Using the axiom that ‘knowledge is power’ I thought it might be interesting to explore wine purchasing strategies. Since November, I’ve been publishing a series on tips for buying wine in various retail settings including grocery stores, Total Wine, Costco and online. The one caveat that remains operative during any conversation on purchasing wine is that no one should tell you what to buy. While I encourage people to occasionally venture out of their comfort zone, it’s not my role to tell anyone how much they should spend or what wine they should be drinking.

Back in September of 2019 I wrote an article on wine shopping at Costco, but since many SaddleBrooke residents patronize this warehouse retail giant I thought a review and update might be in order.

As a frequent wine shopper at Costco and a member of the wine industry here are a few tips and tricks on tweaking your wine buying experience at this warehouse store.

First, it’s important to understand the business model. Costco makes a significant portion of their profit from the membership fees. In essence you are paying the retail markup in advance. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to pay for an annual membership if you only shop there a few times a year. With this model Costco, and other warehouse companies, can afford to offer lower prices on the products that they sell. With smaller margins on goods and services this allows you to pick up bargains on some items. Also, as a huge corporation with a centralized buying system Costco can leverage this size by making their wholesale purchases in large quantities and time the market in order to get the best pricing. As a result, you can pick up some bottles of wine at 15 to 40 percent below suggested retail prices.

When you enter the wine department, you’ll find what is considered the ‘fine wines’ in the wooden bins; usually priced at over $20.00, while wines that are on the pallets tend to be in the $12.00 or less range. Sadly, our area Costco stores have continued to reduce their fine wine floor space in favor of additional value wines. This is a great loss as I find some of the highest QPR (quality price ratio) wines are found in the higher price points. That being said, there are some great everyday wines on the floor including the expanding Kirkland label wines.

The Kirkland ‘private label’ wines can be hit and miss but there’s no questioning the value. I’ve found that their Chianti Classico is consistently outstanding, and I’ve recently tried the Kirkland Malbec, Kirkland brut Champagne, Cotes du Rhone Villages and their rose’ Prosecco and give them all a thumbs up.

You should closely read the price cards, especially in the fine wine section. These cards will provide detailed information as to the flavor profile of the wine and recent wine scores for this product. Pay attention to the vintage year on the scores as they may not be the actual vintage in the bins, although on occasion you may find older vintages in you are willing to dig down to the bottom of the boxes. Price cards with an asterisk * on the upper right corner are products that are discontinued at the store and will probably not be restocked. Also, if the price ends in a .97 these items are discounted, reduced for quicker sales— these can be great values.

Take advantage of the store’s wine advisor. There should be one in each of the Tucson area’s three stores. They are familiar with what is on the floor and can direct you to wines which fit your tastes and are within your price point. They have no incentive to direct you to a particular label or product so their advice is purely for your benefit. They may not be able to tell you what wines are coming in or if your particular favorites will return, but there’s no harm in asking. These individuals are a great resource so benefit from their knowledge.

Note that the inventory in each of Tucson’s three Costco stores will vary to a certain extent. I’ve found some really good wines at the Grant Store that were unavailable at the Marana store so if you’re down in that neck of the woods it might be worth checking out. Please understand that if you discover a bottle at Costco that is insanely good at a bargain price don’t assume that you are the only one that has discovered this gem. Great wines that are well priced go fast, so do not be surprised if you return a few days later for a couple additional bottles only to find them gone. The wine inventory at Costco is constantly in motion so, unlike the $5.99 roasted chickens; good wines often come and go.

Wines that I tend to keep an eye out for are red blends from Portugal; a value region for still white and red wines, Syrah /Grenache blends from the Rhone Valley, as well as wines from Tuscany and southern Italy.

Finally, and this is a recurring theme, use the lower pricing structure to spend a little more than normal. An extra five to ten dollars a bottle will usually yield a much higher quality wine with good balance and more complexity. I do encourage you to price shop though. If you find a moderate to expensively priced wine at Costco I would pull out your phone and check the availability and price at Total Wine. On occasion Total Wine & More’s price is cheaper by a small amount, plus you can access reviews and production info on their site.

Costco is a fantastic place to shop for wine. It is rare that I leave the store without a bottle or two. After all, I have to get my money’s worth out of the annual membership fee, and I’m always looking for something to pair with the roasted chicken in my cart.

Saluté.

Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to assist you with your wine events or answer your wine questions. Tom also offers a free email service, recommending high quality, good value wines available locally. Contact / subscribe at tjo1913@gmail.com.


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