Last month, we told you all about mini fridges, wine coolers, and beverage centers. From describing their unique benefits to pointing out their parallel features, our experts at Spencer’s TV & Appliance helped nuance these otherwise-similar compact refrigerators.
In our latest installment, we’re exploring the two refrigerator types that keep your reds, whites, and rosés chilled at their ideal serving temperatures.
While it is understood that a mini fridge is a spare icebox for your meats, produce, and dairy items, the choice between a wine cooler or beverage center is not as clear-cut, especially as they relate to your personal hosting and entertainment needs.
That is where we come in. Come with us and you’ll see the world of compact refrigeration!
What is a Wine Cooler?
From nomenclature alone, you might have guessed that a wine cooler is a refrigeration appliance that stores your wine. But why can’t we just stow our bottles in any mini or full-sized fridge? And can’t they be kept in a cabinet after opening? Simply put: Wine does not share an ideal temperature with most of your foods.
To backtrack slightly, warmth and coolness intensify different characteristics in a wine. On one hand, if your bottle is stored in an insulated cabinet, the harsh aroma and alcohol taste will be accentuated upon serving. Alternatively, if you keep your bottle in a very cold container, like a standard refrigerator, your wine will taste equal parts sour and tart—not sweet at all.
Thanks to specially engineered craftsmanship, wine coolers are equipped to defeat the enemies of wine: temperature, humidity, light, and vibration. Often seen as a symbol of luxury, most wine coolers are designed with a frame around a glass-panel door. But most importantly, these appliances are designed to generate a consistent temperature between 50 and 59 degrees to properly store and age your wine—to, in the end, highlight their true qualities and full flavors.
Types of Wine Coolers
There are two types of wine coolers to consider as you scour our catalog. Check them out!
Compressor Wine Coolers
First up: This wine cooler category makes use of refrigerator technology we are familiar with. It works by compressing air and releasing it to reduce the temperature of the interior of the appliance, and it uses a small, strategically placed fan to distribute cold air throughout. A compressor wine cooler is conducive for storing wine because once the compressor senses that its preset temperature has been reached throughout the capsule, it shuts itself off to operate at a consistent maximum temperature and to prevent over-freezing the wine.
Ventilation space at the back of this wine cooler is important so that heat from the running compressor can escape—and keep the appliance functioning at an optimal rate.
Thermoelectric Wine Coolers
Instead of relying on a motor to cool down the interior, this type of wine fridge uses an electric current. A thermoelectric wine cooler incorporates a metal rod that is electrolyzed to create a temperature differential; the heated end faces the exterior to expel energy from the system while the cooler end faces the interior. Like a compressor wine cooler, this wine cooler also uses a small fan to disperse cold air throughout the box.
Be cautioned, though: Because of its lack of compressor, thermoelectric wine coolers cannot be installed in heated areas. And as is the case with a compressor option, this wine cooler requires ventilation space at the back or else the cooling technique will be compromised.
Features and Configurations of Wine Coolers
Did you know a wine cooler can have multiple zones to accommodate reds and whites at different temperatures? Well, it’s true! There are also diverse options for installation, as you’ll learn below.
Single-Zone Wine Cooler
With a single-zone wine cooler, you can expect one temperature to be disbursed and maintained throughout the entire box. In other words, all wine bottles will be chilled to the same level. The interior racks are designed to hold each bottle separately, which allows for optimal cooling conditions (i.e., the bottles do not overlap to inadvertently heat the contents).
The cooling mechanism that runs a single-zone wine cooler can either be compressor- or thermoelectric-based without a hitch, because it only needs to cool to one temperature.
Dual-Zone Wine Cooler
If you are more of a sommelier than a novice, you’ll find happiness in a dual-zone wine cooler. Equipped to hold a variety of wines, this wine cooler can chill its contents in separate temperature-defined zones. Unlike a single-zone cooler, this appliance has two separate storage compartments within, usually separated by a horizontal partition.
Just like its single-zone counterpart, a dual-zone wine cooler can use compressor-based or thermoelectric-based cooling, but there may be some variance. With compressor cooling, there is a good chance that two different mechanisms will be used to cool the separate compartments. With thermoelectric cooling, on the other hand, you’ll need to replace the thermoelectric rod in the different compartments.
And lastly, the dual-zone cooler can also display specially made racks to hold each bottle individually—and there will be no need to fiddle with the temperatures, as these are preset to ideal conditions.
Freestanding vs. Built-in
Depending on your proclivities, you can choose between a freestanding or built-in wine cooler! As is the case with many home appliances,freestanding options are designed with the vent on the back of the unit whereas built-in versions have vents on the front of the unit so that they can be installed amongst your cabinetry or under the counter.
Built-in wine fridges can also be custom-ordered to be panel-ready to match your cabinets—whether you’re hoping to install one in the kitchen, back patio, garage, or den. It all depends on the appliance’s prospective location and the look you are trying to achieve.
Column vs. Undercounter
If you have a sizable collection of wines, you might be interested in a wine-preservation column, a built-in wine cooler that can span the full height of a wall. Due to its larger size, it can host a third temperature zone, but most impressively, some models can hold as many as 150 bottles of wine.
Available as a freestanding or built-in appliance, undercounter wine coolers are nothing to scoff at, however. Just what you need for entertaining guests in the kitchen or sports den, this option can still host a staggering number of wines compared to your refrigerator and pantry. For reference, a 24-inch undercounter wine cooler can hold up to 46 bottles.
What is a Beverage Center?
When you consider a wine cooler alongside a mini fridge, you get the best of both worlds with a beverage center. Suited for all kinds of social affairs, beverage centers have two or more temperature-controlled zones to provide optimal temperatures for all beverages, including craft beer, artisanal sodas, and yes, wine.
Like a wine cooler, a beverage center typically has a frame around a glass-panel door, offering a window into your drink options.
Types, Features, and Configurations of Beverage Centers
… But unlike a wine cooler, there are less considerations for selecting a beverage center as evidenced in the following more-concise rundown.
Compressor Beverage Center
Running on the same technology as a compressor wine cooler, compressor beverage centers are far more common compared to those that operate on thermoelectric cooking.
It is worth mentioning here that compressor-based refrigerators are cheaper to maintain and more energy-efficient than their thermoelectric counterparts. That said, thermoelectric fridges aren’t without their perks—namely, quieter operation and a longer lifespan.
Racks and Adjustable Shelves
Since beverage centers are meant to accommodate a variety of beverages, you can expect they supply greater versatility in storage capacity compared to other fridges. For better organization (and view into your stock), you can look out for models that have sliding racks and shelves.
Racks like those found in wine coolers are often present in beverage centers. Luckily, they welcome more than just your merlots and pinot noirs. At a cooler temperature (up to 70 degrees), you can also store bottles of soda, beer, and sparkling water.
In addition to increasing storage capacity, adjustable shelves are great for fitting in canned drinks and accommodating larger or oddly shaped beverage containers.
For reference, a 24-inch model with adjustable organizers can fit up to 14 wine bottles or 111 soda cans.
Freestanding vs. Built-in
As is the case with their wine-cooler counterparts, freestanding beverage centers are designed to look aesthetically pleasing anywhere they are placed. With fully finished exterior paneling, a freestanding beverage center requires about three inches of clearance around the unit for an adequate amount of room for ventilation or else run the risk of overheating.
By contrast, built-in beverage centers are designed to fit flush into cabinetry. These are front-venting appliances with only the front-facing door appearing finished while the sides of the unit have a plain or unfinished look. In line with their comparatively luxe appearance, these units are usually more expensive than freestanding models, as they are also designed to adequately ventilate without risk of overheating. In the built-in category, undercounter options are also available.
So, which to choose? It all depends on your budget, beverage preferences, and hosting habits. Wine coolers are more conducive to wine collectors whereas a beverage center is more appealing to a broader net of consumers.
Seen as a compromise for those who are wary of splurging on a wine cooler, a beverage center stores more than just your fermented grape juice. It can even store food, giving you the ability to store your liquor, maraschino cherries, olives, and mint leaves all in one place for cocktail nights.
Both compact refrigerators are equally suited for frequent hosts and can be enjoyed in kitchens, home theaters, garages, media rooms, and outdoor kitchens alike. But most importantly, both appliances can keep your favorite drinks within an arm’s reach for whenever the mood strikes.