Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Costco, Kirkland Signature Chardonnay, Sonoma County

Costco, Kirkland Signature Chardonnay, Sonoma County

The one question I get asked more than any other from non-oenophiles (wine geeks), is, 'what is your favorite wine?'. This usually is an icebreaker to open the discussion to ask the real pressing question, 'what is a great value wine?' 
I often talk about wine in the context of QPR - Quality Price Ratio, which is a measure of the relative value of a wine in its price range. 

Understandably, everyone in addition to casual wine drinkers who lack the discriminating wine pallet from serious wine tasting want a low cost pleasurable good tasting wine. I've written in these pages about the wine price spectrum, from every day wines, once a week wines, once a month wines, once a year wines, and once in a lifetime wines. Once might be more open to spending top dollar for a special occasion wine than for one for every day casual sipping. 

Couple this phenomenon with two other interesting facts: the average price paid by the consumer for a bottle of wine is under $15. And, the number one wine merchant in the US in rank of consumer wine sales is Costco, the wholesale big box merchant from Kirkland, Washington. 
Most folks know Costco is a membership warehouse club, with the intent to provide best available prices on quality brand-name merchandise, leverage large purchasing power, keep costs down and pass the savings on to our member/customers. With more than 800 locations worldwide, they have massive volume purchasing power. This creates the challenge and reality to select suppliers that can deliver large quantities to meet the massive demand of the high volume high turnover Costco machine. 
Costco warehouses carry about 4,000 SKUs (stock keeping units) compared to the 30,000 found at most supermarkets. By carefully choosing products based on quality, price, brand, and features, the company can offer the best value to members, those folks that pay for the right to shop there! Oh yeah, that's how they can afford to pass along savings and keep margins tight, because they also collect membership fees. 
It would be reasonable to consider this philosophy and approach contrary to wine, where highest quality is the result of small production of carefully crafted product. But for casual everyday sipping wines, there is an intersection point of quality, quantity and price/value. 

Never-the-less, many folks are unaware that Costco® is the number one wine retailer in the U.S. 

While one might argue that high value wines that are available in large volume in the marketplace would therefore be widely available in grocers and wine merchants, the Costco difference is simply the tremendously slim margin Costco takes thanks to their membership model. By making money on membership fees, it helps subsidize the economics to keep product prices low, including those on wine.

Hence, most Costco wines are available elsewhere, but likely at slightly higher prices. The emergence of the large discount wine superstores, Total Wine, Bev-Mo and, here in Illinois, Binny's, the Costco effect is diminished. The everyday Binny's price tends to be comparable to, or better than Costco, and their discounted prices tend to be better than the everyday Costco price. And of course, Binny's will offer a massive wine selection compared to the very limited Costco offering. 

Occasionally, one can find some low production wines available in an individual Costco store, but my experience is that this occurs in the markets where those wines are produced, mainly California and to a lesser degree Oregon and Washington. 

This brings me to the elephant in the room, the Costco house brand, “Kirkland Signature” wines. These are generally high-quality wines made by excellent wineries exclusively for Costco, cutting out the middleman where arcane local liquor distribution laws allow such practices. 

In some cases, these labels are starting to catch on and are developing a bit of a cult following so the low productions ones sell out fast, sometimes even within days. Some might argue this same phenomenon exists with other large volume discount grocers such as Trader Joe's and Aldi. 

I've written often in these pages about 'everyday wines', once a week wines, once a month, once a year, and special occasion wines - each with their corresponding price-point.  

It was Jess Jackson who imagined such a high volume quality wine and built a billion dollar wine empire on the basis of an affordable easy drinking California Chardonnay. His story was chronicled in the best selling book - A Man and His Mountain, the story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson and his pursuit of his dream to build a brand of premium varietal based wine for the mass market. His accomplishments over the ensuring two and a half decades exceeded all expectations achieving the art of the possible building a multi-billion dollar wine empire - featured in my blogpost about Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay.

The brand that he envisioned grew to an iconic empire, Kendall-Jackson and the Chardonnay label created the whole category of varietal based mass market premium wine shipping millions of cases of wine annually.

With this in mind, I picked up a bottle of the Costco private label Kirkland Signature Sonoma County Chardonnay, as an everyday sipper. It was surprisingly good, a pleasant easy drinking wine, suitable and ideal for everyday consumption.

According to the label, "Kirkland Signature Sonoma County Chardonnay is elegant with rich, ripe, fruit flavors. The mid-palate has a wonderful zest coming from the grape's natural acidity which provides a long multi-dimensional finish. Apple, pear and orange citrus notes are surrounded by hints of vanilla and spice from the subtle oak maturation."

This label is Vinted & Bottled by Grape and Grain Imports who write, "The 2019 Kirkland Signature Sonoma County Chardonnay is made in the buttery, slightly sweet style that, to be honest, is not our favorite but it's done so well it's hard not to like. It opens with a pleasing aroma of microwave popcorn, apples and citrus."

"The buttery theme continues when tasting this wine which is also filled with sweet apple and citrus along with a touch of tart tropical fruit. Featuring a smooth, slightly creamy texture this is quite easy to drink and a great representation of this style. It ends with good length and some lingering buttery citrus notes. Butterlicious."

At at price around $10, this is great value, high QPR - Quality Price Ratio wine - ideal for keeping in the cooler for casual pleasurable, non-discriminating sipping. Pick some up.