A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life


John Tilson • 7/21/14        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

wine at costco


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). 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 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). But, what is important, is to ask what is in the wine you are drinking (to read an article on that click here). 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! 

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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8 comments for “DO IT YOURSELF WINE”

  • Blake Brown says:

    John, I`m reminded of the times in the distant past when Doug would go to Costco to buy Dom Perigean for the Wine Cask because Costco sold it for less than he could buy it from his distributes. This was in the days where the prices were under $!00.


    • John Tilson says:

      Hi Blake,
      I remember. Retailers complained about DP being sold at Costco. But, there is a lot of DP and Costco probably sells more than any one! There are many other things sold at Costco at a lower prices than are available from wholesalers and distributors.
      In Vino Veritas,

  • Blake Brown says:

    Great article. I totally subscribe to your motto.

    Having just met the wine buyer at our local Costco who attended my wine group`s tasting a week ago and reading this and your 2011 article, I`m inclined to do another walk through and purchase some winners.

    Thanks for encouraging me to buy outside of trophy wines for which my cellar is replete.


    • John Tilson says:

      Thanks Blake. Certainly there is a place for Costco selling wines at great prices. But, the consumer has to do their homework. Putting up a number is meaningless. A simple straight forward list of the types of wines with a simple description of the type of wine a suggested foods to go with it would make a lot of sense. But, that is not what Costco does with other products so I doubt it would work for them. However, I think it would be a good approach for full service wine retailers.
      Happy shopping. At Costco it is always a treasure hunt!
      In Vino Veritas,

  • Frank Parker says:

    It’s almost funny. Your last paragraph is almost a direct quote from nearly everyone whose opinion on enjoying wine for whom I have respect. From the earliest of my reading, probably Andre Simon, Hugh Johnson, or Clive Coates, I got the same advice and warnings. Find a wine merchant who really likes wine and develop a relationship so that he will know what you have tried and liked and what you have not. That was not so easy in those days when liquor and beer were the main revenue stream, and laws kept wine and beer out of grocery and drug stores. The Big boxes like Costco and Walmart were not yet. I was fortunate to live in Minneapolis and Boston in those years, and there existed wine merchants whose only trade was in wine. It was from them I learned that someone’s description of a wine meant nothing unless you had context, your own experience with that same or at least similar wines. If you had no experience there could be no meaning. What a shock. To reduce descriptors, especially those that were more of thesaurus rather than simple language, to la number would have been completely laughable to a newbie just seeing it for the first time. Somehow combining a number with outlandish, equally meaningless descriptions sold pretty well for a while. I was one who bought some wine based on that “information”, only to find out a bit later that I had erred. It took awhile in my circle for tasting groups to form, and even longer for wine shops to stumble onto the idea that holding tastings for their customers generated not only more sales, but new customers. Very few wine merchants had MBA’S in those days, so the consequences of direct marketing was and still is a revelation. The shops I frequent has seen the disappearance of the “Big information” letters and magazines, and the appearance of crowded Saturday walk through, almost free, but not quite, casualwine tastings.

    • John Tilson says:

      Thanks Frank. I think what you describe is what most of us learned over the years. The newer wind drinkers are subjected to a barrage of largely useless information. Fortunately, there are still some excellent wine retailers and wholesalers spread over the country who do a great job helping consumers. Unfortunately, some of them have turned to promoting numbers and do very little else. This is sad. First, from the standpoint that it does very little to help educate the consumer. Secondly, with any business I think the best approach is to know your customer. Turning the sale over to a number promotion takes away the relationship and personal contact.
      And yes some of the descriptions are so ridiculous and absurd that they are simply a joke. If you missed some of my articles on this subject, please take a look and you will see what I mean http://www.undergroundwineletter.com/2012/01/birds-of-a-feather-laughable-wine-descriptions/.
      In vino Veritas,

  • rhoda sharp says:

    Really good article . I enjoyed it and learned a lot about Costco I did not know.


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