Uncorked: Buying wine at Costco

Authored By Michelle Richards

Over the years, there has been some controversy regarding buying wines at Costco. Many wine buyers feel as if Costco doesn’t have a true appreciation for the wine business and the products they sell. 

Annette Alvarez-Peters, leading wine buyer for Costco, received a lot of heat for her comments on CNN in 2012 that “wine is no different than toilet paper.”

Wine lovers were outraged by this remark. However, as the largest importer of French wine in the world, Costco is about moving product. Costco buys wine in bulk in order to pass along savings to their members and still have money in the bank. 

The Kirkland Signature label actually buys juice from famous vineyards all over the world and bottles them under their labels. Since they are buying this bulk juice, they are able to sell the wines at a lower price point. Are these wines meant to age? No. They are meant to be enjoyed within the next two years.

The point of wine at Costco is not for it to age over time or for wine geeks to find hidden gems. The business model of Costco is about moving serious inventory to make a profit. But that doesn’t mean that the wines are bad at Costco. That is a common misconception. 

I spoke with Brian Leutwiler, local wine educator on the subject, and he buys wine frequently at Costco.

“When I go to Costco, I am looking for the basic things such as an inexpensive sparkling wine, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and fruitier red wines,” Leutwiler said. “I don’t go to Costco to find variety or a special wine for a tasting. I look for the broad and the basic.”

Why am I telling you this? Because you need to know all the facts. I have found wines at Costco that are delicious and under $25 a bottle. These wines are great for everyday house wines or any parties you throw. However, there are a lot of high-end wines at Costco that many people ask me about. The producers that they are buying from are fantastic-but I don’t know if they are storing these high-end wines properly.

In the past, I have bought high-end wines at Costco and experienced bottle shock. Bottle shock is a temporary condition in the wine that occurs either right after bottling or in transport. The wine characteristics will be muted or disjointed, especially with aged wines in their fragile state. Since I do not know if the wines have been transported properly or how they are stored, I personally would not take the risk again of buying higher-end wines at Costco. Again, their business model is about moving inventory. 

But if you are looking for some wines to take home with you tonight after a long shopping trip, here is what I would suggest, along with the winemaker’s notes. 

  • Chandon sparkling brut blanc de noirs from California, $13.99-$14.99

“Chandon blanc de noirs is characteristically a delicate salmon color. Dark cherry, currant and strawberry dominate both aroma and flavor with hints of cassis and blackberry. These red fruit flavors build in the mid-palate and finish with a soft, lingering, creamy texture.”

  • Girard sauvignon blanc from Napa Valley, $13.99

“Aromatics lean toward bright citrus, lemon peel and tropical notes. On the palate, the citrus notes define themselves as lime zest with a touch of grapefruit. Tropical notes help round out the palate with hints of mango. Bright acidity helps cleanse the palate.”

  • Hamilton Russell chardonnay from South Africa, $23.99

“Stephen Tanzer referenced a similarity to burgundy, saying it ‘conveys a powerful impression of intensity without weight, like the best white burgundies.’ He described a previous vintage as ‘like a hypothetical blend of Meursault and Chassagne.'”

  • Kenwood Vineyards pinot noir from Russian River Valley, California, $11.99

“Fruit-forward aromas of boysenberry and strawberry jam join with spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.”

  • Seghesio zinfandel from Sonoma, $18.99

“You could use this as a teaching tool for classic Sonoma County zinfandel. It’s full-bodied, dry and spicy, with briary flavors of wild berries, mocha, tobacco, leather and exotic spices. More importantly, it’s absolutely delicious.”

  • Hess cabernet sauvignon from North Coast, California, $12.99

“[This wine is] medium-bodied with a soft and juicy core of red and black fruit. There are notes of anise, clove, raspberry, black cherry and currants enveloped by a nice spiciness. There are touches of leather and smoky vanillin on the dry, slightly tight finish.”

  • Allegrini Palazzo della Torre, $17.99-$18.99

“Deep ruby red in color, this wine is brimming with notes of dark, dried cherries, blackberries and hints of dates.”


Michelle Richards is a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Along with hosting wine tastings for local organizations, she serves up wine goodness at St. John’s Restaurant. You can contact her by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.

Updated @ 3:17 p.m. on 5/15/15 to correct a factual error: Brian’s last name is spelled Leutwiler.