Can't regular wine drinkers just keep their selection in a simple, cheap wooden wine wrack? Why waste the money, or the space, on a wine fridge?
If you live in a cool or temperate climate, or have a temperature-regulated basement in your house, I'm inclined to agree with these statements. However, many people live in warm, humid climates or in climates with extreme winter and summer temperatures.
If you live in Texas or Arizona, for example, and would like to start a wine collection, or cellar individual bottles for a year or more, you may want to consider purchasing a refrigerated storage unit. To age wine properly, maintaining the correct temperature is critical. You need to be consistent.
Wineries traditionally aged their wines in large oak barrels in cool, underground lairs with concrete floors (think Batman's cave) before bottling. Once that precious liquid is in the bottle, the wine is usually good to go either straight away or, for the vast majority of wines, within a year or two. Most red wines are designed with aging potential; those with heavy tannins tend to mellow and improve with age.
So if you'd like to start a wine collection, or just need a place to store the bottles you plan to drink in the near future, a wine fridge may be a smart investment. Do keep in mind that not all wine fridges are created equal: some are designed for both white and red wines, with two different temperatures; others are better suited for one type of wine; still others are capable of holding a rather large collection.
When I first started drinking rarer and more expensive wines, I bought a wine fridge capable of holding 28 bottles. This seemed like the ideal storage capacity at the time. But within six months I realized that I would soon need more space, and that paying for a larger, dual-temp fridge would be well worth the investment. Vintage Cellars, Wine Cellar Innovations and Wine Enthusiast, among others, sell a number of great models, including one of the highest-end models: the Euro Cave Wine Cellar, pictured on the right. This bad boy holds 233 bottles of wine and costs a cool $2-3K, depending on the seller.
I also discovered, when my first, cheaper wine fridge pooped out on me sooner than it should have, that buying an extended warranty is a very smart move.
Top Red and White Varietals to Cellar
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
May be cellared from anywhere between 5-15 years depending on the quality of the wine. Cabs on the lower end of the scale, less than $15, are better to drink in the short term.
May be cellared from anywhere between 3-10 years depending on the quality of the wine. Merlots on the lower end of the scale, less than $12, are accessible when purchased.
3. Pinot Noir
May be cellared from anywhere between 2-8 years depending on the quality of the wine. Pinots on the lower end of the scale, less than $15, are accessible when purchased or within the year.
May be cellared from anywhere between 3-8 years depending on the quality of the wine and the fermentation process. Chardonnays that are golden and give off buttery notes have undergone malolactic fermentation and have a much shorter lifespan. Drink these fairly quickly. Chardonnays less than $12 generally do not benefit from cellaring.
5. Chenin Blanc
May be cellared from anywhere between 2-5 years depending on the quality of the wine. More expensive varieties might age quite well over a short period of time, but Chenin Blanc in general is designed to be consumed right away. Drink up Chenin Blanc less than $12 immediately.