You’ve been bitten by the wine bug in a big way. Bottles are stacking up on your kitchen counter, you’ve started naming your wine keys, and you’re on a first-name basis with a local merchant who specializes only in Champagne and sherry.
Welcome to the joys of collecting wine. As the eccentricities add up to a charming, fulfilling (and expensive) hobby, you have to store everything properly — stacking bottles next to Fido’s bed ain’t gonna cut it.
Wine fridges are the way to go, but don’t let those words send you into a buying panic.
“I don’t think you have to spend a million dollars,” said Belinda Chang, director of service and partner at Gold Coast’s Maple & Ash in Chicago, and sommelier extraordinaire. “A cheap one can be as good as an expensive one, depending on your needs.”
But what are your needs? Most experts agree on a few things: capacity, volume and temperature, and humidity controls are all factors worth mulling. If you’re looking beyond the basics, other options such as fixtures and noise level can also be considered.
How many bottles you have and the space a fridge commands are your first considerations: 24- or 30-bottle models can easily hide in a closet or under a counter, but home real estate is a factor when you start to inch up to 300-bottle versions.
“For the beginning collector, make sure you get a unit that holds at least 25 percent more capacity than what you currently have,” said Marshall Tilden III, director of sales for Wine Enthusiast Cos. “Wine collections grow quickly, so while it may seem like overkill to buy a 50-bottle cellar when you only have two cases to store … trust me, that cellar will fill up in no time.”
Chang manages three fridges at home — sounds about right for a wine pro — in different price ranges. “You don’t have to worry about buying the Bentley if you’re not collecting long-term bottles,” she said. But if you plan on aging, “look for something with sliding drawers. You want to make sure bottles can (lie) flat.”
Oxidation, she warned, can occur when corks dry out — good fridges allow you to maintain consistent humidity (between 50 and 70 percent), ensuring age-worthy ports and cabs survive their hibernation.
Tilden also suggested learning about a fridge’s individual features — from insulation levels to ability to withstand temperature fluctuations, to something as innocuous-seeming as the shelf space.
According to him, certain bottles that contain the standard 750 milliliters (think syrah, California reds or pinot noir bottles) may not fit in smaller units. “Thicker, taller and wider bottles may end up touching the shelf above and damaging the labels,” Tilden said, which can be a problem if you mean to showcase expensive, high-end bottles.
Besides space and humidity, both experts agree that temperature is also a good starting point. “I love when my Champagne is really cold, but my reds come out cellar temp (about 55 degrees, or between 45 and 65 degrees),” said Chang. To that end, she employs a dual-zone fridge that allows one to control two areas in the same unit, typically for red wines and their bubbly and white counterparts. “I love when bottles are the perfect temperature when I’m ready to drink, so there’s no fussing with quick chilling them.”
Many high-end fridge and cellar units are designed to mimic Old World cellars, said Tilden, and they command the big bucks. They are also the best pick for storing wines longer than five years. One brand, EuroCave, allows humidity control, a padded base for the compressor to minimize vibration, and even UV-protected glass doors that keep damaging light from affecting bottles — “they are the quietest, most efficient and longest lasting of wine cellars on the market,” said Tilden.
But again, before shelling out for these units, be sure to plan with your future wine collection in mind. “You just need the fridge to do the job that it’s meant for,” said Chang.