If one your goals for 2013 is to expand your wine collection—maybe with a case of Shafer Vineyards' coveted Relentless Napa Valley 2008—then you may also want to invest in a new wine chiller. Uniform temperature is key to preserving the flavor of any fine wine. Consumer Reports recently tested 14 models from Vinotemp, Wine Enthusiast, and other specialty brands, as well as major manufacturers like GE and Electrolux. Five made our recommended list, including two CR Best Buys.
Our wine chiller report covers two types of chiller: undercounter and freestanding. As the name implies, undercounter models are designed to be built into your cabinetry, although those with finished sides could be installed anywhere. Freestanding models have clearance requirements that prevent built-in applications.
Temperature performance, which we measure in our refrigerator lab with the use of thermocouples, is the biggest test for any wine chiller. The best models maintain steady conditions throughout their interior, even during spikes in ambient room temperature. Dual-zone units have become more common in recent years. Most wines, whether red, white, or rose, store well at 55 degrees F, so the second zone isn't essential. But it's nice if you want to maintain separate temps for serving, since there's a lot of variation there: 40 degrees to 50 degrees F for dry white wines, roses, and sparkling wines, 50 degrees to 60 degrees for full-bodied whites and fruity reds, and 60 degrees to 65 degrees for full-bodied reds and Ports.
Energy efficiency. Because there's no federal efficiency standard for chillers, some of them consume a lot of power. The biggest hog in our Ratings is the Danby DWC113BLSDB, a $380 freestanding model that used more than 800 kilowatt-hours per year in our tests, or twice as much as some full-sized refrigerators.
Noise. This matters less with undercounter units, which will likely be in a generally noisy kitchen. But for freestanding chillers that might occupy a dining room or other quiet space, it's key.
Storage options. Chillers come with different types of shelves. Those with full-extension ball-bearing glides are the easiest to use, followed by partial-extension glides. Shelf stops prevent prized bottles from ending up on the floor. The models we tested can hold 32 to 54 750ml bottles; some have room for magnums and other oversize bottles, or you usually have the option of removing a shelf to create extra space.
Added protection. A door lock provides peace of mind if you collect pricey wines, or if small children (and maybe big ones, too) are present. Temperature controls on the front of the unit are more convenient than those located inside, though again small kids could be a concern (some have lock-out modes for this reason). Tinted glass, on all tested models, protects wines from harmful ultraviolet light.