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Monday, January 10, 2011

About San Diego: Costco Wines Uncorked

I wrote this article on Costco a couple of years ago and I thought it was high time to dust it off and give it a shiny new coat of paint. This is the second update on this familiar wine-buying icon, an oasis if you will of tremendous wine buying savings in a [purple] sea of overpriced wine stores.

It's my hope is that these kind updates will become familiar advice to the many vino-sapiens and aspiring wine-geeks alike about the best brick and mortars in our wonderful city to purchase wine. I've long been intending to update this article, because so much has changed since 2009 and I've learned a few new things about the bountiful bargains to be found at your local Costco wine section. Each store depending on its locations has a little bit of a twist to it selection of wines available.

To folks who may have never experienced shopping at Costco for vino, [hard to believe] finding a cache of some great wine-buys amidst sets of tires, tubs of butter, multi-packs of toilet paper and piles of discount clothing can be odd surprise. To some it may seem just a bit out of place, however folks get over that pretty quickly once they see some of the Costco prices on a few of their favorites. 

If you want my recommendation; I would be on the look out for what I call "special-buys". Those are wines that only a few of their warehouse stores will carry and is not really advertised or promoted. I've found the best way to know about these "specials" is to get to know the various [very friendly] merchandisers who work in these departments and then you'll be the insider.

In my opinion, Costco really has come along way in creating a wine-tastic inventory that will have you coming back for more over and over again [less about depth, more about cherry picking]. If you happen to be new to wine shopping or just wine in general, what you can expect to find is that many Costco stores do have some of the best deals around and most likely the Costco near you does as well. I know some of you are saying, "what you're a Costco wine shopper?" Yes, in this economy you need save every dollar you can, Costco has become the intersection of where great wines meets reasonable prices

Example One: Here's the first example of one of my finds. I found this gem at Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 which comes unfiltered! [I would recommend decanting]. On the plate you will find a dusting mocha, red and dark fruits, coiled around vanilla notes that entice you to discover again and again the lingering, seductive silky finish, no doubt honed by the 27 months in the barrel. 

I purchased this little number from Costco the other day for $29.99  $36.99 [up a full $17.00 from 2009 prices, ouch!]. Ah the cost of expanding an wine-empire, but for the caliber of wine in the bottle it's still a good value, not the QPR Champ it used to be. If you take a look around the web, you will see I saved $10 -$12 per bottle. This wine is very versatile and in my opinion very food friendly [thanks to the blending with Merlot], which makes pairing a snap.

Example Two: If you love a good Malbec you are undoubtedly aware of the huge value coming out Argentina, here is another example of a Malbec brought to via Costco Wine. The ability to offer a wine with so much finesse for so few dollars. The Bodega Norton Malbec Reserve 2007 this wine demonstrates everything that is wonderful about the Argentinian Malbec. 

Swirling, Sniffy and Slurp: In the glass a dark, opaque violet color and the old sniffer is hit with a wave of ripe berry fruit and wild flower aromas and a touch of cinnamon spice and odd citrus peel. Slurping down a big gulp, I'm immediately treated to a rich offering of ripe mouth coating sensations, with nice weight and concentration, wrapped around a soft, supple texture. An explosion of flavors dance across my palate throwing cassis and black currant along with hints of chocolate, vanilla and black pepper culminating into a somewhat narrow finish, still full of finely grained tannins, pleasing minerality and lively acidity.

What's the Score: Well it looks like the WS review mirrored my own closely, I guessed they would give it a 91, but no instead 90 points. However, they did place this wine on their Top 100 wines of Year in 2010. A high honor indeed and really confirming my thoughts. The QPR is through the roof! Folks seriously I picked this up at Costco for a mere $12.89 each [the same price as two years ago]. Again huge savings compared to their other competitors selling this wine for $15.99. But you will want to hurry up and grab a few while you still can, as this wine is selling out quickly in many of their locations.

Here is the skinny on my favorite Costco's to purchase wine from in the San Diego market:

1. The Morena Costco: In my opinion this location has the very best variety of wines to choose from, some of best hot-to-trot labels out there. Rows of wine in the boxes for many of the better labels [the high-end juice] Their lead wine-merchandiser really knows his way around a wine bottle, so don't be afraid to ask questions. Great selections of high-end and high scoring Cabernet Sauvignon and a great list of ever changing imports sure to please even prince and pauper alike.

2. The Carlsbad Costco: This store may not like being snubbed for the number two spot, sorry about that but those "be the facts" in my opinion. That said, this store has a great deal of wine-tastic labels to choose from, the selection is much better than some of other locations. Their lead merchandiser in wine section really knows his stuff and will be a good source of information in helping you to make a purchasing decision.

3. The Carmel Mountain Costco: This store is has been dubbed as New World "Pinot Heaven" my many patrons I've spoken with. So if you are a huge fan of this very popular grape and love its New World style, then this would be your Costco of choice. They also many other great labels, but this store seems to be PN centric.


4. The Mission Valley Costco: This store also has a wide selection of many old world selections, a nice variety of top labels and is well organized. I found there to be a lack of mid-priced to higher end Bordeaux, but a nice selection of  Rhone varieties. Their lead wine merchandiser at this location also really knows his inventory and is very helpful in answering questions about the wines they have on hand.

What they Finally Have: Okay folks, not sure how this became the most asked for wine at Costco and, I'm no fan of something which only poses as real wine. That said, they definitely NOW stock this wine in both the red fizzy and the white fizzy versions. Time to rejoice sweet wines fans, it looks like Costco buyers have finally heard your cries or perhaps they've taken a look at this post and got with the program. Stella Rosa is a fresh, low-alcohol 5.5%, semi sparkling, sweet, red wine best served chilled. 

A Piemontese wine made predominantly from partially fermented grape must [Brachetto] in the tiny town of Santo Stefano. If you are looking for something very similar, you could get a Lambrusco from just about any grocery outlet. You could also try this little known beer called a Lambic which is fizzy and has mild fruit flavors and low alcohol, you'll swear it's wine.

What are the benefits/pitfalls of buying vino at Costco:

Imports: One of my favorite aspects about the Costco wine scene is that imports play a large role in the Costco wine department. Because of the importance placed on offering a balance of domestic and imported wines. There are tremendous values, along with traditional well known appellations which are very appealing. I would love to see them expand their bubbly portfolio beyond the typical house-hold big-name labels.

Online: Costco use to feature a number of good wine-buying deals online as well but it appears they no longer offer wine online. However, they do have many wine storage systems, which are rarely available in their stores.

Cherry Picking: Their buyers love to cherry-pick some of the very best bottles of wine on the market today, because of their market presence you can often get a smoking-deal on some very best wines, far below what most wineries would like to let-on.


Drawbacks: Some of the drawbacks that I've observed about getting your wine-on at Costco can be the summer-heat. Some which can and does affect some of their warehouses more than others, but if you’re okay with buying premium bottles of wine, with wide temperature swings, [because we all know that doesn't matter] then by all-means, go for it. 

Another issue I've noticed is the obvious hassle happens in the parking lot, looking for a space, especially problematic on the weekends. Shopping in their stores during the busy weekend can be a bit daunting for those who may want to take their time to browse before rushing into a wine-buying decision. 

Finally, the worst thing for me is to get a corked bottle or a wine I just don't like, to find out I'm no longer able to return it.

That's it: That may be your first thought as you enter a few of their stores, my advice is not to expect Costco to have any real depth of selection. They tend to carry many of the basics, but selection varies store to store based on the demographics of the area in which you live. 

Most of their locations tend to stick the staples of the wine aisle [there are exceptions]. If a vast diversity is what you're looking for on Costco's vino landscape, you may want to look else where. Just to keep this in mind, each store has its own variety of vino, meaning you may find a particular wine in one location and none of that same wine in the other store, a definite point of frustration.

Going, going Gone: Due to volume of traffic, your new favorite wine could be here today, gone tomorrow. Just remember Costco's has an unwritten rule, "he who hesitates goes home empty handed." So if you see a wine which you know or suspect is a screaming deal, then buy all you can afford or go without.

Conclusions: Costco has some very good juice at great prices, which often will beat the market price average. Find the Costco that closely mirrors your taste in wine and build a relationship with that stores wine manager. Shop during off peak times and stock up during  the cooler months to avoid having your wine spoiled by the high heat. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers.
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6 comments:

mike said...

we tasted a costco wine on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGlztEWr8Sk

Mafia-Chris said...

A $30 Columbia Crest Cab? What has the world come to? Are wineries like that exploding their prices (as you said, up $10 in 2 years) just to make the wine seem to taste better?

Bill Eyer said...

Hey Mafiosa Chris,

This not just any Columbia Crest Cab, it's the painted on label "reserve" [I know it's a meaning less term] cab and is pretty tasty juice, just not the QPR leader it use to be.

That said I was suprised how much the price changed in two years, but there are number of factors that could effect the price increase.

But the take away is this; look to South American wines to continue being the QPR champs! Sip well and prosper!

Matthew said...

Oh heck ya! I love Costco for wine. They have many of my favorites from my time as Beverage Controller at the Marriott. Up here my best 2 options are Costco (especially for price) and Whole Foods (for international wines). Costco is my home away from home. But I have noticed that their wine storage area is WAY smaller than a lot of other Costco's. It's a bumber how much the selection varies from store to store, but they still beat the competition hands down on price :)

Thanks for the article refresh Bill!

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Kristy Kelley said...

We have been very pleased with the wine selection at Costco. We purchased a membership a few months ago and it's our go-to wine store for the present time. I can't remember the name but there is a Chilean wine there that I love!

-- Kristy @ Wine Logic

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