How does a wine fridge work

Wine fridges work by either thermoelectric cooling or compressor cooling and there are larger differences between their performance abilities, purchase and running costs due to their methods of cooling. However, before we get into these two types of wines fridges and how they differ, let's first of all go through the basic of how any wine fridge protects wine over the shorter term for service or the longer term of for maturation.

How wine fridges protect your wine

Wine fridges, whether they are built-in, integrated or freestanding wine fridges all need to protect wine from the five naturally occurring elements found outside of a wine cellar that can harm the long term prospects of a wine reaching its full drinking potential. Those five elements are heat, light, vibration, humidity and bad odours. If wine can be stored in a place that reduces its exposure to these elements it will eventually mature into the beautiful fullest expression of itself it can. However, those without an underground cave can reach for a solution more practical; a wine fridge, and here is how it works to protect your wine.

Temperature Control:

At the heart of every wine fridge lies a sophisticated temperature control system that's either controlled from the outside electronically or internally on a dial. Unlike standard refrigerators, which generally operate at lower temperatures, wine fridges are designed to maintain a more nuanced range, typically between 5°C to 18°C. This range accommodates the diverse needs of reds, whites, and sparkling wines as well as long term maturation, allowing users to tailor the storage environment to their collection's requirements.

Thermostats and Sensors:

Wine fridges are equipped with precise thermostats and sensors that constantly monitor and regulate the internal temperature. Thermostats act as the control center, ensuring that the fridge maintains the desired temperature, while sensors provide real-time feedback to make adjustments as needed. This dynamic interplay ensures a stable climate for wines to mature gracefully.

Humidity Management:

Humidity control is paramount in preventing corks from drying out and compromising the wine's quality. Wine fridges typically maintain a humidity level between 50% to 80%, striking a delicate balance that keeps corks moist without fostering mold growth. This attention to humidity preserves the integrity of the wine, guarding against premature aging and oxidation.

Vibration Reduction:

Vibration, often overlooked, can have a profound impact on wine quality. Wine fridges integrate vibration reduction mechanisms to minimize disturbances that could disrupt sediment in older bottles. These features, such as shock-absorbing materials or specially designed compressors, ensure a serene environment that nurtures the evolution of the wine as well as using wood and dampers on the shelving.

UV Light Protection:

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is a common threat to wine via light-strike, as it can degrade its compounds and alter flavours. Wine fridges are equipped with UV-resistant glass or solid doors to shield bottles from harmful light, ensuring that the wine inside is shielded from potential damage during its aging process.

Air Circulation:

Proper air circulation is fundamental to maintaining uniform conditions within the wine fridge. Internal fans facilitate even distribution of air, preventing pockets of warm or humid air from forming. This ensures that every bottle, regardless of its placement in the fridge, experiences the same optimal storage conditions.

Dual-Zone Functionality:

Many wine fridges offer dual-zone functionality, allowing users to set different temperature zones within the same unit. This feature is particularly valuable for those who enjoy both red and white wines, as it accommodates the unique service needs of each type within a single appliance. Dual zone wine fridges are different to multi-zone wine fridges who use polyvalent technology to stagger the temperatures from cold to warm up through the wine fridge by turning off the fans.

How does a thermoelectric wine fridge work?

Unlike conventional compressor-based refrigeration systems, thermoelectric coolers rely on the Peltier effect, a phenomenon discovered by French physicist Jean Charles Athanase Peltier in the 19th century. The Peltier effect involves the transfer of heat between two electrical junctions, resulting in a cooling effect. This principle forms the foundation of how thermoelectric wine fridges maintain the optimal temperature for wine storage.

The Peltier Module:

At the heart of a thermoelectric wine fridge is the Peltier module, a small device composed of two different types of semiconductor materials. When an electrical current passes through the module, it causes one side to absorb heat while the other side releases it. This temperature differential is what allows the cooling effect to take place.

Heat Absorption:

The side of the Peltier module within the wine fridge's interior absorbs heat from the air inside the unit. This process lowers the temperature within the fridge, creating the cool environment necessary for wine storage.

Heat Dissipation:

Simultaneously, the other side of the Peltier module expels the absorbed heat to the external environment. A heat sink or fan is often employed to enhance this dissipation process, ensuring that the system maintains an efficient cooling cycle.

Benefits of Thermoelectric Wine Fridges

Vibration-Free Operation:

One of the standout features of thermoelectric wine fridges is their virtually silent and vibration-free operation. Unlike traditional compressors, which can generate noticeable vibrations, thermoelectric systems provide a serene environment for wine aging. This is particularly beneficial for those storing delicate or vintage wines that are sensitive to disturbances.

Energy Efficiency:

Thermoelectric coolers are known for their energy efficiency. They have fewer moving parts compared to compressor systems, resulting in lower energy consumption. This not only benefits the environment but also contributes to cost savings over time.

Compact and Lightweight:

The absence of a bulky compressor makes thermoelectric wine fridges more compact and lightweight. This makes them an excellent choice for individuals with limited space, as they can easily fit into smaller areas or even be incorporated into stylish countertop designs.

Limitations of thermoelectric wine fridges

Temperature Limits:

Thermoelectric wine fridges may struggle to achieve extremely low temperatures, making them less suitable for long-term storage of certain types of wines that require colder conditions. However, they excel in providing the moderate temperature ranges ideal for most wine collections.

Ambient Temperature Sensitivity:

The efficiency of thermoelectric cooling is influenced by the ambient temperature. In warmer environments, these units may have to work harder to maintain the desired temperature inside. It's important to consider the intended placement of the wine fridge to ensure optimal performance.

Understanding the Compressor System:

Compressor wine fridges utilize a time-tested technology commonly found in traditional refrigerators. At the core of these cooling systems lies a compressor, a vital component that facilitates the circulation of refrigerant gases to regulate the temperature within the unit.

Compressor wine fridge

How does a compressor wine fridge work?

The compressor wine fridge operates on a continuous cycle of compression and expansion. Here's how it works:


The compressor initiates the cooling process by compressing a gaseous refrigerant, typically a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), within the system. As the gas is compressed, its temperature and pressure rise significantly.


The hot, pressurized gas then passes through a condenser coil located on the back or side of the wine fridge. In this coil, the gas releases its heat to the surrounding air, causing it to condense into a high-pressure liquid.


The high-pressure liquid now moves through an expansion valve, where it undergoes a rapid expansion. This process leads to a significant drop in temperature, turning the refrigerant into a low-pressure, cold gas.


The cold gas is then circulated through an evaporator coil located inside the wine fridge's cabinet. As it absorbs heat from the interior air, the refrigerant evaporates, repeating the cycle.

Temperature Control:

Compressor wine fridges provide precise temperature control, allowing users to set and maintain a specific temperature range suitable for the wines they are storing. The compressor adjusts its operation to meet the desired temperature, ensuring a stable and consistent environment for aging and preservation.

Effective Cooling Power:

Compressor-based systems are known for their robust cooling power, making them suitable for large wine collections or commercial applications. They can quickly cool the interior to the desired temperature and recover efficiently after the door is opened, minimizing temperature fluctuations.

Benefits of Compressor Wine Fridges

Wide Temperature Range:

Compressor wine fridges offer a broad temperature range, making them versatile for storing both red and white wines. This flexibility allows enthusiasts to create distinct temperature zones within the same unit.

Long-Term Storage Capability:

These fridges are well-suited for long-term storage of wines that benefit from consistent and cooler temperatures. The compressor's ability to reach lower temperatures makes it an ideal choice for aging wines over an extended period.

Durability and Reliability:

Compressor systems are known for their durability and reliability. The technology has been refined over decades, resulting in well-engineered, dependable cooling units that can withstand the test of time.

Noise Level:

While compressor wine fridges are generally quiet, the operation of the compressor can produce a low hum. It's essential to consider the noise level, especially if the unit will be placed in a living or entertaining space.

Energy Consumption:

Compared to thermoelectric systems, compressor-based fridges may have higher energy consumption due to the continuous cycling of the compressor. However, advancements in technology have led to more energy-efficient models.

Thermoelectric Vs Compressor driven wine fridges?

Compressor wine fridges stand as a testament to the marriage of tradition and technology in the realm of wine storage. With their efficient cooling systems, precise temperature control, and versatility, these fridges cater to the needs of both casual wine enthusiasts and seasoned collectors. As we raise a glass to the art of preserving fine wines, the compressor wine fridge takes center stage, ensuring that every sip is a delightful expression of the craftsmanship within the bottle. Cheers to the chilled symphony!

Thermoelectric wine fridges represent a sophisticated and environmentally conscious approach to wine storage. With their quiet operation, energy efficiency, and compact design, these coolers appeal to a broad range of wine enthusiasts. Understanding the principles behind their operation allows consumers to make informed choices, ensuring that their prized wine collections are not just stored but nurtured in an environment that maximizes their potential flavours and aromas. 

While thermoelectric wine fridges are quieter and greener they're not yet good enough at holding temperatures steady enough or low enough with reliability to be a serious option for a wine collector. It tends to be only very cheap wine fridges that are thermoelectric and if your needs demands accurate temperatures like a wine bar or wine shop or a collector with a serious set of wine to mature then the only practical option is a compressor driven wine fridge and these are the only wine fridges we currently sell.

Whilst lots of R&D is going into the quieter and greener technology, so far, our brands like Swisscave, Liebherr, Dunavox, mQuvee and EuroCave wine fridges only operate via compressor.

Sarah newton

Author - Sarah Newton

Sarah Newton has worked in the wine industry for two decades holding senior positions at some of the UK wine industry's leading brands. The MD of Coolersomm, Sarah is WSET certified and our lead wine buyer too.