Costco Wine Department – Eight things you need to know about buying wine at Costco

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 entrance you want to shop for alcohol. You will get in and be able to buy wine.

Volume Purchases

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.

Costco Wine Department

Wine, wine, and more wine at Costco

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 expected 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.

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Photo prints for wine lovers.

Best prices on popular brands

I have compared wine prices at Costco of favorite 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 excellent 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.

Return policy

I asked the people at return desk at my local Costco store what the policy was for returning wine. They said for sure that if the wine is bad (corked, spoiled, etc.), they will take it back. If you did not like the style of wine you probably will not get a return.

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 kind, honest, and reliable advice. At Costco, you must fend for yourself on wine decisions. Another downside is, like many other products at Costco, the fantastic 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. They seem to be present on weekends but not always during the weekdays.

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  1. At volunteer-run we have compared all of Costco’s prices to those of all the large retailers in the country (Safeway, Cost Plus, Total Wines & More, etc.) and can attest to the fact that their prices are consistently the lowest. Also, they only buy wines that have already been rated highly by the recognized wine critics (Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, etc.). For this reason, we find the highest proportion of “Best Buys” at Costco. They are the price leader in the $15 and up range. Safeway and Total Wines & More are the price leaders below $15. BevMo is no longer a price leader except for their 5 cent sale. Our free newsletters identify the Best Buys available from the large retailers.

  2. Does “Not a member, no problem” apply everywhere or just California?

    • Brad,
      I don’t know the answer to your question. Maybe another reader knows and will comment. Things for your comment.

    • I work for costco. I know I’m a little late to the party but every costco had the policy that people can shop for alcohol without a membership. Same goes for the pharmacy. Also I’d like to ad that, in California anyway, you can’t return unopened alcohol to costco. If they let you before then they violated the ABC laws on alcohol returns.

  3. All Costco stores

  4. George Ahlin says

    I like Kirkland Wines, but they are not available at all Costco Stores, the store in Everett ,Mass has wine but does not carry Kirkland Wine the manager said they were seperate distributors. Please let me know what stores in Massachusetts sell Kirkland Label wines. Thank you, George Ahlin

  5. I agree with most of your article, however Costco’s policy differs in Georgia. They do have prominently placed signs in their wine and beer section stating that GA law prohibits the return of any alcoholic beverage. That never really bothered me until today, when we tried drinking a bottle of their Kirkland 2010 Cote du Rhone Villages. The problem wasn’t that it was corked – it had a more than subtle taste of Nyquil.

    I talked to someone at the local Costco where we bought it who adamantly repeated that they legally could not do ANYTHING for me, even for the other two unopened bottles we have. The funny thing is, I cannot find any evidence of such a law, and found one Wikianswers page which states that there is no such law prohibiting liquor returns. (I know, that’s not a definitive source.) There is nothing at all on the GA Dept. of Revenue website regarding this.

    Costco generally has very good wine prices and the Kirkland brand wines are generally good quality. This isn’t a huge deal & I’m not willing to spend more time on it, but I am disappointed in Costco’s response. The wine buyer at our usual liquor store has always said they would be happy to accept returns on wine that we didn’t like. In this case I get the impression that Costco is hiding behind their interpretation of a nebulous state law. They could easily look in their records and see the thousands of $$ per year we spend at Costco, and the few returns we have made, and just issue some kind of goodwill credit without jeopardizing their interpretation of state law.

    • Thanks for your comment. I have not heard that complaint out here in California. I would be interested to know if any readers from other states have this problem. I have tried to contact Costco wine buyers by email and have never received a reply. Maybe I will send them your comment and see if I get a response.


      • Just last week we tried Costo’s new Kirkland beer- well by trying it I mean we had to buy a case since they do not let you sample before buying. Of course the price on this new venture for Kirkland should have warned us that it was too good to be true. It tasted horrible and we called to ask if we could return the unopened 40 cans in the case? They said NO, it is illegal for us to buy alcohol from you, it is against ABC laws and we do not accept any un opened alcohol as returns. This was in Northern CA. THank goodness my husband is willing to drink any type of alcohol so it eventually will get drunk, but I will never buy any new – unknown food or drink from Costco again.

    • John Harris says

      In Ga. Total Wine will accept both unopened as well as open bottles!

    • David Mott says

      As far returning wine in Georgia, Costco seems to be interpreting the law to their advantage. What the law states is that Georgia is a 3 tier state, i.e. Importers sell to Distributors, who sell to Retailers. Distributors pay the state alcohol tax, and Retailers must only sell wine that they have bought from Distributors. I believe what Costco is doing is claiming that to allow a return they would be “buying back” the wine from a customers. This is ludicrous, since ever other retailer in the state excepts returns. My advice, find a decent bottle shop and buy your wine there.

      • Here is the S.F. Bay Area, the Costco stores do take wine back if it is corked. They will give you money back or a store credit.

  6. Just moved from Northern California to North Carolina. We love our wines and when we left CA some of our favorite were on sale and figured we would pick them up once we got to NC. Unfortunately, when we got to NC the same wines were not on sale…even though the sale date had not expired.
    Tried emailing Costco twice to find out why, but no response. Does anyone know why or who I can contact?

    • I have emailed Costco contacts and have not as yet received any replies. If I were you, I would hound the Costco manager at your local store to find out about the wines. They can also look up on the computer to see if the wine might be at other nearby Costco stores. Too bad you had to move from CA.


    • The way I explain it to people is like this. Every costco is almost like it’s own separate business. They have their own buyers and pricing based on what sells and what competing stores sell at. There are warehouses 15 minutes from each other that have vastly different prices for the simple reason that whichever store is their direct competition will be different and have different prices on things. Also, stores buy things based on projections, so if one store buys 2 pallets of a product (wine or anything else) and it doesn’t sell well enough they will reduce the price to get it sold. Another store might have the same product for normal price because in their market it sells just fine and they don’t need to get it out of the store in order to bring in something new.

      -Costco Manager

  7. Costco is regulated like every other retailer by each states law. In almost every state, you can return wine for a refund, however, in some states it is illegal. I imagine GA is one of those states. Hope this helps.

  8. So I just spent 2 hrs of my lovely Saturday morning about researching Costco wine return policy since I bought some expensive wines that I didn’t like, and wanted return/exchange. Now the wine I bought isn’t even open, we just didn’t like the ones we did open. At first the warehouse mgr said it’s Georgia State Law however this is not the case. Ga state law says returning alcohol is at the will of the retailer. So I called Costco corporate and they read me that it is company policy that they do not take back wine or any other alcohol. Obviously it cannot be State Law since Total Wine will exchange even an opened bottle of wine if it wasn’t to your liking. So even though I love the Costco value, their lack of customer service and operational excellence has bothered me. Getting various answers from their warehouses and their unwillingness to make me a happy and satisfied customer although I have been a member for many years has really upset me. I won’t be raving about Costco anymore specifically since they broke my wine passion and trust in their excellence policy.

  9. Same at Costco in Michigan. I brought kind of expensive wine as gift but found better things as gift later. When I brought it to Costco, I was told they are not allowed to accept return on wine, it’s against the Law. I did not see any sign though.

  10. Theresa winedrinker says

    I just tried returning some bottles at wine at a San Francisco Costco. I was told two comflicting stories. The first person told us it was law, and then I asked why does bevmo let me return vodka if it truly is a law? They then changed their story and said, if we opened the bottles and found they were defective they would return them. This seemed a bit ridiculous. We asked to speak to a manager and asked again why are they stating this is a state law when bevmo allows the return and also why are there no signs, and when you call the Costco returns policy phone, they only mention a 90 days restriction on electronics. He became very upset that we were asking for explanation on why his staff was telling us it was a law. He then refused to return the wine and put a flag on our Costco account that we violated the alcohol return policy, even though we were never allowed to return the alcohol. I agree with the other comment about how this poor customer experience has seriously damaged the way that I feel about their store.

    • Similar story at SF Costco for me today. First they said it’s CA law prohibiting returns on liquor but when I challenged them on that they changed the story to this being the store manager’s policy after they got audited! Right…

      There should’ve been at least a sign, but I’m even more put off by their lying tactics.

      • Wow! Sorry to hear about your hassles with Costco wine.

      • If they refuse to take a return they should at least post this so the buyer understands what they are dealing with. Virtually all retailers take back unopened alcohol. What do you think party planners do when ordering wine. They have to be able to return unopened wines or their cost basis could sky rocket. ABC does not say you must keep a wine you are not happy with. Someone a lawyer check this fact out…please.

  11. I have to echo the recent comments. Costco has gotten HORRIBLE with wine return policies. I am in CA, and they site Ca law, but then point out their printed policy as proof of that (lame). I was told this was what you have to deal with in CA. Well, I am a third gen CA, and have been drinking wine over 20yrs. I have returned faulted bottles to all entities, with no problems. Bottom line, they are LYING. If there is a law that prohibits a return of a faulted bottle, then EVERY-FREAKING-OTHER-VENDOR is BREAKING the LAW! I am a big wine consumer and taste professionally as well. I can recognize fault such as oxidation, brett, TCA, etc. so I have returned my fair share. Costco has become the Wine Nazi. Buyer beware.

    • I’m rather happy with the no-return policy of Costco, though it would be nice if they were a little more up front. I have a friend who sells a lot of wine who tells me that a significant portion of returned wine (especially after weddings) is bad because it spent a few hours in an extremely warm vehicle. The only way to test for this is to open a bottle (which he does when the’re returning a case after a wedding). Too many people will return bad wine that is their own fault. If you bring in a corked bottle, it’s reasonable to expect the seller to replace it, but if you simply bought more than you needed, I’d much prefer that you NOT be able to return it.

  12. Just got back from our local Costco here in NorCal. Attempted to return 3 bottles of Kirkland brand Sonoma Chardonay that was soo sour. They refused and cited State Law. Now we know they’re lying. Too bad Costco. We’ll be buying from BevMo.

  13. Unopened bottles of wine that are totally intact with respect to label and foil are returnable. I just returned a bottle to BevMo and there was no issue. I never knew that the Pharmacy and Alcohol sections of Costco do not require a membership. Their private label wines are almost always outstanding especially the European wines. Check the label for the source and you are getting a deal. Granted it may not be their top cuvee but it is still very fine wine.

  14. I enjoyed reading these comments about wine returns. I learned many years ago to only buy 1 bottle of any wine the first time, no matter how high the rating. Occasionally I have taken a wine opener and glass with me and had a small private tasting in my car in the parking lot before buying more bottles.
    I usually buy wines at Costco and agree that their selection and pricing can’t be beat, although they offer little advice or guidance.

    • Buying one bottle to try has been my strategy as well. It works! I have recently noticed that Costco has someone hanging around the wine department on busy days. I have quizzed them as a novice wine drinker would do. I think they have sufficient knowledge to help. This is a good idea for Costco. Most wine shoppers are overwhelmed by the choices.

  15. Note to self: If buying wine at Costco, never buy their house brand because I might want to return it. Only buy brands I’m familiar with – regardless of the reduction in savings.

  16. Phil Lane says

    Alcoholic purchases in Ohio require membership. For individual states, call Corporate. Also, Pennsylvania stores do not carry alcohol.

  17. I just purchased the Kirkland Signature Sonoma Chardonnay and thought it tasted very much like a well known producer up in Sonoma. Will definitely buy again for the $6.99 price tag. Does anyone know the wineries that are involved with the private label wines or does it constantly change? Perhaps there is a non-disclosure involved so they cannot divulge.

  18. I no longer buy wine at Costco. Out of 15 bottles of various red wines, maybe 4 or 5 were passable, and the rest were sour/spoiled. And I only kept most of them no more than a week before opening.

    I don’t know if their storage or mine (72 degrees setting in the house) is the problem, but I seldom had this issue when buying wine from Walmart, so I am leery of Costco wine.

  19. The sales conditions for Costco are better than most retail outlets. Having such a bad track record with wines you bought may be due to your storage at 72 degrees. If you keep young wines at that temp for a long period you will see a rapid decline. However you stated that most of the wines were not of their described level. From where I look at your problem and as a life long consumer I think the issue is your storage. I hope you can tell us if you find a retailer who provides you with better options of wine and price. I am open to new providers.

  20. Today I returned a bottle of Bertrand Pic Saint Loup red wine. I purchased several and this one was “corked.” I returned and was give my choice of a credit or cash back for the wine without question.

  21. I recently purchased a Trapiche malbec 2012 broquel at Costco. I discovered that it is number 71 on the enclosed arsenic wine list. See link here:

    I have to say I am mighty disappointed that Costco even had this bottle of wine in their store for sale. Normally items from Costco are held to the highest standard. I get that it’s a lawsuit and maybe there isn’t arsenic in the wine, but it was brought forth with some evidence. If there is truth to the lawsuit and if theres a chance it’s tainted, why would they want to sell this? I attempted to return the wine to the Costco store ( first time trying to return alcohol) and was told that it’s against state law to return it. I now have a bottle of possibly tainted wine that I will not risk by drinking it. Frustrating!!

    • Interesting! I hope a Costco wine person will reply to your comment. About 2 weeks ago I returned a bottle of wine to my local Costco store. No questions asked and I received my money back. The wine had cork taint.

  22. Barbara Kilpatrick says

    I purchased 4 bottles of 2013 Kendall Jackson grand reserve at Cosco in Augusta Ga. Opened one and it is bad. Can I return other bottles including opened one for a credit? Also saw no signs in wine area regarding Cosco’s policy.

  23. Will Costco be able to sell wine in Pennsylvania now that the laws have finally changed? The new laws actually went into effect today so I’m hoping Costco will be selling wine here soon. Please let me know

  24. Hi, I was wondering if Costco could buy directly from wineries abroad (like Total Wine for instance who also acts as importer) meaning that they have also an importing/distributors licence , OR do they have to go through the import/distri channels? Thanks

    • I believe that Costco has wine buyers in each region of the country that buys from wineries as well as distributors. They also negotiate with wine companies and wineries to make wine for their label. For example, the Kirkland Champagne is produced by Jannesons, a French Champagne producer. Maybe some of our readers can offer additional information.

  25. Lexi Lou says

    I have had bad luck buying wine at Costco. I have purchased several bottles that were corked. Such a disappointment to buy a nice bottle of wine only to get it home and discover it’s not consumable.


  1. […] never really answers (based on the pre-release clip and links I was sent). Why a fair question? Because Costco’s pricing power is immense. When it enters a market, other wine retailers have to match its prices or lose sales. Talk to […]

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