Keeping your wine cool can make a huge difference in even a cheap bottle of wine.
Different wines are best drunk at different temperatures, and there’s an entire appliance industry that’s sprung up around helping you do just that. Wine coolers are fridges designed to keep your wine at the perfect temperature so you can crack open a bottle whenever you want.
If you’re considering getting a wine cooler, you’ve almost certainly noticed that there are two main types on the market. The two types, thermoelectric and compressor, both have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Understanding the differences between the two will help you choose the right wine cooler for you.
What Is a Compressor Wine Cooler?
A compressor wine cooler works similarly to a standard refrigerator. A small motor pushes refrigerant through the coils in the wine cooler, which absorbs heat and carries it out and away from your wine. Because compressor wine coolers function similarly to normal fridges, they are the most common style of wine cooler on the market.
Compressor Wine Cooler Benefits
Compressor wine coolers have two big benefits. First, they are remarkably energy efficient. A wine cooler isn’t intended to get as cold as a standard refrigerator, so compressor wine coolers use less electricity than fridges of the same size. Compressor wine fridges only need to draw power occasionally, because they remove heat effectively and rely on insulation to do the rest. For the environmentally conscious wine lover, this is a big plus.
Compressor wine coolers are also great at maintaining their temperature when the door opens and shuts frequently. Because the compressor cooling system is so efficient, it can handle temperature fluctuations with ease. Even when the motor isn’t running, refrigerant is still absorbing heat in the coils, keeping the temperature stable.
Compressor Wine Cooler Drawbacks
Of course, no appliance is completely perfect. Compressor wine fridges also have two big downsides.
A compressor wine cooler vibrates because of the motor that runs the compressor. Vibration is bad news for some wines, especially higher-end vintages. These wines often have a very fine layer of sediment in the bottle. Normally, this sediment settles to the bottom without a problem. However, vibration stirs it up and can release bitter flavors into your wine, ruining it.
This same vibration can cause another problem: noise. Just like your kitchen refrigerant can make a low hum when it’s running, a compressor wine cooler can and will make noise from time to time. The motor makes noise – that’s just how it is. This may not be something that bothers you, or it may make a big difference to your enjoyment of your wine cooler.
- More energy-efficient
- Can get quite cold
- Can chill a large space easily
- A wide variety of price points
- Makes noise
What Is a Thermoelectric Wine Cooler?
Thermoelectric wine coolers are less common than compressor coolers. That’s because they use a unique phenomenon known as the Peltier Effect to stay cool. Basically, two different sheets of metal are connected. Then an electric current is passed through the sheets, and something weird happens: one sheet of metal starts getting cold, and the other sheet starts getting hot. This leads to a zero-vibration method of cooling.
Thermoelectric Cooler Benefits
This lack of vibration is the big draw for thermoelectric wine coolers. Without the compressor motor kicking in every so often and wiggling your wine, the sediment in the wine bottles can settle. That keeps any unpleasant flavors from leaching into your drink.
It also leads to a completely silent appliance. There’s no vibration and no motor, so there’s nothing to make an annoying sound. For people who value quiet, this is a huge draw.
Thermoelectric Cooler Drawbacks
There are some downsides to thermoelectric wine coolers, though. First and foremost, thermoelectric cooling just isn’t as efficient as compressor cooling. The thermoelectric connection needs to run constantly or it stops cooling the fridge immediately. No electricity, no cooling factor. That means that thermoelectric coolers use more electricity than compressors.
Furthermore, thermoelectric wine coolers just can’t get as cold as compressor coolers reasonably. Compressors are used to keep your freezers frozen, so maintaining your sparkling wine at a comfortable 40 degrees Fahrenheit is easy. On the other hand, many thermoelectric coolers can only reach 45 degrees at the lowest. It’s a limitation imposed by physics.
This also makes thermoelectric coolers less effective at maintaining their internal temperature if you open the door frequently. Since the cooling element is always running, there’s no extra capacity to fight temperature fluctuations. This can lead to your wines’ temperatures fluctuating as well and cause some unpleasant flavors to develop as the wine breaks down.
- No vibration
- Less energy-efficient
- Not quite as effective
- Can’t get as cold
- More expensive
Which Wine Cooler Style Is Right for You?
Between the two styles of wine cooler, there’s a serious difference in scale. Finding the wine cooler that works for you depends on how much wine you consume and how frequently you’re opening the door. Here’s a breakdown of who should be looking at each style and why.
Who Should Consider a Compressor Wine Cooler?
The big draws of compressor wine coolers make them the best choice for two very different groups: people who are new to wine, and people who are serving a lot of wine frequently.
Because compressor wine coolers are common and energy efficient, they’re available in plenty of sizes. Someone who wants to keep a few bottles chilled for a dinner party once a month can find a 6-bottle wine cooler in their price range that won’t raise their electricity bills too much. On the other hand, for people who run restaurants, a large compressor cooler keeps the bills down while cooling wine quickly.
Who Should Consider a Thermoelectric Wine Cooler?
Thermoelectric wine coolers are for people in the middle. Wine connoisseurs who have a lot of bottle on hand but only pull out one or two every so often will benefit the most from these coolers.
After all, the big benefit of thermoelectric coolers is the lack of vibration. This makes the most difference when wine is being stored for weeks or months on end. A wine connoisseur is more likely to have wines that might be damaged by vibration, and they are more likely to store these wines for a while before drinking them. This means that the vibration from a compressor wine cooler could lead to more significant problems than it would for a new wine drinker or for a restaurant serving wine daily.
Other Considerations When Buying a Wine Cooler
There’s more to storing wine than choosing a cooler style, of course.
Beyond the cooling method used, there are several other factors to consider to find the right wine fridge for you. In fact, these considerations may even be more important to you than the cooling method.
Number of Cooling Zones
Different wines should be stored at different temperatures. Red wines prefer temperatures on the warmer end of the spectrum, while white and sparkling wines are best drunk cooler.
Handling these different temperature requirements can be done in three ways:
- Storing your wines together and letting your reds warm up before you drink them,
- Storing your wines separately, or
- Storing your wines in a single dual-zone cooler.
The first two strategies assume you are using a single-zone wine cooler. These coolers keep the entire internal area the same temperature. If you only want to store one kind of wine at a time, or if you have a certain amount of patience, this is fine. However, dual-zone fridges are definitely simpler.
A dual-zone cooler can keep different areas of your wine cooler at different temperatures. For example, the top of the cooler may be kept at 60 degrees to store your red wine. Meanwhile, the bottom might be kept at 50 degrees to keep whites crisp.
Dual-zone coolers are more expensive than single zone coolers, but they can also save you time and save you money. Instead of needing to store your reds and your whites separately, you can just get one cooler to take care of them both.
Number of Bottles
You should also consider the number of bottles you want to store in your wine cooler. Smaller coolers are cheaper to run, but they don’t hold as many bottles. Furthermore, smaller coolers are more likely to be thermoelectric models, because the Peltier Effect can cool smaller areas more effectively than it can larger areas. That may be a benefit, or it may be a drawback. In general, the more bottles you want to store, the more likely it is you’ll need to get a compressor cooler.
A truly great bottle of wine is an experience more than a beverage. You deserve to treat yourself to a perfectly preserved bottle, and the right wine cooler can help you do that.
I hope this guide has helped you understand the differences between wine cooler types. Whether a compressor wine cooler or a thermoelectric model is right for you, I hope I’ve helped you make an informed choice.
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