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ATTENTION COSTCO WINE SHOPPERS: WHEN IS A ROSÉ NOT A ROSÉ?

John Tilson • 6/6/12        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

Can you answer this question? Before you open a bottle and smell and taste a rosé, let’s see the number of possible answers that might cause you to think the wine is NOT a rosé:

  • The wine is not pale pink to light/medium/dark red in color.
  • The wine is not made from red grapes.
  • The wine does not state the type of grapes that are in the wine.
  • The wine does not come from an area that makes rosé.

So let’s assume you see a bottle of wine and it fits all the above criteria:

  • It is pale salmon pink in color.
  • It is made from red grapes.
  • The grapes are 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache and this is disclosed on the label.
  • It is made in the Bouches du Rhone area of France. This is an area that is well known for making rosé. This is also on the label.

Now let’s say it is a 2011 vintage and the price is $12.99. Would you think it was a rosé?  Below is a picture of the bottle:

Well, I thought this wine was a rosé. And, I was wrong. At least I think I was wrong because when I opened the bottle, smelled the wine, and tasted it, it was nothing like any rosé I have ever tasted. And, since my experience with drinking rosés is in the thousands of bottles, I would suggest that I know a few things about rosés. So what was this wine? I have no idea. But, what I know is that I did not like it. It looked like a duck, but it did not have any other resemblance to a duck. So as far as I am concerned it is not a duck.

I bought the wine at Costco. It looked like a rosé. But, it wasn’t. And not only did it not smell or taste like a rosé, it was grassy, herbal, thin and lacking fruit. I did not like it at all, rosé or not! When I examined the bottle more closely I saw that the word rosé did not appear anywhere on the label. But, a lot of rosé wines have the word “rosé” in tiny print. The fact that I did not see the word rosé at first glance meant nothing to me. It was a wine I had never heard of and it looked like a rosé so I gave it a try. Here’s what it says on the label: 2011 Domaine Des Masques, Essentielle, Syrah–Grenache, Y. Cuilleron, C. Mestdach. So go figure! Is it a rosé or not? 

 

And here is what it says on the back label:

 

So, shame on me? Or not?  I’m a big boy so I will take the hit. But, shame on Costco for buying and selling a wine to consumers that looks and, by all other appearances, is a 2011 rosé at a time that 2011 rosés are coming to market. There are lots of choices. The store where I purchased this bottle had only 2 rosés for sale. With such a limited selection, you would think that a rosé they would offer for sale would bear some resemblance to what most people would expect. Recently, I posted an article “Do wine and toilet paper have anything in common?” It was based on an interview with the head of wine buying at Costco that was done as part of a recent CNBC special “The Costco Craze: Inside the Warehouse Giant.”  (To see that article click here).  

My article generated quite a bit of comment and a lot of it negative for my defending Costco and its approach to selling wine. I did not feel that most of the comments reflected my 30 years or so of experience as a Price Club (the predecessor to Costco)/Costco shopper. But, my experience with this wine points up a real flaw in their approach to selling wine. This wine looked like a rosé in all respects except it did not say rosé. So what?  If a wine looks like a red wine (it’s red) or a white wine (it’s white) would you expect to open them up and find that they did not look, smell or taste like a red or white wine? Of course not! So why should it be any different for a rosé? And, since Costco sells a limited number of wines to mostly novice wine buyers without any information or help in determining what to buy, why would they even think about something that was so far removed from what most people would expect?

Here are a few possibilities:

  • The relatively new head of wine buying at Costco is Annette Alvarez Peters who some people think lacks the knowledge to be in charge of wine purchases for the largest wine retailer in America.
  • After the CNBC program, which resulted in the article that I responded to in the above referenced Underground article, many people criticized her approach to buying wine.
  • She famously responded in the interview that selling wine was like selling toilet paper which I used as a rhetorical question in the title of my recent article.
  • Some said she had a lack of experience and others said that Costco paid little attention to what wine they bought or how they cared for it.

So after initially dismissing the criticisms, I would now have to say that there seems to be some merit to them. After my experience with this 2011 Domaine Des Masques Essentielle Syrah–Grenache it seems pretty clear to me that someone was probably not paying much attention. After all, if a wine like this is sold in a wine shop staffed by wine professionals, they would have tasted it before buying it. They could then buy and recommend it if they liked it and thought it would appeal to their customers. And, they could explain to their customers that even though it looks like a rosé, it does not smell or taste like one.  Fair enough. I didn’t like it, but so what? Maybe other people would like it if they knew what it was? But, the point is that a wine like this that is different than what it appears to be needs to be explained to people. A mass merchant like Costco has no business subjecting unknowing customers to such a product. So again, shame on you Costco! And, shame on the wine buyers at Costco who should know better.


In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

Post a Comment

16 comments for “ATTENTION COSTCO WINE SHOPPERS: WHEN IS A ROSÉ NOT A ROSÉ?”

  1. So what is it? Is the problem that there is no word “rosé” on the label. Or is it some other kind of wine that is not red, white or rosé? Or is it that the wine is lousy. I may have missed the point here.

    Posted by Ed | June 7, 2012, 7:58 am
  2. I suspect that it is either an off bottle or bad wine. But that is a bit surprising, as Yves Cuilleron is a well-respected vigneron. The website for Domaine des Masques seems to indicate it is a rose, made in the usual methods, except that there is absolutely no maceration at all in the process.

    Posted by Keith Wollenberg | June 7, 2012, 9:01 am
  3. Hi John.

    Interesting read. I am a Rosé producer in the Provence area in France, my wine is simply called AIX. Recently bought some rosé from other producers in the area (always curiuos!) and also bought this wine. I completely agree with your tasting comments!
    Actually I bought it because Y. Cuilleron is one of the best Condrieu producers and had all confidence that he could make a Provence rosé.
    Please consider that making great rosé, with all the fruit you are looking for, needs specialized, local knowledge and the right tools

    Cheers,

    Eric

    Posted by Eric Kurver | June 7, 2012, 9:01 am
  4. What is a great rose?… I understand red wines and whites – each have a very specific taste and use depending on the region, etc… but rose?…. In France, we used to call rose, pelure d’oignons (onion peel) and that could explain why I never cared for it. Desolee Eric..

    Posted by Nadine | June 7, 2012, 10:14 am
  5. I love the discussion. Rose is such a diverse category of wine it is difficult to predict what the wine will taste like. As John pointed out a good indicator can be the region (at least for regions in Europe that are known for Rose). Different colors are easy to achieve using different styles so that is not always a good indicator. I have found California Roses totally unpredictable. The biggest reason for this is Saignee method of making Rose. Wineries juice bleed ripe red grapes while processing. IMO the grapes are too ripe for making Rose at that point – the flavors have changed, the color is dark, the sugar is too high, the natural acid is gone. The interesting flavors from wine come from the skins, either through maceration from red skins, or pressing for white grapes. Using the Saignee method one is left with a high alcohol, typically dark, Rose that needs to be acidulated and possibly watered back. Saignee is a valuable tool to make red wines more extracted but unfortunately the Rose is really just a by product of helping the red wines. Would be nice to have the production method listed on the bottle too – like Champagne ;). If it was not made from pressing red grapes then it’s not for me. Anyway, At least if people buy the wine at Costco and don’t like it they can return it and get their money back. Cheers !

    Posted by David Yates | June 7, 2012, 10:42 am
  6. I agree with you. I cannot comment on Alvarez-Peters knowledge, but in general, Costco does not know much about wines nor how to store or handle them. I have had the same wine buying experiences at multiple Costco’s across the nation. And I do not like the way they will post the comments and expert ratings on a wine, but for a completely different vintage. How misleading is that? On the other hand, you often can find good economical wines there at very good prices, and once in a blue moon, you can find higher end wines at very good prices too.

    Posted by Alan | June 7, 2012, 12:33 pm
  7. Hi Ed,
    Bu all appearances it should be a rosé. But it doesn’t smell or taste like one. And, I did not like the wine period. My point is that something that looks like rosé should be rosé. I have no idea what it is other than the grapes that are identified on the label which are red grapes. This is just a bad selection by Costco.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | June 7, 2012, 4:17 pm
  8. Hi Keith,
    I’d say it is a bad wine. I don’t know how the bottle could be “off”. It is not spoiled or oxidized it just tastes like a not very good white wine. How can that be since it says it is made from red grapes. I have no idea what Yves Cuilleron is doing here. But, for a store like Costco to have 2 rosés and for this to be one of them makes no sense. I’m sure you guys would have never bought this wine if it tasted like my bottle. I really don’t get it except that Costco should have never bought it.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | June 7, 2012, 4:22 pm
  9. Hi Eric,
    It is nice to hear from you. I just reviewed your 2011. It is delicious. We have similar tastes and that carries through to this rosé. It has nothing to do with your rosé or any other rosé I have ever tasted. I’m wondering if they knew it didn’t smell or taste like rosé and so they left the word “rosé” off the label? If that is the case that was a bad decision. Because it looks like rosé and anyone buying it would think that it is a rosé. I wonder if the wine buyers at Costco tasted the wine or bought it based on the reputation of Yves Cuilleron? I know his Condrieus and drink them often. This “rosé” is something that maybe was entrusted to the wrong people to make. I don’t know. I had never heard of it. I just bought it off the shelf at Costco to try. A bad buy on my part for sure. Caveat emptor!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | June 7, 2012, 4:33 pm
  10. Hi Nadine,
    Great rosé simply tastes like rosé – fruits, flowers, herbs, sometimes a bit of spice. The best are really tasty and refreshing and are some of the most food friendly wines in the world. Rosés do vary in character depending on the region and grapes used. You can find many rosé artciles on the Underground website and there are lots of wine descriptions. I don’t think I have ever encountered the “onion peel” you speak of. Try a few with a good chill. I think you will have a very positive surprise.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | June 7, 2012, 4:39 pm
  11. Hi David,
    I agree that California rosé is diverse and all over the map. Although I have loved and drank a lot of rosés from primarily France, along with Italy and Spain, for many, many years, I have mostly not cared for California rosé. Too much of it was a carry over from White Zinfandel that, while it does not have to be terrible (years ago Cary Gott made a great one at Montevina), most of it is. Today there are more good California rosés and I have written about several. And, speaking of how the wine is made, I could not agree with you more. I am a strong advocate of disclosure on wine labels about how the wine is made, what grapes are in the wine and where they come from, what other ingredients are added to the wine,etc. Rosé does not have to be red to be rosé. Look at the color of the great rosés from Provence. Made from red grapes with very light colors. Why? Because they are making the wine as a rosé. It is not a by product of anything it is a rosé and there are certain standards. That is why this rosé that I purchased at Costco is such a shock. It looked like a rosé yet did not smell or taste like one. But, the real point is why did Costco buy it? For them to carry a product they have very high standards. In the case of this wine, those standards slipped. And, yes I could have taken the wine back and gotten a refund. Costco stands behind everything they sell. But, I am using it as an example of how to make good wine from bad wine by using the Blending Game! My next Blending Game article will be out soon and along with lots of wines that I blended will also discuss what I did with this rosé!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | June 7, 2012, 5:02 pm
  12. Hi Alan,
    Thanks for your comments. I do not know anything about the people who buy wine at Costco other that what I have read in conjunction with the articles I have written featuring wine from Costco. I have probably bought wine at 3 or 4 dozen Costco stores over the last 5 to 10 years. The Costco store nearest to where we live has the worst wine selection of the wines I like to buy of any of the Costco stores I have visited. I buy more wine from other Costco stores out of the area than I do from the store nearest where we live. I also do not like the way they post wine comments. In fact, I don’t like numbers at all, but I won’t go into that here. However, I do have several suggestions for them (not that they have asked). These ideas would include positioning the wines by price and type with general descriptions on the wines written by members of their wine purchasing staff. Trader Joe’s does some of this and I think they should do a lot more. The better retailers also offer comments on wines by members of their staff. This really aligns the store with the wines they sell and helps build customer loyalty. And, yes, I often find really good wines at Costco at great prices. Recently I have purchased and posted notes on a Torrontes and California Sauvignon Blanc purchased at Costco as well as couple of Califoria Chardonnays. Most recently, the 2011 Chateau d’Aquéria Tavel Rosé I reviewed came from Costco. Other wines reviewed in the Underground over the last couple of years have included New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Oregon Pinot Gris, Oregon and New Zealand Pinot Noir, Malbec from Argentina, and many others. As for the real high end wines, I almost never see any in the Costco stores that I shop most often. At least, none I want to buy. I believe that most of their really great high end wines are sold at selected stores to customers who are there when the wines arrive. The best wines do not sit on the shelf because the prices are usually compelling. Thanks again for your comments.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | June 7, 2012, 5:42 pm
  13. What is the matter with me? Someone brought us this bottle of wine and while I am not a “Rose” drinker, and by the way it is not labeled as a Rose, I was delighted with the taste and looking for more. For me, it is an afternoon wine. It isn’t quite as fruity and who cares? If you like it, drink it, if you don’t; don’t buy another bottle. PS, Costco carries enough good bottles of wine to disregard some poor choices which probably have to be bought to meet a vendor’s requirements.

    Posted by Virginia Miller | June 21, 2012, 12:28 pm
  14. Hi Virgina,
    Thanks for your comments. Nothing is the matter with you as far as I can tell. The point of my article was that the wine was misleading. It looked like a rosé, but did not taste like one. It did not look like a white wine or red wine. And wasn’t labeled as either of these. So that leaves rosé. But if you liked it, no harm no foul. Remember the Underground motto is drink what you like and like what you drink! But, the wine buyers at Costco should have know better. That was my other point. With regard to you comments about vendors, I have been closely associated with Costco since the Price Club days. I am sure they do not buy anything to meet “vendor requirements”. In fact, it is just the opposite.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | June 24, 2012, 12:02 pm
  15. Totally & completely disagree. My favorite wine is Rose- from a Bondol to Heitz in Napa. My bottle had a lovely floral bouquet and was quite delicious. I couldn’t remember where I bought it, thank you! BTW wine reviews range from 3-4 stars for this 2011. Domaine des Masques is a reputable winery known also for its Chardonnay. Maybe you got a bad ‘bottle’.

    Posted by LK | March 7, 2013, 11:08 pm
  16. Thanks Mugsy,
    Wine is a matter of personal taste. Remember the Underground motto: Drink What You Like & Like What You Drink! But the real point of my article was that Costco had only 2 rosés in the store and that this one did not even have the word “Rosé” on the bottle and did not look like a rosé. Costco with a limited selection of wines, many of which are purchased by novice wine drinkers, should have a more varied and representative selection of rosés. And, this was a controversial wine as you can tell by reading the other comments. By the way, I purchased 2 bottles. Both the same. I too love rosé and have written many articles on rosé. I rarely find a rosé that does not provide enjoyment. For me, this was one. Not really bad, but just not what I want in a rosé. That in itself is not worth writing about. Wines I don’t like I don’t write about. My point was to say to the biggest retailer of wine in the country that you can do better!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | March 8, 2013, 9:35 am

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