In this article, we take a look at the highest rated small wine refrigerators that are ideal for storing approximately 50 bottles of wine.
This type of refrigerator may appeal to any of the following wine lovers:
Those seeking a step up from a lower end wine cabinet or perhaps a temporary solution before taking the plunge to a larger cellar down the road.
Those undergoing a kitchen remodel who are seeking a sleek, under counter wine refrigerator to fit in with new appliances.
Those who have collected a few bottles from their wedding year or childrens’ birth years and are seeking a storage solution for those special bottles.
Single people or couples who have downsized and want to age just a few special bottles.
Do you need a small wine refrigerator?
Before moving on to our recommendations, let’s take a deeper dive into understanding the benefits of small wine refrigerators. It’s important to consider the environmental factors that impact wine and why wines benefit from being stored in cellars. Ideal conditions for wine storage include cool, stable temperature, relatively high humidity, and no light or vibrations. If you drink wines within a couple of weeks of purchasing your wines, then you can get by without a wine refrigerator because the changes caused by improper storage take time to develop.
If you’ve tried some older, properly aged wines — perhaps a Mosel Riesling from the 1980s or a Napa Cabernet from the 1990s — and didn’t enjoy the aged wines, then your preferences don’t warrant investment in a wine refrigerator. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying many age-worthy wines when they are young (though we do recommend bit of research at your local bottle shop on decanting times!).
If you do enjoy storing wine to age, however, you may already have some stored in your kitchen island, coat closet, basement, or bar. It’s not uncommon for wine enthusiasts to have wines stashed throughout their home in several places. Over an extended time, however, these wines can deteriorate if not stored properly.
Assassins of Wine
Temperature variation is one of the biggest enemies of wines as it ages. Wines should be stored at around 55 F (typical cave temperature), however a range of 50 to 58 F is often considered acceptable.
You might think, “Hey, why can’t I store my wine in my refrigerator for the long term, or perhaps in the beer fridge in the garage?” Well, a few unfortunate things can happen when wine is stored at too cool of a temperature for extended periods. The cool temps can slow down the aging process, the cork can dry out and allow refrigerator smells to seep into the wine (gross!), or the wine can be agitated when jostling around food or beer in the fridge, thus damaging the closure or label. Also, if the wine is pushed to the back of the refrigerator, there’s the possibility of freezing which may result in the cork getting pushed out.
Storage in a dark closet also may seem ideal but will have mixed results. If the air conditioning in the house or apartment breaks down, temperatures can escalate. Prolonged periods can lead to the wine taking on a stewed or cooked flavor. Some wines may also start to take on a vinegar taste as the aging process is accelerated.
Like temperature, too much light can also make wine deteriorate. This phenomenon is not unique to wine, as some beers are also known to suffer from light strike. Simply, light is a form of radiation. Ultraviolet and blue portions of the light spectrum carry more energy than the red portion.
Wine (and beer) have naturally sulphurous compounds. When light strikes wine, unwelcome chemical reactions can occur, leading to “skunky” aromas and flavors. Different colors of glass do provide more protection than others (e.g. dark brown or amber glass), however green and clear bottles are more common.
Since glass color selection has more to do with the aesthetics of the wine in the bottle, those of us wanting to age wines want to reduce light damage as much as possible. Wine refrigerators with dark glass or a solid door significantly reduce the possibility of light getting into the bottles.
When storing wines, most bottles are stored on their sides. This keeps the cork moist, reducing the likelihood that oxygen will enter the bottle.
A typical food refrigerator is a low humidity environment. In there, the cork can dry out. Corks can also dry out in arid environments. The ideal humidity level is around 70%.
Once oxygen has gotten into the wine bottles due to improper storage, the wine will quickly oxidize. Oxidation causes aromas and flavors to change. This negative impact is irreversible.
Like light damage, damage caused by vibration is the direct result of energy being transferred to the contents of the bottle. This time it is kinetic energy and not radiation. Vibration damage can result from storing wine on top of a refrigerator or near another vibrating appliance like a treadmill, washer, or dryer. Wine stored under stairs can also suffer from vibration damage.
The exact biochemical causes are not yet well known, however food chemistry research shows that wines exposed to vibration can lead to a reduction in esters, resulting in dull flavors. Additionally, wines exposed to vibration can taste sweeter as the amount of propanol and isoamyl alcohol increases as tartaric acids, succinic acids, and esters decrease.
For more on wine assassins (and how to tell if your wine has really gone bad), check out our blog on wine faults.
Advantages of Small Wine Refrigerators
Now that you understand the environmental risks to wine in suboptimal storage conditions, let’s move on to those refrigerators!
When selecting a small wine refrigerator, one of the common regrets is getting too small of a wine cabinet. As your passion grows, some of the smaller 18-24 bottle wine refrigerators can be outpaced by your collection habit.
Many small wine refrigerators are also targeting a more entry level clientele and are more likely to have thermoelectric coolers rather than compressors. Too small of a wine refrigerator also makes it difficult to maintain humidity.
Alternatively, some people purchase a wine refrigerator that is too big. The best large wine refrigerators are thousands of dollars and are designed for storing wines for 20 years or more. If you move frequently, large wine refrigerators are difficult to move! Your new or downsized home may not be able to accommodate a magnificently large wine refrigerator.
Much like the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” story, here we review the “just right” wine refrigerators that can fit under the counter or stand alone in a den or walk out basement.
Things to look For in your Wine Refrigerator
Most small wine refrigerators in size and price category we reviewed come with a one year warranty on some components and a five year warranty on the cooling system.
To extend the warranty of any durable good like a wine cabinet, consider using a premium credit card with extended warranty provisions to make the purchase. Check with your credit card company to see if they offer extended warranties with this type of purchase.
Keep an electronic record of the customer service number in case you have any issues with your small wine refrigerator.
Most issues that buyers face when ordering small wine refrigerators have to do with the initial delivery and installation. Typical issues include damage during shipping such as scratches and dents. Delivery issues are the most frequent cause of poor reviews.
If the unit arrives in good condition and is installed properly, expect about five years of use and potentially up to ten years.
Environmental conditions that shorten the lifespan of small wine refrigerators are typically related to ambient temperature and humidity. Wine refrigerators used in extreme conditions like a garage in Florida or a cold basement in North Dakota may have a shorter lifespan.
When selecting a small wine refrigerator, pay attention to how much clearance is required under the unit for optimal performance. If the unit vents to the front, it can be used as an under counter unit or as a stand alone unit. If the wine cabinet vents only to the back, make sure that the unit is not installed flat against a wall.
Cooling Technology and Energy Efficiency
Small wine refrigerators are excluded from the federal Energy Star energy program. Some wine refrigerators are more energy efficient than others.
Thermoelectric units are typically more energy efficient and are best suited for small living spaces like a studio apartment or condo.
Compressor units use refrigerant like standard refrigerators. They may be less energy efficient than thermoelectric units and may be a little noisier, especially at lower price points. They tend to last longer and work in a broader range of ambient environment conditions.
Noise and Design Aesthetic
Following delivery issues and bottle count, the third most likely source of complaints on small wine refrigerators is noise. Remember, any durable good with a fan makes noise and sensitivity to this noise varies by person. In this price category, we found that these units will be between 25 and 45 decibels, about the noise level of a quiet conversation.
Think about where the wine refrigerator will be located. If it will be in a living or entertaining area, pay special attention to noise emitted by the unit. If the unit will be in an unfinished walk out basement or utility room, then noise might be less of a concern.
Since wine is a luxury good and many of these units end up in kitchens, most wine refrigerators are aesthetically pleasing. Consider whether or not you like the color of the LED lights and trim finish (stainless or black). Also, do you prefer a left or right opening wine cabinet?
Bottle Size Flexibility
Keep in mind that bottle capacity is typically referring to Bordeaux style bottles. Chances are, most wine enthusiasts have bottles that range in size and shape. Frequently, consumers are disappointed when they can’t fit all the expected bottles in the cabinet. Second to delivery issues, the bottle capacity count is a frequent cause of low reviews.
Wine bottle sizes vary by wine style and region. Champagne and Burgundy bottles typically have a fuller, rounder base, while Bordeaux style bottles are more rectangular in shape. Flute-shaped Riesling bottles have longer tapered necks.
If your collection has wines from many regions, you will likely need to spend more for flexibility in the interior shelving system, or just live with a fewer number of bottles than the labeled capacity.
We review only single temperature zone, small wine cabinets. Dual zone wine cabinets tout flexibility, however we like fewer moving parts that have the potential to break down. We suggest keeping things simple by planning ahead: just slip that rosé or Sauvignon Blanc into your regular refrigerator or an ice bucket 20 minutes before serving if you enjoy them below 55 F.
We have found that wine cabinets with the same capacity can vary a lot in price. Typically, higher priced units have the following features:
Better shipping pallet and packaging material
More responsive customer service
More robust individual components (e.g. glass layers, more metal thickness, heavier duty compressor, shelf quality)
Higher end look
More shelving flexibility
If you have minor children in the house, or your rent out your home on platforms like AirBnB or HomeAway, we strongly suggest getting a wine refrigerator with a lock.
Most small wine refrigerators will not need a lot of cleaning or maintenance, other than checking to see if the temperature and humidity are near the ideal conditions.
If you are concerned about your small wine refrigerator temperature and humidity (let’s say while you are out of town or in case of power loss), you may want to consider putting one of these Moat Temperature & Humidity Wireless Smart Sensors in the wine cabinet. It will send you an alert if either are out of specifications you set.