Which type of wine cooler is better, compressor or thermoelectric?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is there a difference between compressor and thermoelectric wine coolers as far as humidity levels?

—Scott T., Australia

Dear Scott,

Most wine coolers have compressors, which work just like food refrigerators. With a compressor, the refrigerant’s molecules are compressed together, creating a heated vapor, which travels through a condenser, then undergoes a flash evaporation, turning it cold. Then a fan blows air across the coils, which is where the cooler’s cool air comes from.

Thermoelectric cooling systems have fewer moving parts. If you stayed awake during science class, you may remember that thermoelectric coolers use the Peltier effect, which I can only describe without my brain hurting by saying that the temperature difference is created by an electrical current. Thermoelectric systems don’t add cold in as much as they take heat out. Since they don’t have a compressor, thermoelectric coolers are known for being vibration-free, quieter and more energy efficient. But they don’t typically work as well in warm areas or in places where the temperature fluctuates widely (when there is more heat to take out), and they tend to be made in smaller units, where they’re most effective.

Humidity sometimes comes up in the discussion about compressors, because compressors can create condensation and, whoa, does that mean it’s taking water out of the air? But condensation on a compressor isn’t so much a factor of the compressor sucking all the moisture out of the air as it is about the temperature difference between the water vapor and the surface it’s interacting with. After all, when I pull a cold bottle of wine out into a warm room, if some condensation forms on the bottle, it doesn’t mean the room is suddenly less humid.

That’s a long way of me saying no, I don’t believe there is a particular difference in humidity levels between the two cooling techniques. There are benefits to both systems, and you just need to figure out what works best for you.

—Dr. Vinny

Collecting Storage Cellars Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What is “reverse osmosis” in relation to wine? How and why is it used?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the science (and the motivation) behind the …

Nov 28, 2022

I need advice on Thanksgiving wines. Which wines pair best with turkey and sides?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers advice on selecting wines for the Thanksgiving …

Nov 21, 2022

What is a “second wine”?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the "second wine" concept and what it means in …

Nov 14, 2022

Is it bad if an old bottle of wine has sediment in it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains that sediment happens—and how to deal with it.

Nov 7, 2022

Is it OK to change my mind about a wine after I've approved a sommelier to serve it?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains that there's a reason that sommeliers show …

Oct 31, 2022

How should I organize a tasting of 4 wines paired with 4 chocolates?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny offers suggestions for organizing food and …

Oct 24, 2022