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wine at costco [1]


Over the past 40 years or so I have consumed more different wines than I can possibly remember.  I have consumed, tasted, and written about tens of thousands of different wines. And, the number may well be even higher. I have never counted! The wines cover every thing from A to Z (think Albariño to Zinfandel) and vary in cost from thousands and tens of thousands of dollars per bottle to a few dollars a bottle (think Romanée Conti to Two Buck Chuck). And, I have found phenomenal wines, great wines, really good wines, good wines, not so good wines, bad wines, fake wines, and really disgusting wines. But, across this range of wines and experiences, what I have also found is that I like a lot of different wines for different reasons. I like certain wines with certain foods and I like other wines based the occasion, what I am doing, and even the weather. This means, in my mind, that I am an equal opportunity wine drinker.

I never stop trying new wines and don’t ever intend to even though I am fortunate enough to have accumulated a large wine cellar with more wines than I could drink in a life time or two. All this, has allowed me to develop my palate and establish criteria for wines that I really like to drink. These include: balance, flavor, complexity and purity. What I don’t like are wines that are heavy, overly alcoholic, overly manipulated, and polar opposites to what I like in wine. That said, the best wines I have ever experienced are wines with bottle age from a few years to tens of years for great white wines such as White Burgundy and Champagne and decades of bottle age for the great red wines such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, and California Cabernet Sauvignon. But there are times when I really like a young red, white, or rosé wine (think Beaujolais, Sancerre, Albariño, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, to name a few and a wide variety of rosés, particularly those from France).

Earlier this year I was in Hawaii and visited a Costco store (as I always do when I am traveling in areas where there are Costco stores). The growth of Costco has been amazing and I was there from the very beginning when the first Price Club store opened in San Diego in the late 1970s (Price Club was to become Price Costco in 1993 and then Costco in 1997). In my mind, Costco has become the greatest retailer in the world. The price/value of what they offer is amazing. And their buyers generally select only the best products at the best prices to offer in there stores. There is very little information on the products as you go through the stores and you need to be adventuresome to find new things. The variety of products offered is vast ranging from appliances to wine. Many of the wines they sell offer good value (to read an article relating to this click here [2]). And, their prices on all wines, like all the other products they sell, are generally less that can be found for the same wine at most places.

Today Costco is the largest retailer of wines in America. However, they are selling wines in a completely different way than they sell other products. They use big numbers and there are no numbers for anything else in the store except wine.  In the Hawaii store they have even set up a chart explaining the big numbers scoring system and identifying the number by one of three different publication sources that they use. And there is nothing much said about individual wines, mostly just a number. It is very strange and seems totally contrary to the way Costco has sold other products for decades. I, for one, find the number worthless. They might as well start putting the numbers on toilet paper as well as wine. After all, that was the analogy the head Costco wine buyer made a few years ago that was referenced in my article Do Wine And Toilet Paper Have Anything In Common [3] Back then wine was just another product. Now Costco seems to have concluded that, unlike anything else in the store, wine needs a number.

But I suppose Americans are more insecure about wine than they are toilet paper. Many American consumers still think a number for wine can express what they should like. Interesting since this is the only product that is sold this way. In fact, in other areas of the world where wine making and wine drinking have been part of the culture for hundreds of years, this numbers nonsense is not very important. But, in emerging areas (think China) they are also being seduced and sucked into the bogus idea of determining the quality of a wine by points. So while the trend seems to have peaked in America, China is climbing into the driver’s seat.  I say more power to them. And, I hope they enjoy the ride as they  ultimately will hit a wall.

For the inescapable conclusion in drinking and enjoying wine is that you have to taste for yourself and form your own opinions. Do not rely on numbers that have no meaning other that the taste of a person (often unknown) of a wine tasted or consumed in a variety of different ways that may or may not relate to how you will be drinking the wine (to read an article on tasting wine vs. drinking wine click here) [4]. But, what is important, is to ask what is in the wine you are drinking (to read an article on that click here [5]). And, seek advice from wine merchants and wine drinkers whose opinions you trust. Hopefully the latter will include the Underground where our total focus is on the consumer and providing information that can guide and educate.  But, at the end of the day, always remember the Underground motto – Drink What You Like & Like What You Drink!  [6]

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson