Wine is one of the few consumer products that can improve in flavor and value over time. It's also highly susceptible to deterioration when kept in the wrong conditions. Proper wine storage is most affected by light, humidity and temperature (and vibration to a lesser extent). To compensate for these environmental factors, most people turn to thermoelectric or compressor coolers. To find what works best for you, let’s examine the pros and cons of both.
What is thermoelectric cooling?
Wine coolers are perhaps the most well-known use of thermoelectric cooling. Based on the Peltier effect, thermoelectric cooling produces a cooling effect by running an electric current through a metal device and transferring heat from one side to another against a temperature gradient. The device has no moving parts, but it is often combined with fans to ensure sufficient air circulation and ventilation.
Advantages of thermoelectric wine coolers
Thermoelectric wine coolers are more efficient at cool and use less electricity. Because of the Peltier effect, these coolers have less moving parts which means they require less power than a compressor cooler would. And, they don’t use harmful chemicals to generate cold air, so there are no environmentally unfriendly effects from CFCs.
Silent and vibration free
The thermoelectric technology also allows for a quiet and vibration-free wine cooler. Traditional coolers have many moving parts so you’ll often hear a hum and vibration coming from the units. If installed properly, thermoelectric coolers make virtually no sound.
The lack of moving parts also means no vibration throughout the cooler. If you’re planning on aging wine, unnecessary movement and shaking can disturb the sediments in the bottle which can adversely affect the flavor.
Drawbacks of thermoelectric wine coolers
Thermoelectric coolers can’t cool to temperatures as low as compressor cooling systems, typically only producing temperatures that are 20°F lower than the temperature outside the unit. This makes thermoelectric coolers unsuitable for typically warm environments or areas that do not keep a constant temperature.
Peltier plates are not as strong as compressor cooling systems and are only effective at cooling small containers. They are best used for smaller coolers with a capacity of about 40 bottles max. They also vent hot air from the back of the unit, so they can’t be installed under your counters or in your home bar.
What is compressor cooling?
A compressor wine cooler works like a refrigerator but on a smaller scale. Coolant gas carries the heat through an internal evaporator to be absorbed. The heat then goes through compression cycle to compress it into high pressure vapor and is removed from the interior of the unit through external condensers.
Advantages of compressor wine coolers
Compressor cooling systems are much more powerful than thermoelectric coolers and they can work for collections of over 100 bottles. This is why you’ll see most large wine coolers use a compressor cooling system vs. a thermoelectric one. They also have the benefit of having the ability to reach a wider temperature gradient so they are ideal for storing all types of wine.
Adapts to environmental stress
The powerful cooling capacity of compressors means the outside temperature does not affect the ability to cool the inside. This means you can place them in rooms or areas that are warmer and they are ideal for warmer and more tropical climates.
Disadvantages of compressor wine coolers
The large capacity of compressor coolers, or the custom nature of built-in units, compressor wine coolers tend to be more expensive than their smaller counterparts. And, depending on the size, they require more energy to run.
The compressor cooler technology vibrates the cooler when the compressor starts. While these effects may be small, they can have an affect the flavor of more aged wines. The vibrations, and the moving parts, also create some noise, similar to a refrigerator (although newer models have tried to diminish this effect).
What’s right for your?
If you are looking for a wine cooler for a smaller amount of bottles, or if you’re just beginning your wine journey, consider looking into thermoelectric coolers. On the other hand, if you have, or are looking to build, a large collection, compressor coolers will suit you best.