Wine coolers have been a staple in bars and restaurants for years, allowing sommeliers and bar staff to elegantly display and easily maintain the temperatures of their bottles. Until quite recently, wine coolers remained the preserve of professionals: anything grander than a regular refrigerator was simply out of the price range of most people.
Nowadays, things are different: the market is full of a wide variety of wine coolers, from simple single-bottle coolers to hulking freestanding units capable of storing tens if not hundreds of bottles – and a lot of them are surprisingly affordable.
Even dual zone wine coolers, which let you store two types of wine at different temperatures in the same fridge, are within the budget of many home wine enthusiasts. Below are the best dual zone wine coolers on the market.
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A brief guide to buying wine coolers
Wine cooler is a term which refers to any type of equipment used to chill and cool wine. While the earliest examples of wine coolers are distinctly low-tech – like the bucket of ice some bars and restaurants use to chill wine at the table – the options available on the home market today are high-powered digital devices which offer precision temperature control and a range of other attractive features. They look good, too, imparting a sense of style to whichever room they’re kept in.
Being electrical appliances, wine coolers are often sorted according to their cooling systems. In this case, there are two main systems used in wine coolers: compressor models, which work the same as a regular or mini-fridge, and the more modern thermoelectric design.
Thermoelectric coolers are much quieter than compressor coolers, which emit the same hum as other compressor-powered fridges, but they don’t do as well at temperature control (especially important if you’re interested in chilling whites, which need to be kept at lower temperatures than reds). This is because thermoelectric coolers work by removing hot air, as opposed to compressor coolers which actively cool the air inside the fridge.
If you know the noise will bother you, a thermoelectric wine cooler would be the way to go. But if you’re going to be storing yours in the same room as your fridge, you’ll probably not notice another compressor in the room.
Besides this, there’s one big question anyone shopping for a wine cooler needs to ask themselves before looking at individual models. This is the distinction between single zone and dual zone wine coolers.
The difference is a simple one: dual zone wine coolers can maintain two distinct temperatures in their interior, enabling you to chill reds and whites in the same fridge.
For reference, whites are typically served between 45 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit, while reds are best at higher temperatures of around 50 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the wine. You should also be aware that for lengthier storage, the difference between whites and reds is not so pronounced: for the truly long term, both reds and whites should be stored at around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are other decisions to be made when considering which wine cooler to purchase, but by starting with the cooling system and the number of zones, you’ll be able to narrow down your search and focus on the finer details.
If aesthetics are important to you, there’s certainly a wide enough range of stylistic options available: whether you want wooden or metal shelves inside the cooler, or a stainless steel or chic black exterior, there are companies and products out there looking to meet your needs.
Why buy a dual zone wine cooler?
A dual zone wine cooler has all the benefits of a single zone wine cooler, with the added benefit of being able to chill two different wines simultaneously. Here are the best reasons to take the next step with your wine collection and invest in a dual zone wine cooler:
- Take care of your wine. A good quality wine cooler will protect your wines from the effects of heat and humidity, whether you’re chilling bottles for after dinner or storing with a view to the long term. If wine gets too cold, deposits form. On the other hand, it it gets too warm, it ages too quickly. Similarly, an excessively dry environment will cause corks to wither and crack, while damp or moist surroundings will cause mould to grow on the cork and label of the bottle. A good dual zone wine cooler can control both temperature and humidity, keeping your wines in the best possible condition.
- Look to the long term. For storing wines over a number of years, a decent wine cooler is essential. Wines are sensitive, and if they are stored long-term in a cupboard or a basic rack, they will be badly aged and degraded by the time you get around to drinking them. 55 degrees Fahrenheit is the perfect temperature for long-term wine storage, and a dual zone wine cooler can maintain that in one zone while reserving another for chilling other bottles.
- Appear sophisticated. Some people may be more impressed by a wine cooler than others, but there’s no denying the style and charm they bring to a room when on display. The associations of restaurant dining and fine living are uplifting in themselves, and a well-stocked wine cooler is both a status symbol and a great conversation piece.
- Organize your collection. If you’re considering a wine cooler, the chances are good that you’ve already got something of a collection underway. If you’re starting to get serious about your wine, a wine cooler is an ideal way to organize and keep track of all those bottles you’ve picked up over the years.
- Free up fridge space. If you’ve got a lot of whites in the house, you might be getting close to the point where your home refrigerator contains more alcohol than food. Leaving to one side the debate over whether this is even a bad thing, purchasing a decent wine cooler will allow you to free up a chunk of fridge space for general use. If you were considering buying a second fridge, the wine cooler may be the cheaper (and cooler) option.
- Get in the zone. Dual zone wine coolers have a significant advantage over their single zone cousins in that they can store wine at two different temperatures. This can used in a number of ways: one zone can be used for storage while the other is used for chilling, or one can be the red zone while the other holds the whites. The flexibility offered by a high-quality dual zone wine cooler is almost as valuable as its chilling power.
Things to consider
If you’re interested in buying a dual zone wine cooler, there are a number of things to consider when comparing the different models on the market.
- Temperature range. Different wines need to be stored at different temperatures, and all wines will accumulate deposits if kept too cold or age quickly if kept too warm. A range of 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit will allow you to store most reds and whites at their optimal temperatures, while a wider range will offer greater versatility.
- Temperature control. Is the temperature control on the cooler digital or mechanical? Digital controls are clearer to read and more precise to use, and so they win out over the mechanical alternative in this case.
- Capacity. Most simply measured by the number of standard 750 ml bottles the wine cooler can hold, how much capacity you need will depend on how much wine you have. If you’re getting serious about wine, try to plan ahead when it comes to capacity: don’t buy something big enough for what you’ve got now, but for what you’ll have in a few years’ time. On the lowest end of capacity, single and double-bottler coolers are available, with small coolers typically holding 6 or more bottles. The largest wine coolers can hold more than 100 bottles, so most of us should be able to find something suitable for our needs.
- Size. Directly linked to capacity, the size of your dual zone wine cooler will affect where and how it is stored. Small-capacity coolers are typically placed on a counter or tabletop, whereas larger coolers tend to be freestanding – like a standard refrigerator – or even built-in.
- Shelf configuration. How the shelves are laid out inside the cooler can make a difference to how you use the dual zones and how many bottles you can store. If you don’t like the shelf array as it’s presented, find out whether the shelves can be easily removed or adjusted.
- Materials. This is particularly important with regard to the material used in the wine cooler’s door. As this will usually be glass, to better display the wine and distinguish a cooler from a standard fridge, the use of tinted or UV-resistant glass in the door will make a big difference. Wines react to sunlight, and a clear glass door will provide no protection. The materials used on the cooler’s exterior will have a cosmetic effect, while those used on the interior can make a difference when it comes to temperature control.
- Humidity reduction. Inadequate humidity will cause corks to dry out and crack. Conversely, an excess of humidity creates moisture, which will enable mould to grow on the corks and labels of bottles. Any features or mechanisms to reduce or control humidity – such as humidity adjustment controls, or ventilation systems – will have a real impact on your wine cooler’s efficiency.
- Special features. Does the dual zone wine cooler have any special extras or features which improve its effectiveness? Anti-vibration systems are one example which may be found in more expensive models, preventing damage to the wine caused by usual and unusual vibrations. If you keep your wine at a low temperature, an automatic defroster will help prevent the build-up of frost and allow you to avoid the onerous chore of defrosting by hand.
- Appearance. Will the wine cooler look good where you plan on putting it? Does it look smart? Would you prefer a metallic exterior, or one in color? Aesthetics are the most subjective part of most consumer purchases, but with the range of choice on offer in the dual zone wine cooler market, you’re likely to find something that fits your style.
- Door lock. This will likely only be important if you’re buying the cooler for commercial premises, but added security is never a bad thing. If your dual zone wine cooler comes complete with a lock, you can rest safe in the knowledge that your wine’s protected.
- Price. Although dual zone wine coolers are more affordable than they’ve ever been, there are certainly still luxury models available for those with the funds to spare. As always, your price range will depend on your circumstances and budget, so plan accordingly and have an idea of how much you’d like to spend before you start shopping in earnest. Expect to pay at least $100 for a small dual zone wine cooler (less for the single and double-bottle models) and upwards of $200 for a good-quality medium-capacity model. The largest coolers can cost as much as $1000 or more, with the luxury brands sending the price shooting up from there. While you should spend within your means, remember that a high-quality cooler will most likely last a lot longer than the cheapest option, meaning it might offer better value-for-money in the long run.
Risks and warnings
Dual zone wine coolers are relatively safe home appliances. There are, however, some points to be noted for safe and efficient use, and to make sure you get the most out of your cooler.
- The temperature you keep your wine at will affect it. Although the function of a dual zone wine cooler is to keep your wine cool, it can’t choose the temperature for you, so do your research and make sure you store wines at their appropriate temperatures. If you don’t do this, you’re missing out on the unique benefit of wine coolers, and will get similar results compared to storing your wine in a cupboard or a fridge.
- Unavoidably, your wine cooler will be affected by the room temperature around it. Try to place yours in one of the cooler rooms of the house, but avoid anywhere the temperature will change during the day. Garages and conservatories are particularly infamous for this, so be sure to place your dual zone wine cooler in more stable conditions.
- As with any home refrigerator, large wine coolers are electrical appliances with a shutting door, making them potentially dangerous to children and animals. Take care to locate your wine cooler so that any wires and electrical components are neither on display nor easy to access, and be sure to educate any children about the dangers of messing around with a fridge or cooler. You should also take care when cleaning your dual zone wine cooler, to avoid exposing any electrical parts to water.