Once a person reaches a certain level of wine enthusiasm, a way of storing wine in a cool, stable environment becomes a necessity.
In today’s world, very few people store wine to age it. Nevertheless, most wine aficionados want some way to protect wine from heat (at least in the short-term) and to keep it at a more appealing serving temperature. This does not have to be some dusty, brick-walled cellar with one incandescent bulb with a pull-chain.
While there are numerous wine storage facilities in every town, it’s nice to have some good wine on hand. The best solution available to space-limited wine wonks is a thermoelectric wine cooler. These appliances come in various sizes and capacities, but there are basic criteria they should meet.
First and foremost, a cooler should be able to cool wine effectively, efficiently and be able to maintain a stable temperature. The appliance should be easy to use. This includes good lighting, smoothly moving parts, doors that close and open and seal properly. It should accommodate a range of bottle shapes, sizes and formats. Value is an important thing to consider as well.
I am generally a “function before form” guy. After all, what good is a pretty appliance when it does not function the way it should or does so in a manner that comes at some other price? So, in my ranking of priorities, the wine cooler should not run too hot or too loud. Lastly, it should have some visual aesthetic.
There are numerous producers of wine cellars and wine coolers with a wide array of models today. The most recent entrant into this market is Air & Water, Inc., A Santa Ana, CA- based company specializing in small home appliances. They also import and distribute a spectrum of Chinese-made wine coolers under the NewAir brand.
I was contacted by Stephanie Schoch, Marketing Associate for Air & Water, Inc. who offered to send me the NewAir AW-321ED 32 Bottle Dual Zone Thermoelectric Wine Cooler (with Stainless Steel Cabinet) for review. The appliance would be mine to keep or give away.
Priced at $399.95 ($345, directly from the company’s website), the 32-bottle, dual compartment NewAir AW-321E Wine Cooler comes with standard chrome-plated wire shelves, or optional wood shelves. I requested that Stephanie send both types of shelves for a thorough review.
The dual cooling units give each compartment a temperature range of 46° to 66°F, adjustable in 1°F increments. The appliance weighs 69 pounds and has a 20” by 20” footprint.
I compared this NewAir AW-321E unit to my 52-bottle Vinotemp cooler. A video demonstrating some features can be found below.
The cooling performance of the appliance is very good. Actually, it’s better than my Vinotemp. This is probably largely due to dual fans per compartment and smaller size of the compartments relative to my single-compartment Vinotemp. I have no way of assessing the internal insulation of the unit.
I used three identical digital thermometers with which I monitor my cellar temperature. I placed one in the Vinotemp and one in each of the compartments of the NewAir AW-321E and observed them for 72 hours. The temperature indicated by NewAir AW-321E readout was closer to that registered by the thermometers. It also fluctuated less and responded more nimbly to changes in thermostat settings than it did in the Vinotemp.
Ease of Use, Controls and Operation
Use of the NewAir AW-321E cooler is very simple. It’s “plug & play”, so to speak.
The controls are very easy to understand and use. There is a large, blue, temperature indicator and three buttons for each compartment: two for adjusting temperature up or down and an on/off button for the light. Operation is very quiet and the unit does not appear to generate any significant external heat.
As good as it is at cooling and maintaining temperature, the NewAir AW-321E has some shortcomings:
Foremost among them is shelf spacing. This is not adjustable. I tested both wood and wire shelves for their ability to accommodate Bordeaux and Rhône/Burgundy- shaped bottles of standard, medium and large size (see video below). The wire shelves are a bit more spacious, but both types of shelves had trouble fitting the large, thick glass bottles so common today. The larger bottles would push on the selves above, sometimes becoming wedged and damaging labels.
A minor issue is the way the shelves, particularly the chrome-plated wire ones, slide in and out on the guide rails. There is some play wobbliness to them and that can cause a shelf to jam a bit when weighed down by bottles.
Finally, while the blue lighting adds to the sleek styling of the NewAir AW-321E, it does not have an actuator to turn it on when the door opens. More importantly, the light does not reach past the top three shelves, making identification of bottles on lower shelves difficult (see video, below).
The Bottom Line:
The NewAir AW-321E is an attractively-priced dual compartment thermoelectric wine cellar which allows for separate storage and cooling of whites and reds. It is lightweight, quiet and compact.
Greatest strength: Cooling ability.
The NewAir AW-321E provides reliable, stable and responsive temperature control for short-term and long-term storage of wines.
Greatest weakness: Space
The NewAir AW-321E does not accommodate larger bottles very well. It holds standard-sized Bordeaux-shaped bottles best. Large format Rhône and Burgundy-shaped bottles are going to be most problematic. Magnums, Champagne and atypical bottles are also likely to pose a problem. In order to store one larger bottle comfortably the user/owner must pull out one shelf, sacrificing space for two bottles.
||Shelf spacing inadequate
Blue light is insufficient
Recommendations to producer:
1. Reduce compartment capacity to 14 bottles per compartment to allow for larger format bottles or introduce more shelf rails which would allow the user to accommodate various bottle diameters.
2. Change the lighting. Either change the color and/or intensity or add a second fixture to illuminate lower shelves.
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