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A basic wine refrigerator is fine for keeping bottles that you plan to drink within a year or two, but for long-term aging, collectors should consider purchasing more-elaborate units. What the investment gets you, among other things: better insulation, which helps maintain the 55 degree temperature and 50 to 70 percent humidity levels ideal for storing wine. (Humidity is just as important as temperature. Too low, and the corks dry out; too high, and mold will grow.) Here are some other variables to consider.
1. Bottle Count
The rule of thumb for deciding what size fridge to buy: Think about how much space you believe you need, then double it, since your collection is likely to grow. Also, most manufacturers use Bordeaux- size bottles to estimate how many bottles will fit in a particular unit; collections with wider bottles, such as those used for Burgundy and Champagne, will take up more space and lower the unit’s total bottle Capacity.
The best units have an aluminum interior, which conducts cold and heat much better than the plastic used in less-expensive models. Also look for a textured, pebbled lining, which helps maintain ideal humidity in the unit.
Basic wine fridges tend to have fixed chrome-wire shelves; higher-end ones use sturdier wood racks or wood-framed wire grids. Look for shelves that roll out, a design that makes it easier to read labels and remove bottles. Test how a unit’s shelves glide to make sure you like the feel.
Glass doors allow you to peer in at the wine, but they don’t insulate as well as a solid door (like a regular refrigerator door), and they’re more expensive. If you like the look of glass, make sure it has a UV-protective finish, since exposure to sunlight can damage wine.
Compressors, which cool fridges, tend to vibrate slightly, especially when turning on and off. Shaking is detrimental to wine over time, so look for stabilizing solutions such as compressors mounted on rubber blocks and coated racks that grip the bottles. (Viking and Sub-Zero, for example, make units with both.)
6. Locks and Alarms
Many wine refrigerators have locks to protect a collection. Some also have alarms that sound if the door is left open.
Wine Storage Alternatives
Thermoelectric Wine Coolers
These look like fridges but don’t use compressors, so they’re quieter and more energy-efficient, and they don’t vibrate. The drawbacks: The units can cool to only about 30 degrees below ambient air temperature, and most models hold fewer than 40 bottles. Avanti and Franklin Chef both offer good options.
Cooled by an air conditioner-like unit, insulated wood cabinets look like furniture, so they fit right into a living space—a good choice for wine lovers with large collections. Two options: Le Cache sells cherry cabinets (from $3,000 for a 172-bottle cabinet; 877-532-2243 or www.le-cache.com); Vintage Keeper makes kits for home assembly (from $900 for a 100-bottle cabinet; 866-501-1497 or www.vintagekeeper.com).
Comparing Undercounter Wine Fridges
Undercounter glass-door refrigerators are one of the most popular styles of wine storage available. These four models can all be built into cabinetry, and each stands out in its price category.
Danby Silhouette DWC512BLS $650
Capacity 51 bottles Best Features A reservoir helps maintain humidity levels. Good budget pick, though it’s cheaper in part because the interior is lined with plastic instead of aluminum. Includes seven rolling wood shelves.
Vinotemp VT-45 $1,100
Capacity 45 bottles Best Features Surprisingly inexpensive for a wine fridge with two temperature zones. Plus, Vinotemp fridges are widely available (they’re sold at Home Depot). Includes five rolling wood shelves and a display rack.
Eurocave Compact 50-bottle Unit $1,600
Capacity 50 bottles Best Features This single-zone fridge can heat or cool to maintain the set temperature, so it works even in unheated garages or basements. One drawback: Only two shelves are included.
Sub-Zero 424 $2,800
Capacity 46 bottles Best Features This dual-zone fridge can be connected to certain home security systems; if the power goes out, the owners will be alerted. Five cherry-framed racks with coated wire gridding hold bottles securely.
What’s New in Wine Fridges
Electrolux’s new model utilizes absorption cooling instead of a compressor. It can chill to only about 45 or 50 degrees, but it’s both quiet and vibration-free ($3,500 for a 160-bottle unit; 877-435-3287 or www.electroluxusa.com).
Marvel has introduced a slim 18-bottle cooler with specialized racks to acommodate the extra width and length of Champagne and other large bottles ($2,100; 800-428-6644 or www.lifeluxurymarvel.com).
Wine Fridge Within a Fridge
Liebherr’s new 48-inch-wide side-by-side refrigerator includes a 34-bottle wine fridge with dual-temperature zones. The 24-inch-wide wine-and-freezer column is also sold separately (from $3,900; 866-543-2437 or www.liebherr-appliances.com).
Some wine fridges just pull in air to boost humidity, but EuroCave’s Performance line actually gauges moisture levels and signals when to adjust them (from $2,000; 800-377-3330 or www.wineenthusiast.com).