Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Of Costcos and Cabernets

Not all Costcos are created equal. Just ask any wine lover.

Ask me if I buy wine at Costco and you are likely to hear a rant about the wine buyer at my local warehouse who buys pretty much Napa cabernet and chardonnay. I'm not alone in thinking this selection is uninspired, since you can go in October and back in April and basically the same wine will be sitting there groaning "buy me" in tired little wine voices. Give me even a sympathetic murmur and this rant will turn into a plaintive whine as I recall the wonders of the Vacaville, CA Costco where I used to shop and where a wide variety of interesting bottles could be had for a song. I will then rhapsodize about the Bordeaux selection at the Novato Costco off Highway 101, my requisite pit stop on the way to the Sonoma Coast. At this point my questioner has either wandered away out of boredom or is waiting for me to draw breath so they can ask about frozen chicken breasts/pallets of Perrier/vats of mixed nuts.

You see, Costco wine selections are determined by the store's buyer. Get a good buyer, you get good wine. Get a bad buyer--you get nothing but Chard and Cab and some very tired Australian shiraz that sits for 9 months. Finally, I asked the folks on Chowhound's wine board if they could tell me which LA area Costco has good wine. And the answer came, in the voice of Johnny Carson: beautiful downtown Burbank.

Thank you, Burbank Costco wine buyer, for stocking two islands of bins and mountains of pallets with really, really good wine. You know you're in good hands when the pallets do not contain case after case of Clos du Bois but instead case after case of Cotes du Rhone. And the bins--bliss. I scored the 2002 Domaine des Baumard Savennières ($17.29), which was recently included in Eric Asimov's 2nd mixed case of wine over at the New York Times. (FYI: they also had bottles of that great French chablis I reviewed recently). I also found two great values in Italian wines: the 2006 Bellenda Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene ($13.89) and the 2003 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva ($16.79). I couldn't resist the 2003 Château Ducluzeau ($12.79), a cru bourgeois wine from Bordeaux that hails from Listrac in the Medoc. And finally, for reasons I cannot fully justify given my reaction to the chardonnays at my local Costco, I picked up the 2003 Argyle Chardonnay ($8.99). My only excuse is that the grapes come from Oregon!

If you have a favorite Costco with a great wine buyer, leave a shout out in the comments section below.


Hoff said...

The costco in downtown San Francisco generally has a pretty nice, wide ranging selection. Have gotten some great deals on NZ sauv blanc there, among other things.

Dr. Debs said...

Welcome, Hoff. NZ Sauvignons, huh? Would love to see a wider selection of those in any store I went to at all. Maybe a trip to San Francisco is in order next time I'm in Northern California.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Debs,
You might want to check out this article which appeared in yesterday's Press Democrat here in Santa Rosa:
Talks about eight regional buyers and more...
Best, Ken

Dr. Debs said...

Hi, Ken. Thanks for the link to this article, which got broken in your post, so here's a tiny version in case readers want to check it out: http://tinyurl.com/2sfoz5.

It's interesting though that the regional buyers also link to buyers who might oversee a store or a group of Costco stores. Not every Costco in a region has the same wine, I can tell you that for sure, and my understanding from asking Costco staff is that each store's wine specialist selects from the regional list.

Anonymous said...

And if you liked the regular Baumard, be sure to try their Clos de Papillon bottling!

Dr. Debs said...

Will do! Thanks, Dr. Vino.

Iron Chevsky said...

I wrote up the wine selection at the Redwood City Costco when it just opened - very impressive: http://www.chevsky.com/2009/10/local-costco-likely-to-seduce-some.html
Ever since, the selection is not nearly as lofty - seems like they did a one-time "grand-opening" splash to draw the crowd. In general, I love Costco, and check out their wine selections regularly, but beware - not everything is a great wine or great value there. Use wine-searcher before shelling out your hard-earned cash.