There is no doubt in my mind that Costco has some of the most fantastic wine bargains on this planet. Here are eight things you should know when shopping for wine at Costco.
Not a Costco member, no problem
You don’t need to be a member of Costco to shop there for wine. Because of alcohol laws, Costco cannot restrict the sale of wine and spirits on a membership basis. Just tell them at the door you want to shop for alcohol. You will get in and be able to buy wine.
Most wine shops buy wine by case amounts. Not Costco. They buy wine by the pallet. There are 56 cases of wine on a pallet. Think huge! Therefore Costco gets the best deals and in some cases access to the best vintages. I have heard the markup on wines at Costco is anywhere from 11 to 14% on a bottle of wine. The markup is low because of the volume.
Three Best Costco Wine Departments
Think outside your local Costco store to search for wine bargains. I discovered that in Northern California, three Costco stores have the biggest and best wine departments. These are the Redwood City store, the Concord store, and the Novato store. The wine guy at the Novato Costco boasted he was the largest of the big three with over 400 different labels on the shelf. These three stores have impressive inventories of wine ranging in price and quality, from everyday-style wines to expensive Cabs and French wines costing over $100. They have a large assortment of imports at these three stores.
Demographics and wine selections
If your store is located in an area where the demographics are not likely to have shoppers interested in gourmet food and fine wine, the wine department is likely to be meager. I have three Costco stores within easy driving distance. The Foster City store, though not nearly as good as the big three, has a far better wine inventory than many of the other Costco stores in Northern California.
Best prices on popular brands
I have compared prices at Costco of popular high-production brands with prices at big chain stores like BevMo, Cost Plus, Safeway, and large wine retailers like K&LWines. Costco has the lowest price 90% of the time.
The Kirkland Signature label
The Kirkland Signature label wines are very good wines and are excellent values. When I interviewed Cameron Hughes, whose wines are prominently found at Costco, he lauded their Kirkland wines and expressed concern that as they increased their private label it may affect the sales of his wines. Expect to see more Kirkland Signature wines especially from France, Spain, and Italy.
If you don’t like the wine, you can bring back your wine to Costco with no questions asked. No arguments. I once brought back a corked bottle of wine to my local Costco. I had purchased the wine at another Costco many miles away. No problem! Note: Clarification as of January 2, 2015. Today I walked up to the return desk and ask them about the Costco return policy. They said for sure that if the wine is bad (corked, spoiled, etc.) they will take it back.
The Big Downside of Costco
Do not rely on any Costco worker to advise you on any of the wines on the shelf. They are not the wine buyers and more than likely have tasted very few of these wines, if any. Most of the time I don’t see any Costco worker near the wine shelves to help if I need it. That’s why you pay more at a fine wine shop, where you get good, honest, and reliable advice. At Costco you must fend for yourself on wine decisions. Another downside is, like many other products at Costco, the very great deals move fast and you are unlikely to see that item again once sold out. He who hesitates is lost.
Note: Clarification as of January 2, 2015. It seems that Costco is moving towards having a “wine steward” roaming the wine section. I have seen this at the S.S.F. Airport Costco and the Redwood City Costco. These folks can recommend wines to the average wine consumer with some degree of expertise.
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