Hold full bottle of chilled wine for 5, 6, and 18 hours in each model, tracking the internal temperature at each time period
Hold full bottle of chilled wine, pouring off about a cup every half-hour to simulate real-time use and taking the temperature of each cup poured
Wine coolers promise to keep already chilled wine cool and accessible throughout your dinner party or summer afternoon on the porch. Unlike ice buckets, which they resemble, these coolers are relatively compact and require no ice, making them less messy to use and less likely to overchill your wine. Some coolers have reusable cooling inserts that must be placed in the freezer overnight, while others can be placed directly in the freezer. The simplest models claim to need no freezer time at all to keep your bottle cold. We wanted to know whether any of these coolers deserved a place at our table, so we bought six models priced from $14.19 to $54.95 and chilled 24 bottles of wine to put them to the test. (To establish a uniform starting temperature, we left bottles in the refrigerator until they reached about 40 degrees—a temperature many wine professionals would say is too cold for optimal flavor.)
Tracking the temperatures of both full bottles and bottles whose contents were poured out over an hour (simulating real-time use), we soon confirmed that all the coolers kept the wine significantly colder than it would be if you simply left it out. It took just 50 minutes for wine sitting on the counter to warm up 10 degrees—an increase that we think would be unacceptable if your bottle was at the right temperature to begin with. By contrast, even the least effective cooler took 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach that same benchmark, and most models did much better.
Two factors made certain models keep the wine cooler for longer. First, the height of the cooler: We liked models that were tall enough to fully enclose the wine bottles—coolers that were shorter than 7.5 inches exposed the shoulders of the bottles to the air and let them warm up faster. Second, the style of the cooler: Simple coolers were easier to use—no need to store any inserts in the freezer overnight—and did a perfectly respectable job of protecting the wine, keeping it within 10 degrees of its starting temperature for an average of 2 hours, more than long enough for two people to finish drinking a single bottle of wine. Coolers with freezable inserts required a little forethought (and freezer space) to use, but they did an even better job of maintaining cold temperatures, holding wine within 10 degrees of its starting temperature for an impressive average of 6 hours. We think this extra time is handy if you don’t know when you’ll be serving your chilled wine.
Our favorite wine cooler, the Oggi Stainless Steel Wine Cooler with Freezer Inserts ($20.39), is a peerless performer, capable of holding wine within a single degree of its starting temperature for almost 5 hours and taking about 7 hours before the wine rises 10 degrees. If you don’t want to worry about remembering to freeze the inserts, the insulated WMF Manhattan Wine Cooler is also a good choice, keeping wine within 10 degrees of its starting temperature for more than 2½ hours, but at $54.95, it’s significantly more expensive.