So, being a true aficionado, do you pluck that bottle straight out of the kitchen fridge, where it's been chilled to a point that the hints of mango, pineapple and white peach are all but unrecognisable? Or did you, thankfully, have the foresight to invest in your very own wine fridge?
What is the right temperature?
Serving a quality drop straight from the kitchen fridge won't do it justice – variations in temperature can affect the subtle flavours. Connoisseurs should consider storing their collection in a temperature-controlled wine fridge. Plus, if you're a real wine lover, chances are you don't have enough space left in your main fridge, anyway!
Why not use a bar fridge?
Wine fridges are different from standard kitchen and bar fridges as their job is to control humidity (70% is ideal) and maintain stable temperatures between 12°C and 18°C (different temperatures for different wines) or colder, if used for serving wine. A normal kitchen fridge or bar fridge won't allow those warmer temperature settings, can't control humidity, and doesn't come with purpose-built shelves for storing wine.
Points to keep in mind Compressor or thermoelectric?
Compressor units use a refrigerant, much like your standard kitchen fridge. They can get down to lower temperatures (if keeping white wine really cold), can handle higher ambient temperatures and may last a bit longer than the thermoelectric wine coolers. However compressor units can be louder and heavier than their thermoelectric counter parts.
Thermoelectric units are extremely quiet and efficient, making them perfect for smaller spaces or living areas. While they will protect your wine and are great for short term storage, they need a decent amount of clearance and may not function all that well in warmer ambient temperature environments, such as those that we experience during a typical Australian summer.
Cellaring, or serving?
Do you want to use your wine fridge for long-term cellaring or short-term chilling? Do you plan to serve wine straight from the fridge? Some models allow multiple temperature zones, which is handy if you want to keep a few bottles ready to serve.
On display or stored away?
Think about where you want your wine fridge to go, and how much space it will take up. Models can range from less than 85cm high (so they can fit under a kitchen bench like a bar fridge) to as tall or taller than a full-size fridge. Many models also feature design elements like stainless steel door frames and ‘pop up’ display shelving so you can show off your prized collection. If you intend to install you wine fridge into kitchen or other cabinetry, ensure that you choose a model with front ventilation which is capable of being built-in.
How many bottles in your collection?
Wine fridges range in capacity from very small units that might only fit around 12 bottles of wine, up to larger multi door units that can store a massive 640 bottles. In my experience, many wine collectors buy more wine once they find a wine storage solution so buy a larger fridge than you think you initially need.
Wine storing tips
Temperatures should never become so hot as to spoil the wine or reduce its quality as it matures. It's better to go too cold (but not freezing) than too hot.
- If possible, store your wine collection in the dark. At the very least, keep it out of the sun and away from sources of direct heat and cold.
- Never store wine in a garage. They're usually poorly insulated and can become very hot from the car's engine.
- Don't store wine in a place that's likely to get hot or cold frequent breezes.
- An area near the centre of a home is best – away from hot external walls, heaters, ovens, etc. and preferably low down to get the coolest air.
- Putting wine in well-sealed foam boxes or similar can insulate it from changes in air temperature.
- Use a min/max thermometer to check temperature ranges in the area where your wine is stored.
- Find a place that's likely to get the least variation in temperature – both day to night and summer to winter. Fast temperature change inside the bottles is worse for the wine than slow temperature change.
- My top tip is invest in a good quality wine fridge.
What to look for
Doors The majority of wine fridges sold have glass doors, so you can look into your wine fridge and see what you want before opening the door and letting the temperature change. Some models also have solid doors, which may help with insulation and the amount of UV to which your wine is exposed, otherwise you can check that the glass door is UV protected. Wine bottles are typically coloured to provide some marginal protection from direct light, and any additional protection helps to keep the wine from ageing or degrading too quickly.
Bottle capacity Are you a wine connoisseur? Do you buy a several dozen bottles at a time? Then plan for either a larger model or a number of smaller models. If you need an under-bench model, consider the space you'll need and buy more than one if you want to keep a lot of wine. If you go through a lot of champagne, you may want to check if the wine fridge can accommodate these typically bigger bottles. If you buy a small amount of wine at a time, one of the smaller models should suffice.
Shelving The less expensive models generally have standard metal shelving, which makes it harder to pull out your wines and can scratch bottles or labels. The more expensive wine fridges have wooden shelving with good telescopic sliding mechanisms, which means less vibration and better access to your collection, however it's thicker than metal shelving, which means less wine storage space. Some newly released premium models are now coming with specially designed powder coated wire shelving that improves the air circulation for improved temperature stability. Check out the shelves before buying, as some wooden shelves have no telescopic sliding mechanism and have been varnished which may eventually affect the taste of your wine.
Individual or bulk storage? Some wine fridges provide bulk storage of wine bottles where they stack on top of each other. This means you can fit more in, but it also means bottles are lying on top of each other and so are harder to get to – and there is potential for breakage or scratching the label of that special bottle. Individual storage means more shelving, which reduces wine storage space but makes accessing your wine much easier may also keep wine safer.
Temperature control All wine fridges allow you to control and set your desired temperature, however if you live in a cooler climate then you may wish to buy a model with PTC (Positive Temperature Coefficient) heating. This will ensure that regardless of the ambient conditions your wine fridge temperature will remain stable.
Security locks Some wine fridges have a lock to protect your wines from theft.
Lights Most wine fridges come with an LED light so you can see deeper into the back of the fridge.
Humidity control Some wine fridges have humidity control which gives the fridge humidity sensor the capacity to keep the humidity at a certain level (70% is generally considered good relative humidity) that maintains cork moisture. This is not particularly relevant for screw tops, but can be for wines with the traditional cork.
Multi-zone If you're keeping different types of wine to store at different temperatures, you might want to consider buying a wine fridge that has multi-zone, or the capacity to have different temperatures in different areas of the fridge. That way you can store, for example, white for drinking at a low temperature on the top, and red for storage at a higher temperature at the bottom, yes I know that sounds the wrong way around but that is how all multi zone models work!
Warranty Generally the more expensive the wine fridge the longer the warranty, however it is always wise to check the warranty details before you buy.
Cost Wine fridges vary in type and price, from models cheaper than a good case of wine to several thousand dollars. At the end of the day, you will most likely be rewarded by investing in the best quality wine fridge you can afford.