If you like wine, but not so much that you're ready to invest in a walk-in wine cellar, a wine chiller is a good way to go. Sales of these appliances, which are also known as wine refrigerators or wine coolers, have been growing as Americans drink more reds, whites, and roses. We tested several under-counter and freestanding wine chillers with capacities ranging from 32 to 54 standard bottles.
What We Found:
Despite their small size—under-counter wine chillers are generally 34 inches high by 24 inches wide; freestanding models are narrower—some cost about as much as a full-sized refrigerator. Most excelled at maintaining uniform temperatures, which is essential for keeping your favorite tipples in tip-top condition. More companies are producing two-zone wine chillers, which offer greater flexibility in storing sparkling, white, rosé, and red wines at different temperatures. (Single-compartment models count on colder air settling to the bottom of the unit to provide various temperature zones.) "You wouldn't buy an antique car and leave it out in the driveway," Gary Vaynerchuk of the Wine Library, one of the biggest online wine retailers in the country, said. "People are investing more and more money in wine and having the ability to store that wine properly is massively important."
How to Choose:
Pay Attention to Uniformity
Uniformity of temperature is a wine-storing essential—wine can degrade when stored in a spot with wide temperature swings. Ideal storage temperatures depend on the density of the wine. Sparkling wines, whites, and reds are best stored from 45º to 60º F. Single-compartment cellars let cool air sink within the container to create different zones, but more manufacturers are opting for separate compartments within the units, which allow you to store your wine at different temperatures. Most of the models excelled at maintaining uniform temperatures, according to the thermometers we installed within the units. Take a Close Look at Shelving We liked the way the coated-wire racks on one model lifted quickly and easily out of the wooden-faced shelves when fully extended. As with many other top scorers, the entire shelf units remove easily to create storage compartments for larger bottles. The shelves on another chiller were not removable and did not extend fully but boasted oval openings and an additional plastic insert to hold wider bottles snugly and protect their labels. Other chillers have shelves with narrowly spaced slats that limit capacity and allow bottles to slide about, bump each other, and angle upward to block the drawer opening.
Factor in the Noise
A noisy wine chiller can be a concern if it will be placed near living areas. The level of vibration was almost too low for our tests to measure, but we did find that louder models showed greater vibration. Whether that level is bad is open to debate; wine is a liquid, and every molecule is moving much faster than any motion imparted by vibration from a cellar.
Don't Disregard Energy Use
Wine chillers are not particularly efficient and are not part of the federal government's Energy Star program. While the temperature setting that you choose will increase or decrease your energy use, some models in our tests used more than twice as much as others and almost as much as an 18-cubic-foot refrigerator.
Consider These Other Features
Many models offer digital temperature controls that you can access without opening the door, which helps keep temperatures even more consistent. The settings for red wine and white wine on one model also cut out some guesswork. Other models had water bins to maintain a high enough humidity level so that corks and labels don't dry out. Also look at integrated locks to prevent visitors from pilfering your prize vintages, tinted-glass doors that protect your wine from ultraviolet light, and adjustable interior lighting and tilt-up shelves to display your prized bottles or to store partially full ones. Some wine chillers have wooden shelf edges that you can stain to match your cabinets; others can accept a custom-cabinet frame. Others allow you to insert strips of molding that match your cabinetry around the glass door.