If you're a wine connoisseur then you've probably amassed a sizable collection of the good stuff, but in Australia's hot and variable climate you might be hard pressed keeping it in the optimal conditions for long term storage. So how do you protect your investment from the ravages of temperature and humidity changes, so it's in top condition once you're ready to imbibe? Enter the wine fridge.
Wine fridges are designed to maintain the optimum conditions for long term storage. That is, a temperature of 12 degrees, very stable humidity levels, low vibration and protection from UV light. Wine stored in less than optimal conditions can more readily deteriorate, which if you have a sizeable collection could be very costly as well as embarrasing in front of your dinner guests. And because you may be storing your wines for many years, you might not realise your wine fridges' failings until significantly down the track.
Importantly, wine fridges and food fridges are very different, so we test them differently. We test wine fridges full, using actual bottles of wine to simulate real world usage, and we measure how each fridge performs against a series of factors that impact how suitable it is for long term wine storage.
With more than 30 years combined experience in our thermal laboratory, we are proud of our expert testers. We test many elements of a wine fridge, but our focus on these basics means that when it's time to buy, you can be sure the fridge you bring home will do a great job of storing your precious collection.
On top of this, many of our testers sit on Standards committees, both national and international, so we keep up to date with how labs and manufacturers are changing the standards and to give consumers a voice in this forum, where sometimes only government and industry are represented.
Why do we choose one fridge over another to test? There are a number of reasons, but our priority is to test what you'll see in the stores. That means we might not cover that one brand that has one model that's sold 100 samples in Australia, and instead focus on the big brand models so you can at least see the fridge before you buy it to make sure you're happy with it.
How do we know what's in retailers? We check current market figures to see what's selling well – typically this means Vintec, Liebherr, Fisher & Paykel, and Haier. We'll also include models that you've requested – if a lot of members want it, we're going to test it.
When we know what you want, our buyers go out and use your member fees to buy the wine fridges from a variety of retailers, then bring them in as is – this means we get what you get so we can be sure the results are what you'll find rather than potentially 'tweaked'.
Fridge testing is one of the longest tests at CHOICE, and testing wine fridges is no different. For such a simple device (we just want it to keep the temperature cool and stable!), the thermal properties take time to measure. A product category that doesn't change very rapidly, we tend to test every 18 months, and do these in batches of up to 10 fridges at a time, which allows us cover the leading models in the market.
Setting up fridges for testing is a long and arduous process. We use calibrated Platinum Resistance Thermometers (PRTs) and set lots of them consistently throughout each fridge in a variety of areas so we measure not just one area inside the fridge, but on several shelves throughout the compartment or compartments so you know where a given fridge is warmer and cooler than normal. We replicate these areas based on the Australian Standard AS/NZS 4474.2, 2007 and 2009. Why? Because if you want to compare fridges fairly, you have to use the same conditions for all of them.
We load each fridge with full bottles of wine and then move them into a large thermal room so we can drop the temperature down to 5°C, or move it up to 45°C if we need to. The thermal rooms are sealed and the fridges run for up to four weeks to test a variety of elements that you tell us are important to you. This is all to minimise the amount of variables so you can see which fridge comes out best when comparing them.
Five tests are carried out while the fridges are in the thermal rooms – an energy test and four Temperature Performance tests: Fluctuations, Ambient response, Uniformity and Temperature Accuracy. All tests are carried out with the same PRT setup which means that the same data can sometimes be used in more than one set of analysis (for example; energy, uniformity, fluctuations and ambient can all be assessed simultaneously).
Test Setup and Energy Analysis
We set up five sensors in a configuration specified by the Australian standard and run the fridge until we achieve our target temperature of 12 degrees (the best temperature for long term wine storage). Once stable, we measure the energy each fridge uses over a 24 hour period. No wine fridges were observed to have a defrost cycle during the current test.
For dual zone wine fridges, we place sensors in both compartments, and adjust them individually to reach the target temperature (below 12). Once both zones have stabilized below 12 we will complete energy and the remainder of the analysis using these settings.
This energy calculation will provide an equal comparison of the annual cost of running fridge, as well as the running cost per bottle which is based on the maximum claimed capacity of the wine fridge.
We assess the amount the temperatures fluctuate in a fully loaded wine fridge as the compressor stops and starts (this is because even temperature is an important factor in long term wine storage). The higher the score, the less the temperature swing.
Response to ambient temperature changes (20%)
We measure the effect of external ambient temperature changes, such as moving from summer to winter, on the temperature inside the wine fridge by exposing the wine fridge to a range of temperatures between 10 and 40 degrees. The higher the score, the more stable the fridge temperature is maintained.
We measure how uniform the temperature is throughout the compartment. The higher the score, the more uniform and the less temperature variation there is throughout the fridge.
Temperature accuracy (10%)
We test how accurate the digital control settings for the fridge by setting it to 12 degrees (including both zones if the wine fridge has dual zone or dual controls), and then measuring how close the actual temperature is to the setting.
While wine fridges tend not to be as noisy as your kitchen fridge/freezer, because to minimise vibrations they typically rely on convection rather than fan circulated cooling, if your wine fridge will be in a high traffic area then operating noise from the compressor may be a factor.
We measure noise in Decibels (dBa) (lower is quieter).
We don't include noise in our overall score because it's such a subjective experience based around your environment.
Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we have not been able to complete our usual noise testing for the current test, but we will update this information once our labs reopen.
We maintain a thermal lab that's up to date with the latest reference machines and calibrated measurement tools to bring you results you can count on.
We maintain a NATA-accredited thermal lab that's temperature and humidity controlled, and calibrated measurement tools that log thousands of points of data for every test, so that we can bring you results you can count on.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.