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Why A Wine Cooler Will Always Beat Your Refrigerator

When you need to store a bottle of wine, where do you put it? If you're like a lot of people, you throw it in your fridge. But the truth is that this should be a last resort when it comes to storing wine. If you need to keep your wine at a certain temperature (either before or after you open it), putting it in a quality wine cooler or "wine fridge" will be the better choice every time.

A quick comparison this article will delve into more detail about wine coolers and why they are encouraged over regular refrigerators in just a bit, but here are the main things you need to consider about the two wine storage options:

Wine Cooler Standard Refrigerator
  • Calibrated to perfect wine temperature & humidity levels
  • Good for long-term storage
  • No odors
  • Designed to hold wine, and wine alone
  • No vibration from thermoelectric or compressor technology
  • Designed for food, not wine
  • Colder than a wine cooler, to suit a variety of items
  • Suppresses humidity rather than sustaining it
  • Prevailing odors
  • Vibration that disrupts wine maturation

How Certain Foods Can Affect The Taste of Wine

article-wine1 A major reason to not store wine in your refrigerator is because of the close proximity to food. It's no secret that fridges often carry odors, be they unpleasant, pleasant or thoroughly mysterious (in which case it's definitely time to go through what you have in there). Unsurprisingly, these odors can have an adverse effect on any wine you store in your fridge- yes, even if it is sealed.

Because standard refrigerators are designed to keep humidity out (as opposed to sustaining it at a certain level), the cork in a wine bottle can shrink. This allows air to seep in, which isn't a good thing on its own, but when that air carries various odors, it alters the taste of the wine and can even cause it to spoil faster. So, storing wine in a standard refrigerator isn't a good idea in the first place, and when there's food involved, it's the last thing you want to do. Now, as you're probably suspecting, wine coolers have ways of preventing odors from seeping in to wine bottles. While most wine coolers do not actually come with adjustable humidity control, they are already calibrated to maintain a relative humidity level of usually 30 to 40 percent. For comparison, a standard fridge's humidity can vary wildly, though it is often around 10 percent or lower.

Wine Coolers Offer More Stability

In addition to the odor issue, the fact of the matter is that the technology keeping standard refrigerators running also causes them to vibrate. While this vibration may not be noticeable to the naked eye or even when you open the refrigerator door, it's still there (go into your kitchen and listen for a hum or "buzzing" sound). What's more is that even the slightest vibration can negatively affect the maturation process of any wine you choose to store in there.

article-wine2 To put it simply, wine coolers are designed to run much more quietly and smoothly than standard refrigerators. There are a few different types of technology used for this, but the main ones you'll see are thermoelectric wine coolers and compressor wine coolers. Haven't heard of either? No problem- thermoelectric cooling technology uses an electric current to form a temperature differential on the sides of the fridge to create a cool environment within. In layman's terms, electricity smoothly creates a temperature difference, drawing heat out. The lack of a compressor here means that a thermoelectric system has fewer moving parts and is quieter and free of vibration. Now as for the wine coolers that do use compressor systems, they work by compressing the refrigerant molecules and forming a heated "vapor", which then goes through a condenser and is quickly evaporated into cold air. A small fan then blows this cold air into the fridge. This means that wine coolers with compressor technology are usually a bit louder than thermoelectric ones, but to compensate for this, many have built-in vibration-absorption systems, and even so, the smaller scale means less noise than full-size fridges.

By contrast, regular fridges run on compressors with no (or not very effective) vibration-absorption systems. And as you've probably noticed, when you do end up storing wine in there you often end up moving it around to reach other items, adjust space, etc. And if you lay a wine bottle on its side (as it should be stored anyway) in your average fridge, it's prone to rolling around. None of this movement is doing the wine's maturation/preservation processes any favors either. This is why, in addition to allowing you easier access, wine cooler shelves have spaces designed for bottles to be stored properly on their sides without the threat of rolling around. Bottom line- a standard refrigerator is just not stable enough for proper wine storage.

What About Wine Cellars?

Now you may be wondering at this point how wine coolers stack up to wine cellars, so let's take a break and discuss that. Obviously a wine cellar is a great way to store wine- before it is opened, that is. Wine cellars are better for red wines that don't necessarily need to be chilled before serving. For this reason, many people who do have wine cellars also have wine coolers. That said, many people don't realize it can actually be a good idea to store red wine between 50 and 57 degrees (with above 30 percent humidity), which is what white wines can be stored at as well. Even so, most people don't have wine cellars or the means for them in their homes, so that's why they turn to their refrigerators in the first place. But the good news is that many wine cooler models are compact and smaller than the average standard refrigerator, so they can fit in a wide variety of places around your home.

How Storage Temperature Affects Your Wine

Even though it often sits for years before being opened and served, wine is nevertheless a perishable food item (though it's likely that you already know different wines call for different storage timeframes). But it is temperature that is really the crucial factor here. For example, fluctuation in temperature (such as the frequent opening and closing of a standard refrigerator) can cause wine to age prematurely. On the other hand, temperatures that are consistently too high can cause undesirable chemical reactions to take place that have an adverse effect on the wine's flavor. Likewise, temperatures that are consistently too low can cause the aging process to slow down dramatically.

So what storage temperature does your wine need? If you're storing both red and white wines together as most people do, you're looking for a temperature between 50 and 57 degrees, preferably 54 degrees if you want to be really specific. This temperature will have no real adverse effect on the wine, but it is worth mentioning that it can slow down its aging process. Now, if you are storing all red wine together, you can let the temperature get up to around 60 or 65 degrees, while white wine can go down to 45 degrees. Fortunately, this is why certain modern wine cooler models come with dual compartments, allowing you to store both kinds in their respective ideal temperatures.

How long before an open bottle of wine spoils?

Like many food and beverage items, wine obviously spoils much faster once it is opened. For example, the average bottle of red wine has a shelf life of two to three years when it remains unopened, but once it is open; it is only good for another couple of weeks. This time is shortened when it is stored in your average refrigerator. As for white wine, the average bottle will last one to two years before being opened. But once it is opened, it will only last about a week. Keep it in a regular fridge, and that time before spoiling drops to one to three days.

Interestingly, a box of wine can last the longest - between six and 12 months on average. Most wine coolers are not made for storing boxed wine though. But of course, this kind of wine does tend to be poorer quality, and most people don't intend on keeping it that long in the first place.

Wine Coolers Are Better For Avoiding Oxidation

When it comes to preventing wine from spoiling, the key is avoiding oxidation. This is when oxygen reacts with a catalyst (such as a metal, phenolic compound, or a photo sensitizer) within the wine bottle and causes an unpleasant odor and sometimes a brownish tint. Essentially, the oxygen is dissolved, and the wine goes "flat".

article-wine3 To avoid oxidation (sometimes referred to as "oxidization"), always keep wine bottles stored on their sides, particularly if they are sealed with a cork. This allows the wine to keep the corks moist. Standing it up (as one usually does when putting wine in a regular fridge) makes it easier for the cork to dry out, therefore shrinking and letting air in. Since wine coolers are designed for wine bottles to be stored in this manner, oxidation risk is greatly reduced.

On this note, it is also important to know how to re-cork a wine bottle regardless of whether you keep it in a standard fridge or wine cooler. Because the original cork often swells up upon removal and can break more easily after using a corkscrew, it's no use trying to force it back into the bottle (although if you're desperate, sometimes it can go slightly back in). The better option though is to use a wine stopper, which can be easily taken in and out of the bottle while still helping to prevent oxidation. That said, you can take things a step further by using a specialized stopper with a vacuum seal. There are both electronic and hand=pump vacuum devices, but keep in mind that the hand-pump ones may cause unwanted air bubbles to get in the wine before it is sealed.

A Variety Of Options

As mentioned earlier, many wine coolers are compact and won't take up much space in the average home. They are great in the kitchen, dining room, basement, garage, or anywhere else you can think of (since the environment inside the cooler is controlled, it doesn't really matter what the temperature and humidity are outside the cooler). Even so, they come in a wide range of sizes and can be either freestanding or mounted in a wall or in between cabinets. Although standard refrigerators also come in different shapes and sizes, again, they are meant to hold a general variety of food items other than wine. So when it comes down to it, a wine cooler will always be the better option. 

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