Which Is Better: A Compressor or Thermoelectric Wine Cooler?

Friends drinking wine

If you’re a wine lover, you likely know that your collection needs to be stored at the correct temperature to preserve the tastes and aromas you cherish.

Assuming you don’t have the space or resources to construct a dedicated wine cellar in your basement, a wine cooler (also called a wine fridge) is likely your best option. In our gear section we recommend the best wine fridges for Champagne and, if you’re on a budget, the best wine fridges under $500.

Before you start shopping for a wine fridge, you should know that wine coolers use different technologies to keep your collection at a constant temperature.

Wine fridges can use a compressor to keep bottles of wine cool or they can use thermoelectric technology which brings us to main question posed in this article. Which is better: a compressor or thermoelectric wine fridge?

Let’s find out!

Are Compressor Wine Coolers Good?

Wine fridges with compressors are similar to the full-sized refrigerators most of us have in our kitchens but on a much smaller scale.

Wine fridges with compressors work well. They have more cooling capacity than units equipped with thermoelectric technology. Wine coolers with compressors can maintain a constant temperature in larger refrigeration units and they aren’t affected by external temperature fluctuations or warm spaces.

Despite the advantages that come with compressor wine fridges, there are a couple of things you should be aware of.

Noise

Like your kitchen refrigerator, the compressor in a wine fridge will cycle on and off as part of its normal operation. If your wine cooler is in a quiet room, you may hear the compressor from time to time.

Environmental Impact

Cooling units that use vapor compression refrigeration – including refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and wine coolers – rely on a chemical coolant to function. While wine fridges are perfectly safe, the refrigerants they contain can be harmful to the environment if the system leaks or your wine cooler is improperly disposed of.

What Does the Compressor Do in a Wine Cooler?

Wine fridges with a compressor are based on technology that has been around for decades. They work very well but what does the compressor do exactly?

The compressor in a wine fridge is a pump that pressurizes coolant in the system. The coolant is used to absorb and transport heat from inside the wine cooler’s cabinet out into the environment where the unit is stored.

Specifically, the coolant removes heat from the unit when it changes from liquid to gas in a process called evaporation. As the coolant passes through the compressor it transforms back into a liquid state, releasing heat in the condenser through the radiator fins on the back of your fridge.

Here is a graphic that illustrates the entire process.

Are Thermoelectric Wine Coolers Any Good?

Wine fridges with a compressor aren’t your only option. Let’s look at the alternative technology. Are thermoelectric wine coolers any good?

Thermoelectric wine coolers have several advantages over a conventional wine fridge with a compressor. Thermoelectric wine coolers don’t use a compressor or refrigerant and they have no moving parts so they’re energy efficient, vibration free, and operate in complete silence.

While thermoelectric wine coolers are environmentally safe and seem like the ideal solution for long term wine storage, they’re generally only used in smaller wine fridges and there are some important limitations you should be aware of.

Limited Cooling Capacity

The biggest consideration for anyone considering a thermoelectric wine cooler revolves around the technology’s limited cooling capacity.

Most thermoelectric wine coolers don’t have the cooling capacity to lower their internal temperature below 50°F (10°C) which means you may not be able to achieve the proper serving temperature for champagne or other sparkling wines.

Additionally, these wine fridges aren’t recommended for use in areas that get warmer than 80°F (27°C). This is because the Peltier mechanism is only able to lower the internal temperature of the unit about 20 degrees.

If you keep the thermostat in your house set to a comfortable 72°F (22°C), reaching the recommended 55°F (13°C) shouldn’t present a problem.

How Do Thermoelectric Wine Coolers Work?

Thermoelectric wine coolers don’t use a compressor. Instead, they use a technology that relies on the Peltier effect – a process named after Jean Charles Athanase Peltier, the French physicist who discovered it.

Thermoelectric Module via CC BY-SA 3.0

When electrical current is applied to two joined pieces of metal, heat is transferred from one side of the device to the other. In a wine cooler, this means that heat can be efficiently removed from the refrigerator’s cabinet and exhausted into the surrounding environment.

The “hot” side of the thermoelectric module is typically fitted with a heat sink – a large aluminum component with fins to efficiently dissipate the heat being removed from the cooler.

Which is Better: A Compressor vs Thermoelectric Wine Cooler?

Wine coolers are available in a variety of sizes and configurations. Consumer oriented models commonly hold anywhere from 6 bottles up to 30 bottles of wine or more. They’re available in single zone or dual zone configurations but which cooling technology is better?

Should you buy a wine fridge equipped with a compressor or is thermoelectric technology better?

As is so often the case, the answer is “it depends”.

A compressor wine cooler is the better choice if you want to set the temperature of your fridge lower than 50°F (10°C) or you plan on keeping the appliance in an area that will be warmer than 80°F (27°C). It’s also important to note that compressor wine coolers are usually your only choice if you’re considering a larger capacity wine fridge.

A thermoelectric cooler is the better choice if you want a small wine fridge that will operate in complete silence. Thermoelectric wine coolers are a good option if you want to store a small wine collection in an area like a bedroom.

Are You Ready to Go Shopping?

If this in-depth discussion of the different technologies used in building wine fridges has inspired you to do some shopping, you should definitely check out our roundup of the best wine fridges under $500!

By Michael

Chief mixologist and cocktail enthusiast at Swizzle Club.