We all want the best when it comes to storing our wine, but sometimes there are gonna be trade-offs. Being systematic as you shop for a wine cellar ensures that you end up with something that meets both your needs and your budget.
1.) How many bottles do you want to store?
This is the easiest question to ask, and the one people most frequently answer incorrectly. You’re buying a wine fridge to store your wine over time, and your rate of consumption will tend to rise over that time, so be prepared for your future buying habits. If you think you need a fridge that holds fifty bottles, you'd better buy one that holds 150. After all, nature abhors a vacuum and wine buyers love to buy wine!
2.) How accurate is the capacity listing?
Once you’ve settled on the right number for your wine fridge, check -- and then double check -- the stated capacity. If you’re going to be cellaring a lot of Burgundy bottles or fancy California cult bottles, be prepared to lose some space in your fridge. Ditto for Champagne bottles, and, of course, magnums. If you want make your life easier and install some pull-out shelves (an option with some brands), you’ll see your capacity drop even further.
3.) Will it maintain proper cellaring conditions where I’m planning to use it?
Most stand-alone wine fridges are designed to be used inside your home. They will do a great job of maintaining the ideal 55F to 60F temperature, as long as you place the unit in a moderate environment. Stick it in a 90F garage or leave it in your un-air-conditioned, south-facing apartment for a couple of months and you’ll not only burn out the compressor, but end up cooking your wine while you’re at it. Make sure to opt for insulation and compressor upgrades for extreme environments.
4.) Will it fit?
Yeah, kind of funny right? Not really. I know of one person who did everything right, measured the doors and all the angles and was sure the large fridge he chose would fit perfectly in his dining room alcove. It would have, if it had fit in the elevator! Make sure to measure!
5.) Will the floor support it?
Another stupid question, right? Well, better safe than sorry. A full wine fridge can weight close to a ton. Almost all modern construction can safely support that kind of weight, but if you have any doubt, find out before your place your order.
6.) What do you want it to look like?
Will you be hiding this thing away in a closet or guest room, or will this be the centerpiece of your kitchen or dining room? The finishes of many stand alone wine fridges are serviceable if not terribly attractive, but some are down right elegant.
7.) What sort of options do you want?
I’ve already mentioned the optional roll-out shelves that some manufacturers offer, but the options list certainly doesn’t end there. How about glass paned doors or a custom finish? And then there’s that heavy-duty insulation and compressor upgrade I mentioned early. And how about dual temperature zones, saving you the effort of moving that Chablis from the wine cooler to the fridge!
8.) How much is your budget?
Ok, so now you’ve narrowed to your choices to what you want, but it’s time to consider what you can afford. You may have to forgo the glass door or pull out shelves to be able to swing the bigger unit that I’m telling you you’re gonna need. Remember this is a tool first, and a hulking big piece of furniture second!
9.) Why can’t I just use a refrigerator instead?
Well, technically you most certainly can. A wine fridge is little more than a gussied up refrigerator, with a few very specific modifications. Regular refrigerators are designed to work at much cooler temperatures that a wine fridge, which isn’t much of a problem if you’re handy. Just swap out the thermostat for one that’s designed for the wine storage temperature range and you’re off. Sort of. Problem two is a bigger issue: Humidity. Household refrigerators are designed to remove the humidity from the air in your fridge, while purpose-built wine fridges are designed to maintain the humidity inside the unit. The last issue is one of storage, since there are no wine racks designed to fit the inside of normal fridges. So, if you’re willing to install a humidity work-around, in addition to a thermostat, and to build yourself some racking, then maybe a regular fridge isn’t such a bad idea for you after all. Though, after doing all that you might find that you really haven’t saved any money, and now have a glorious French door refrigerator as the centerpiece of your dining room!
10.) Who makes the best wine fridges?Well this is a great question, and one we’re working on answering. We’ve been compiling data for our own review section for stand-alone wine fridges so check back soon to see the results. In the mean time we can suggest the following list of manufacturers as ones worth considering.