In my younger years, I never took the time to read many books or magazines, which I have learned in my older years was a big mistake. Now I take time every day to read a book or magazine. As you can imagine, I read a lot about wine. One of my go-to publications (out of many) is Wine Enthusiast magazine. I don’t remember when I first subscribed to the magazine but it was a number of years ago. The magazine was founded in 1988. It is published 14 times a year and has a readership of 800,000 consumers around the world.
Annually, through their “Wine Star Awards” program, the magazine’s editors honor individuals and organizations whose vision has a major impact on the wine and spirits industry. They have a whole list of categories, such as Life Time Achievement, Person of the Year, American Winery of the Year, Winemaker of the Year and Retailer of the Year, to name just a few of the categories.
In the past issue, they listed the winners and included a nice write up on each. The one that caught my interest was Costco (the big box store) who won Retailer of the Year. Here are some Costco statistics, gleaned from the article:
- Costco has 480 stores in the U.S.
- 401 of their stores sell wine
- There are another 206 stores in nine other countries, totaling 686 stores that sell wine
- Approximately 250 items are offered at any given time
- Costco has its own house brand of wine, spirits and beer: Kirkland Signature
- Their most popular house blends are the Kirkland Signature Prosecco Asolo, DOGG that sells for $7.00 per bottle, and the Kirkland Signature Cabernet Sauvignon at $8.00 per magnum.
We have a new Costco store in the area (in Mishawaka, Ind.), which I have visited with Mrs. Tiedemann several times. After reading the article on Costco’s award, I decided to borrow Mrs. Tiedemann’s membership card and head on over to the store and check out the wine department.
Wine, spirits and beer are all located together near the food section of the store. A couple of things came to mind as I walked around the wine area, looking at the various wines available. There was an ample selection of wines available to choose from, both reds and whites. Prices ran the gamut, from a bottle of Beringer Founders’ Estate Cabernet at $5.99 to a bottle of Joseph Phelps Insignia Red Wine for $169.99. The more expensive bottles, such as the Insignia, were displayed in a locked glass case. There were a lot of brand name wines available, such as Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot, Far Niente and Rodney Strong, to name but a few. There was Moet and Chandon Champagne and even a kosher wine, Bartenura Ovadia, for $10.00 per bottle.
The lesser-priced wines are displayed by the case and the higher-end ones are displayed in wooden bins. Every wine has pricing and tasting notes displayed on a white card near the wine.
I suspected the reason people came to Costco to buy wine was due to the low prices. To test my theory, I asked several shoppers. One fellow visiting the store was from Fort Wayne, Ind., and had already stocked his cart with more than a case of various wines and was filling out a slip to purchase a case of 2011 Joseph Phelps Insignia red wine at $169.99 per bottle. He concluded (and I agreed) it was a very good price. In fact, my research on wine-searcher.com indicated the average price of that wine in the U.S. was $210.00 per bottle. The Joseph Phelps website lists the release price at $247.00 per bottle and their preferred club members can purchase it at $192.00.
When I asked the fellow why he came to Costco to buy wine, he replied, “Price and trust. They have low prices and I can trust them that their pricing is fair and accurate.”
Another fellow shopper was buying a case of a specific red wine. When I asked why he shopped at Costco, he replied, “They have really good prices. I can buy this wine here at Costco’s for $7.50 and it is $8.50 at my local Kroger Supermarket.”
What’s the Downside to Costco?
I stood around the wine area for about 20 minutes until a Costco worker came to restock some wines and help the fellow from Fort Wayne locate the Insignia red wine.
Patrick was the Costco fellow’s name and he told me he was in merchandising and had “sort of taken over the wine area.” Patrick told me that there were 180 to 185 different wines available at any given time. He said Costco’s success came because they provide great quality at a fraction of the price of other wine outlets. He went on to say that their Kirkland Signature series was their best offering. It was great quality for a great price.
I asked what his most popular wines were and he said they sold more Cabernet Sauvignon than anything else. The most popular were the Joel Gott 815 Cabernet and the Rodney Strong Cabernet. Another top seller is the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.
I don’t think you should rely on a Costco worker to advise you on any of their wines. Nice people that they are, they aren’t the wine buyers and more than likely haven’t tasted any or very many of the wines. That’s one of the reasons you pay more at your local wine shop or liquor store, where you can depend on getting good and reliable wine advice. At Costco, you will pretty much have to fend for yourself in the wine department.
Based on Patrick’s comments about the Kirkland Signature series wine, I decided to purchase some and try them for myself. In addition, I randomly selected several other wines to sample. I purchased a total of six wines and the total bill was $56.00.
What follows is a little information on each wine and my review of the Kirkland Signature wines I purchased.
2014 Kirkland Signature Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine was packaged in a 1.5 L bottle and sold for $7.99 per magnum. The color of the wine was a light purple. The nose was tight with only a hint of black fruit. On the palate, the wine was mild with a hint of fruit and spice. The finish was light and balanced, but a little short for a Cabernet. Overall, the wine was good and I would say a step or two above a banquet Cabernet. Good value for the price.
2014 Kirkland Signature: Russian River Chardonnay
This wine was sold in 750 mL bottles at a price of $12.99 per bottle. The wine was a light straw color. The nose wasn’t very aromatic but had a smell of freshness. On the palate, the wine offered hints of green apple with a buttery taste, which led into a soft finish.
2014 Kirkland Signature: Sonoma County Chardonnay
The wine is sold in 750 mL bottles at a retail price of $6.99 per bottle. The wine was light straw in color. The nose was subtle but produced aromas of light fruit and oak. On the palate, the wine offered green fruit and the finish produced a little acidity and was of a reasonable length. All three of the Costco brand wines were tasty and were what I tend to call every day wines. The prices are certainly reasonable and they offer good value for the price.
I was curious to learn what other retailers thought of Costco, so I phoned my good friend Stan Minden at the Belmont/Chalet stores. Stan works at the Chalet Party Shoppe on County Road 17 here in Elkhart.
Stan confirmed what I was thinking: that pricing was 15 to 20% below other retail outlets and it was a good place to shop if you have plenty of wine knowledge. He also made the following observations:
- Costco does buy in very large volumes so they naturally would get big discounts, which speaks to their low pricing.
- Their wine purchases are not consistent. Unlike other retailers, once they sell out of a brand, they may not have it again, which means you have to shop often and watch for those special brands you may want.
- Costco doesn’t have knowledgeable wine folks working the wine area to assist you. You have to rely on your own knowledge or the tasting notes accompanying the wine displays posted with each available wine.
- Most other retailers offer some form of volume discount. In the case of Chalet Party Shoppe for instance, you will receive a 15% off any case purchase. This discount will (in most cases) get you very close to the Costco pricing.
One other note: Our local Costco store carries about 180 to 185 different wines. Stan Minden has 1,300 to 1,500 different wines on hand at any given time at Chalet.
In conclusion, I believe Costco offers great pricing for the most part. As long as you know what wines you are looking for or are willing to buy a wine and take a chance, Costco and other big box retailers are a fun and great place to shop.
If you want or require wine knowledge and personal attention, then folks like Stan Minden at your local wine shops are the people to see. These types of local stores offer a much larger selection of wines for your drinking pleasure. They also periodically offer in-store tastings, another great benefit not available at your local Costco store.
As always, I appreciate your support of our wine blog and encourage you to share it with family and friends. If you care to share your comments on this blog posting or other topics, please do so in the comments section below.
Until next week,
Please join us for these Upcoming Tiedemann On Wines Wine Club dinners:
TONIGHT: August 25, Uptown Kitchen’s 9th Anniversary Wine Dinner, Uptown Kitchen in Granger, 6:30 p.m. Click here for full information on this amazing event.
October 13, Old World Versus New World Wines, Dinner at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk in Elkhart, 6:30 p.m.
November 10, Spanish Wine Dinner at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk in Elkhart, 6:30 p.m.