Cathy Gowdie

Wine fridge.
Worth the money? Depends how precious your wine collection is. Photo: Wayne Taylor

I've been to a couple of houses where a wine fridge is a bit of a feature. Are they worth the money?

What do you want your wine fridge to do? Keep white wines at an appropriate serving temperature? Store cellaring wines for the long term? Or is its primary purpose to impress on visitors that you are Very Serious About Wine?

If it's about keeping your whites at a nice, not-too-cold temperature, there need not be much money involved: you should be able to pick up a serviceable bar-sized wine fridge for the price of a case of vino. Why bother? Most domestic refrigerators are set to about four degrees. This is good for toning down too-sugary or too-oaky flavours and it's not a problem for wines such as champagne. However, it's a bit cold for complex dry whites - quality chardonnay, for example, is best served closer to 12 degrees or warmer.

If you're looking for a fridge to cellar wines for the long term, the price tag can run into thousands. A proper wine ''cabinet'', as well as holding temperatures suitable for cellaring wine, should maintain constant humidity. It should also vibrate less than a normal fridge does: there's a school of thought that says if you plan to store a treasured wine in something that jiggles all the time, you could arrive at the same result by sticking it in an airconditioned car and driving back and forth from Adelaide for a few years. Proponents of thermo-electric cooled cabinets argue that these don't vibrate like a conventional compressor.

The ''worth the money'' question will depend on how precious your wine collection is, how big it is, and where you live. It's only worth spending big to store wine that was pricey to start with and can be expected to age well. If you live in a part of Australia that's always hot, or if you keep your collection in a part of the house where it's exposed to fluctuations of heating and airconditioning, a high-end wine cabinet may be worthwhile.

As for the shock-and-awe factor? A bar fridge with an adjustable thermostat and glass door may not be enough to wow aficionados. You're probably going to want one of those tall, handsome, Germanic-looking numbers with wooden shelving. As with the walnut veneer on a Mercedes-Benz dashboard, it will look luxe and should run as smoothly - but it will come at a price.