air circulation is important.

The primary difference between a wine refrigerator and a wine cellar is that a refrigerator uses a compressor, like a window A/C unit. The compressor can be noisy (bad for you) and cause vibrations (bad for your wine). Cellars use thermoelectric cooling, which eliminates both of these problems. Here’s a link for a more technical explanation of the difference between compressors and thermoelectric.

350-610986-847__1 copyWe bought a Wine Enthusiast thermoelectric wine cellar from Sur la Table in 2012. It worked well for about a year, but then all of a sudden starting making a racket, like some moving part had suddenly broken. Otherwise, the unit up until then had been pretty great – very quiet, with steady cooling. I tried to exchange it for another one, but Sur la Table had stopped carrying them by that point, so they just gave me a refund. (I’m pretty sure this is the unit we had.)

WE_sil16bottletouch copyWe decided to buy a Vintage Cellars unit at that point. I have no idea where we bought it, but here’s a link to the one we have. (At least I think that’s the one we have. I haven’t seen it in a while. We actually left the cellar at my brother’s house in California to store some high-value wines that we didn’t want to risk moving across the country. It sits on top of his wine refrigerator that he never even plugs in because it’s such an energy hog! Ours is much more efficient.)

We got a fairly small one both because of space (and cost) constraints, and because the thermoelectric silent cooling is more effective in smaller units. This one has been running for about two years now with no problems. It’s super quiet, and the cooling is steady. One downside is that it doesn’t automatically restart itself after a power outage. I find that weird – like I said above, they all have at least one flaw.

Speaking of flaws, the main problem we have with all wine cellars is that the racks are basically designed to hold standard Cabernet bottles. If you want to store Champagne, Burgundy, Pinot Noir, or anything that comes in a fat bottle, make sure to get a unit with removable shelves. We always have to remove a shelf to accommodate our wines. #firstworldproblems

You also could have problems trying to store very long bottles, such as some Rieslings and Eiswein. If at all possible, shopping for a wine refrigerator in person is preferable. You can take some sample bottles with you to make sure they will fit.

If you don’t mind shopping online, International Wine Accessories is a good place to look; they have a number of wine storage options. (Most of them are super-expensive built-in options, but they have some more reasonable ones as well.)

As further evidence that drinking wine runs in my family, my dad has two units – a Danby refrigerator and a NewAir cellar. He says he hasn’t noticed any real difference in noise between them, but that the NewAir is a little louder than he expected it to be. He’s had each for about a year with no problems. My uncle has a great unit by Haier that’s been running for 12 years with no problems. And it’s a nice size – I think it holds 48 bottles. I covet it!

I should also mention that we don’t bother with dual-zone refrigerators. For starters, we mostly drink reds, so I’m not trying to cellar a lot of whites. And for long-term storage, it’s not really necessary to have the bottles at different temperatures. If you want to be able to grab a bottle straight from your fridge/cellar and drink it right away, then dual zones might be handy. But if you’re mainly interested in long-term storage, a single-zone cellar would suit you just fine.

If you have a wine refrigerator that you love (or hate!) let me know in the comments!