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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Can you recommend a freestanding wine cellar/chiller that accommodates around 100 bottles and costs around $1,000 or less?
—Kevin, Washington, D.C.
I get a fair amount of questions about wine coolers, and while my lack of endorsement deals means I can't recommend any specific units, I'm happy to discuss general ideas of what to look for.
My biggest advice? Consider getting a unit that holds more bottles than you think you need—this wine-collecting thing can be pretty addictive, and you might run out of space sooner than you think. Consider the size and shape of the bottles you'll be collecting—the way the bottles fit into the racks, if bottles are stacked up, or there are shelves that slide out. Units vary in how much access you'll have to your bottles, so consider both how well lit it will be to see what's inside, and how easy it will be to grab a bottle when you want to.
The door itself is something to ponder. Is it more important for you to see the bottles or protect them from light? Is the glass clear, tempered, tinted, double-paned or UV-resistant? Once I brought home a wine cooler only to panic that the door opened on the wrong side—and not every unit has reversible doors. Some have locks or even alarms.
More expensive units may have multiple temperature zones, which is not a bad idea if you want to keep your reds at one temperature and your whites at a cooler, more ready-to-drink temperature. Humidity controls are also helpful, especially if you live in a dry environment. Outside of the basics, do your best to find a unit that reduces vibration, and find one that is quiet—you'd be surprised just how loud the things can get. The more you spend, the better the materials should be, such as aluminum shelves that will conduct cool air better than plastic ones, or a rough interior that will be better for humidity than a smooth one.
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