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Wines at Costco


Wines at Costco: Going for the big score(s)?

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Dennis Schaefer

Kansas City Wine Examiner


  • scan0001(14) Wines at Costco
  • Last week, Jeff Siegel, a Dallas based blogger, reported in his The Wine Curmudgeon blog that the rumor was big box retailing giant Costco had told its wine suppliers that, in the future, they will only buy wines that retail $15 a bottle and under that have scored 90 points or higher. That means the scoring judgments that are handed down by three publications: Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.

    Why is this important? Well, many folks may not know that Costco is the largest retailer of wine in the U.S., with over 400 hundred stores that stack the cases of wine high and deep in the aisles. With that kind of buying power, they’re able to extract rock bottom prices from their wine suppliers and, in turn, those suppliers benefit because they get to move pallets and pallets of wine in one fell swoop. Costco has generally been a good wine citizen and thus consumers have enjoyed low wine prices. The stores have a wide ranging selection from $ 6.99 to $ 699.00 (top rank Bordeaux!) a bottle.

    So far, so good, until last week’s report about this new scoring/buying edict. Actually the report was more than a rumor, as several folks who are wine suppliers to Costco have reported that the company told them they wouldn’t be buying any new low priced wines unless they had the big thumbs up scores. The Wine Curmudgeon continued his quest for the truth by contacting a Costco spokesperson for clarification; as you can see from the link above Costco denies the allegation that they only purchase 90 point wines or greater, though mentions they often "promote" those types of wines. As of this writing, more wine suppliers have come forward to confirm Costco’s new buying policy. Right now, it looks like it’s a matter of he said, she said. Who are you going to believe?

    If, in fact, it’s true that only low priced wines with big scores will be stocked, then wine consumers won’t have the opportunity to buy or taste vinho verde from Portugal, viura from Spain, gruner veltliner from Austria, torrontes from Argentina, malbec from Chile or semillon from Australia. These are all varietals that are perfectly serviceable for everyday use at the table, but not likely to get rock star scores. Many folks buy these by the case and and call it their "house" wine.

    Even though Costco sells wine, they are not really a wine retailer. In other words, if you wander into their wine department, you will not find a wine expert on the floor to help you in making wine choices. In this low sell environment, Costco is counting on their "shelf talker" 90 point tags to do the selling that normally a human being would do. As I’ve already stated, I have a real aversion to wine scoring by the numbers. What it means, in Costco’s case, is that their wine buyers (yes, they do employ regional wine buyers) are too lazy to taste and sort through the wines that all their suppliers offer them. They would rather abdicate that tasting and buying responsibility to three mainstream wine publications that use numbers as a guide.

    Now I realize Costco operates on the slimmest of margins: their profitability mainly comes from selling the annual memberships. I also realize Costco is not in the business of wine education; they are in the business of moving inventory. But relying on outside third parties to dictate their bargain wines is unacceptable.

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