September 17, 2021

Costco Crowd Pleasers

One of my pandemic discoveries has been Costco. I don’t recall what drove me to get a membership…but I just strolled in one day and signed up. I’m in a household of two people, so I wasn’t sure if I’d get to take full advantage of things. Boy was I wrong! Our favorites now are the proteins, toilet paper(!), and the fun snacks (the Korean BBQ jerky is a hit). Every time I go, I seem to discover something new. And Aaron hates going, so it’s shopping alone time that I love. Sometimes I stroll the aisles fantasizing about that country farmhouse I’ll own one day, where I can store all 36 cans of tomato sauce in the pantry! I’m sure you can relate.

On a recent trip, I made my way to the wine section. In case you didn’t know, Costco is the largest retailer of wine IN THE WORLD. I’ve had people ask me about Costco branded wines, and I never had a meaningful reply, as I have not tried their wines. Upon reviewing the assortment, I counted 19 different Costco Kirkland brand wines in stock….and I grabbed one of each! I was shocked by their prices. Super low! $19 for a Barolo?!?!?!

The Experiment:

Purchase all of the Kirkland brand wines and taste them blindly against their branded counterparts (same grapes/regions). May the best wines win?

The Wines:

As I mentioned, I picked up 19 different Costco bottles. Today, we discuss 10 of the 19. Stay tuned for Part 2.

The Competition:

I selected comparable, branded wines to taste against the Costco wines. These wines were from the same region/appellation, were made with the same grape, and the same vintage.

The Tasters:

We had a group of 10 people. Two of us are classically trained in wine and tasted in the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) model. The other 8 people are regular wine consumers….no training. My pitch to them was to try each pair of wines and tell me which one they liked better.

The Results:

Does Costco stand up to the test? Read more to find out!

Are you ready to be floored? Out of the 10 wine pairs we poured that day, the Costco wine beat out the branded wine 8 out of 10 times!! SHOCKING, right?  6 of the Costco wines were “crowd pleasers”, meaning that more than half of the group selected that wine as their preference. And 2 of the wines were not crowd pleasers, but were the somm’s professional picks.

See below for the reveal!

Friuli, Italy Pinot Grigio $4.99 (CROWD PLEASER + SOMM SELECTION)

There is a sea of unremarkable Pinot Grigio in this world. We were all pleasantly surprised by this one. For starters, if you want to Up Your Pinot Grigio game, here are two things to look for on the label. Friuli is a smaller sub-area within the classic Pinot Grigio region. They’re known for making better, more interesting Pinot Grigio. Another thing to look for on the label is DOC Delle Venezie. Higher quality Pinot Grigio, usually for only a couple more bucks. Bottom line, at $4.99 (I can’t believe these prices), this is your go to Pinot Grigio PORCH POUNDER.

Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $6.99 (CROWD PLEASER + SOMM SELECTION)

Grocery store California Chardonnay at this price point is pretty terrible. It’s so oaky and buttery, you’d think you’re still living in 1994, in the heyday of oaky, buttery Chardonnay and AquaNet. This wine is not gratuitous in its use of oak and malo notes (which is what gives the “buttery” feel), but it does have a starring role in the wine. So if you’re Cali Chardcore (see what I did there?), this wine is a steal at $7.

Barolo DOCG 2016 $19.99 (CROWD PLEASER + SOMM SELECTION)

I am still in sheer shock that Costco makes a Barolo in their private label. Shows you how much I know about Costco and their wine program! For the record, Barolo is one of the most revered and respected wines in the world, and usually with a price tag to match. Sure, you can find good quality Barolo in the $40-$50 range. But Costco Barolo at $20!??!! And it beat out a branded producer, same vintage? Crazy talk! Run, don’t walk, to grab a case of Costco Barolo. These are words I never thought I’d utter!

Alexander Valley, Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon $9.99 (CROWD PLEASER + SOMM SELECTION)

Not too shabby with this Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. And for the record, I got no problem with pyrazines, the green bell pepper note, typically found in Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has a healthy dose of pyrazines and I dig it. And at less than $10 a bottle, what’s not to love?

Columbia Valley, WA Cabernet Sauvignon $8.99 (CROWD PLEASER + SOMM SELECTION)

Another winner here for Costco. A varietally correct wine at a killer price. We don’t need to overcomplicate things. This is good wine.

Mendoza, Argentina Malbec $6.99 (CROWD PLEASER)

One of my favorite wines, as my family hails from Argentina. In Argentina, Malbec is as ubiquitous as water….it practically comes out of the water faucets! Malbec almost always hovers around the $10 range….so not a huge cost savings here, but still a solid wine.

Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc $6.99 (SOMM SELECTION)

This is the only pair that I will reveal the branded wine. We blind tasted this wine next to Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. I wanted to see if one of the most consumed wine on the planet, held up to the Costco wine. Interestingly enough, the crowd chose the Kim Crawford, but the somms chose this Costco wine, if only for the fact that it is a more balanced wine. Take your pick.

Prosecco Rosé $6.99 (SOMM SELECTION)

Fun fact! Prosecco only recently approved the use of “rosé” under the Prosecco name. So, this year, 2021, is the first year we’re all seeing Prosecco Rosé on the shelves. This is another one here where the somm’s picked the Costco wine, but the crowd picked the branded wine. What can’t be beat is the price. Most opening price point Prosecco is about double this, usually $12-$15. So if you want to save a few bucks with your pink bubbles, Costco is the way to go.

And because you can’t win them all, it’s worth mentioning that the below 2 wines did not rank with either the crowd or the somms. I’d skip these, as you’ll be better off enjoying their branded counterparts.

Côtes de Provence $8.49
Rioja Reserva 2016 $7.99

Thanks for playing along, and stay tuned for Part 2 of my Costco Blind Tasting Bonanza!

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re looking to Up Your Wine Game and Drink Better, consider booking a private in-person or virtual wine tasting experience or register to attend my public Virtual Vino here.
Brianne Cohen Wine Educator
Brianne Cohen is a certified sommelier, wine educator, consultant, and writer based out of Los Angeles.

Since March 2020, Brianne has educated and entertained over 5,000 people through her “Virtual Vino” online wine tastings.

Brianne holds the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Diploma certificate, one of the most coveted wine certifications in the world. When she’s not helping others Up Their Wine Game, she can be found judging at international wine competitions.

Brianne aims to make wine approachable and conversational, to surprise and delight with unexpected, distinctive wine finds, and to give people knowledge (and confidence) about wine in their everyday lives.

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Sample Policy

As a wine writer, I frequently accept samples for review on my  website and on my social media channels. Please contact me at brianne@briannecohen.com to discuss sending samples for review. I promise to always be honorable with the samples. I will evaluate all wines in good tasting settings and with no distractions.

All reviews are my opinions, and mine only. Because of the volume of samples I receive, I cannot promise that all samples received will be reviewed, but I will do my best.

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