There are few stores that measure up to Costco (great prices, fresh produce, amazing meats and cheeses, gadgets galore, friendly staff, and yes, free samples). So, it should come as no surprise that Costco is a great place for wine. Every week my wife, daughters, and I make the pilgrimage to Costco. My wife is laser-focused on groceries, but the cart often has a mind of its own and diverts to the wine section (I know, crazy cart). She’ll then roll her eyes and head to the produce (which thankfully is next to the wine), and I will get a few moments in my element. Slowly and methodically, I go up and down each aisle making a mental note of what’s new from last week, what’s dropped in price or on rebate, and what’s on clearance. My goal, to find the best deal. Sometimes I walk away empty handed but most of the time a bottle (or two) finds its way into the cart.
Unfortunately, Costco’s membership doesn’t come with a “how to” guide on finding the best wine deals, so here are a few tips to make your Costco experience a success.
1. You Don’t Need a Membership to Buy Wine
Some states’ liquor licenses require that Costco (and other membership-based retailers) make alcohol available to the general public. Of course, that assumes you meet the age requirement! So, if you’re shopping at Costco in one of these states, you’re free to walk in without a membership and stock up (on alcohol that is; don’t throw in an 86” TV or they’ll call you out).
While Costco has not publicly confirmed which states require Costco to open its doors to the general wine public, word on the street suggests the following: Arizona, Colorado, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, and Vermont. If you are in one of these states, and you’re itching for Kirkland-branded wine but don’t have a membership, call the store ahead of time to confirm that they adhere to this requirement. This will hopefully avoid any awkward moments at the door. And be prepared to speak to a manager. This is not an everyday occurrence for staff, so they might be confused. You may also need a manager to help with the checkout process.
If you’re in another state, or just dread the idea of being called out for not having a membership, you can always use a Costco gift card. Costco honors its gift cards in all stores, in all states, regardless of your membership status. Just get a Costco member to purchase a couple on your dime. Or, better yet, use your birthday and holidays to solicit Costco gift cards. Even though I am a long-standing member, this is my go to gift request!
2. The Price Means Something
Pay close attention to the price tag. It provides an important clue to the value of the wine. If it ends in $.99 that means it is the original Costco price. If it ends in something else like $.49, $.79 or $.97, it’s a signal that the item is on sale or a special negotiated price. Remember, Costco does not mark-up products to the extent you typically see at non-membership retailers, so even the original Costco price is at least 10%-20% off retail.
If the wine is rebated, there will be a large sign above the bin showing the discount and the date when the rebate ends. And, if the price has an asterisk (*) next to it, that typically means it’s a clearance or seasonal item and will not be restocked. So if it’s a wine you love, stock up!
3. Make Sure the Rating Matches The Wine
Costco will list available ratings on the price tag. Sometimes the tag will include ratings for multiple years. If you pick up a bottle from the bin, make sure the rating matches the vintage. Sometimes there will be multiple vintages of the same wine in the same bin so you might have to dig around. And sometimes, the ratings do not match the vintage at all. While this isn’t a sign that the wine is subpar, it’s worth pulling out your phone and doing a little research.
4. Look Below The Bins
If a wine you’re dying to try has an empty bin (or doesn’t match a rating on the tag), look underneath the table. Often times, there is a case or two waiting to be stocked. If not, find the wine manager and see if they have more in stock or when they might get more in stock. If you’re willing to drive, you can also ask if it is in stock at a nearby Costco.
5. Timing Matters
Deliveries usually come Monday through Wednesday, so if you want to be the early bird who catches the worm, keep this in mind. This is another reason to become good friends with the store’s wine manager. They might be able to tell you when a particular wine or shipment will be stocked so you can plan ahead.
Also, check in a week or two before a major US holiday. Costco will ramp up its wine selection during this period.
6. Don’t Be Afraid of the Kirkland Brand
Costco has a history of partnering with quality vineyards to produce their Kirkland Signature banded wines. Some wines can be the exact same grapes, made in the exact same way, by the exact same winemaker as wines many multiples in cost and accolades. This is where the true bargains can be found. To give you a hint on where the wine comes from, read the back label. It will usually tell you about the region and possibly even mention the vineyard or winemaker. You can then Google them to see what else they are producing to get a sense of the potential value.
Of course, you will never really know till you uncork (or unscrew!) a bottle. But at the jaw-dropping prices for Kirkland Signature wine, it’s worth a try.
7. Don’t Be Afraid of the Back Aisles
While the bins are where the action is (big wines or big ratings), the back aisles hold solid deals. Prices are typically much lower (in line with the Kirkland Signature brands) and you can find some true gems. For example, wines that make critics’ “Best Buy” lists or even reasonably-priced wines on Wine Enthusiast’s or Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” list. These accolades will be clearly marked so it isn’t hard to find.
8. Wooden Crates Are Included
If you see an empty wooden crate, feel free to use it to carry out your wine. Like the cardboard boxes at check out, wooden crates are free. Of course, don’t get crazy and start emptying bottles on to the floor or nearby bins to get a crate; that’s just rude.
9. Costco May Not Always Be the Cheapest
On average and overtime, Costco has great deals but there are exceptions. This is when Wine Bounty can come in handy. For example, Costco regularly carries the Justin Vineyards brand and, in particular, its flagship Bordeaux-styled blend, Isosceles. Shortly before writing this article, Costco was selling the 2016 vintage for $67.99/bottle (regular retail $80+), but Wine Slash had the same vintage available online (at the same time) for the unbelievable price of $45/bottle.
Since only the strongest willed can walk out of Costco without spending at least double what they anticipated walking in, why not throw a bottle in your cart next time? Using these simple tips will hopefully keep you from breaking the bank and possibly help you find a true gem. Happy hunting!
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