Before I started writing this post I looked at my archive stats. Pretty pitiful. One post earlier this year. One in 2011. One in 2010. A few in 2009. A flurry in 2008 and 2007. I'm like in Sunset Boulevard, a blogger who has seen better days, haha.
Well today I just felt like writing, so make it at least two (2) posts for 2012!
I am still drinking wine, a little more than one per week. I store all of them at home in a couple of thermoelectric wine coolers. The problem is, those don't do all that well in hot climates like Southern California unless you have the air conditioning on all the time in the summer, which we don't. That mode of cooling can only bring the box temperature down about 20 or so degrees below the ambient temperature.
I was thinking of getting a unit with a condenser - maybe something like the GE wine coolers since they have good reviews. On Thursday morning I brought in the newspaper, opened it up and saw a Home Depot ad. I wondered if maybe there was a wine cooler on sale, and lo and behold there was! Not what I was looking for (the GE model) but some brand I never heard of: Vissani. It was on sale for $149, regularly $199. 52-bottle storage. Model MVWC52B.
How good could something like that be?
I thought it was just another one of those thermoelectric coolers. I took a look at the product page on Home Depot's site and read the 83 reviews. Hmm... this thing actually ran using a condenser. That's a plus (assuming it worked properly). The overall rating was 3.6/5.0, not too shabby for something that cheap. As I read the reviews it was obvious that some people simply did not know what they were doing, or they were expecting too much, so I tossed those aside. One person complained that the light was too bright and heated up the air inside (duh, there is an on/off switch for the light) and another complained it was too dim.
The legit complaints about this cooler appeared to be that it made a very loud popping noise when the condenser shut down (someone said it sounded like baseballs hitting their house). A few said their units didn't last too long before giving out. And the other complaint was that they could not figure out how to stuff 52 bottles into this unit.
After separating the wheat from the chaff, I decided to take a short drive to my local Home Depot and see it for myself. The web site said there was one in stock. I saw three in boxes plus a display unit. So much for their inventory tracking ability. For $149 the unit seemed to be telling me to take a chance. It had a nice heavy door with smoked glass, and a metal case. After reading the reviews for the more expensive $399 unit, it seemed like it would be better to spend less and get something that appeared to have better overall reviews.
I am too lazy to take a picture of it, but here's one I stole from Home Depot's page:
After getting it home I unboxed it and let it stand upright for a day to let the coolant settle. I suspect that is one reason why some folks had problems with their compressor, including the loud popping noise, because they had the unit on its side when bringing it home and then they plugged it in right away before letting the coolant settle. The instructions also said when first operating it to turn the dial to "7" (maximum cooling) for a few hours to chill the air quickly but NOT to ever leave it that way for more than 8 hours and I bet dollars to donuts a lot of the whiners and complainers just set it to 7 and left it there.
The unit chilled a lot faster than I thought, getting into the 30's. After playing with the dial, I got it set so that the temperature in the middle was about 56 degrees. I put my wines on the shelves and had a couple of thermometers with min/max memories with their probes inside the cabinet to monitor the temperature.
Storage: The complaints about the unit not being able to hold 52 bottles are correct. Unless you have really skinny bottles or are talking about 375 ml or 187.5 ml bottles, no way can you get that many in there. There are three racks that have room for 7 bottles each. There is another rack at the bottom that has two rows that each hold 3 bottles. So without stacking anything, and without having odd sized-bottles (for example you can't have 3 Champagne or oversized Pinot Noir bottles at the bottom), the box can hold 27 bottles. If you stack bottles, you can lay 6 on top of the 7 on each of the three top racks. So that increases the capacity to 13 x 3 = 39, plus the 6 on the bottom two small racks for a total of 45 bottles. Not bad. Whaddaya expect for $149?
Build Quality: Again, what do you expect for $149? I am pleased, though. At least it is a metal cabinet and the door is solid. The shelves are decent. I was expecting something more flimsy with a lot of plastic but this isn't bad at all. The cabinet itself is nothing to show off to people. It is painted black and mine had a couple of minor scrapes. The worst part is the paint finish looks uneven, making the cabinet itself look uneven. So like I said, this is not fine furniture.
There is no temperature indicator. The temp control is analog, not digital but I actually prefer it that way. I think analog dials last longer. The light switch is inside the unit, which I found rather odd; you have to reach in to turn the light on and off, rather than having a switch on the outside. That's fine with me because I never intend to use the light anyway.
Temperature: I currently have it set on "4." The temperature in the middle of the unit varies from 56 down to 53 degrees depending on if the compressor is operating. The temperature on the top rack is about the same, surprisingly. The most variation comes from the very bottom, ranging from 54 down to 46 or 47 degrees, again depending on if the compressor is on or off. So my advice would be to put the wines you want to age the longest in the middle of the unit, not on the bottom.
There were several complaints about the fridge being noisy. It is no more noisy than a regular refrigerator; perhaps it is a bit quieter. So far the compressor does not run that long. It is off a lot more than it is on, and this is with ambient temps in the high 70's to low 80's. I haven't heard any loud popping noise, either. When the compressor shuts off, there is a metallic sound like a valve closing but certainly nothing loud. I hope it stays that way.
I've only had this running a little more than a day but so far I am happy. I hope it continues to perform like this because if so, I'd say this is one very good value for the money. Vassani is made by Magic Chef, the company that traditionally has made wine coolers for Home Depot over the years. After reading lots of horror stories people have written about their experience with Vinotemp, I think I'd rather have this Vissani. $149 for a compressor-driven wine cooler is a bargain price.
Okay, that's my post #2 for this year. I may even write some more soon and let you know what I've been drinking!