If you're a wine fanatic, you already know Costco's Kirkland brand wines are a great value. Some shell out $60 for the annual Costco membership just for the wine.
So for the third year in a row, we roped in wine critic Owen Bargreen to review some of Costco's best bargain vinos. While the herd stampedes for the toilet paper and bottled water, we would rather roll our cart down the wine aisle. (Priorities, people.) We were impressed by the quality of Costco's private-label wine, and that was before we took into consideration that most bottles ($5.99 to $7.99) are cheaper than a six-pack of Rainier. Of the 14 bottles we judged, half got a highly recommended grade.
But first, some housekeeping.
• Many readers were furious last year that we would review wines from a "big-box chain" when Washington state boasts more than 1,000 wineries. If I may retort before I get proverbially stoned again by the mob: The majority of our wine stories and reviews are focused on Washington and Northwest wines.
• Instead of a 100-point scale, we made the ranking more reader-friendly, grading each bottle "highly recommended," "recommended" or "not recommended."
On to those reviews.
NV Kirkland Signature Asolo Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.
11% alcohol; $6.99
Owen Bargreen: It's sourced from vineyards across Veneto, Italy, which literally could be anywhere. Baked apple with baking spices and shades of citrus rind fill the nose. I get layers of baked pear and apple mingled with a touch of marzipan and sourdough bread. Ready to drink between 2020 and 2024. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Tan Vinh: I've seen clerks restock this twice already in the past seven weeks at the Sodo store. I'm sure it will fly off the shelves again. It hits all the right notes for the mainstream: The cheap price. The bubbles. Even if you don't like the taste of wine, you might love prosecco because it goes down easy with hints of apple and honeydew, with a sweet nectar, brioche finish. Verdict: Highly recommended.
NV Kirkland Signature Brut Champagne
12% alcohol; $19.99
Owen: It's made by Champagne house Jannison, which is a grand cru site located in Verzenay, France. The 'Brut' is a proprietary blend of Meunier, pinot noir and chardonnay. Pretty orange blossom aromatics combine with ginger, white flowers and shades of freshly baked French bread, which all meld in the glass. Layers of Japanese pear and baking spices mingle with kumquat zest and star fruit tones with a dusting of salinity. Drink 2020-2025. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Tan: I love the yeasty, orange rind on this. Since we started reviewing Costco wines three years ago, this has been the consistent winner. Every year, Owen, we look at each other and wonder, "How does Costco pull this off?" The chain is hush-hush when it comes to questions about its wines, but I suspect its signature Champagne, like its $4.99 rotisserie chicken, might be a loss leader. The economic math on this doesn't add up. It's a steal at this price. Verdict: Highly recommended.
2019 Kirkland Signature "Grave" Pinot Grigio
11.5% alcohol; $5.99
Owen: The nose is faint with gooseberry tones, with lighter pear and lemon zest. The palate is fresh and vibrant, but a touch of sweetness makes this lose balance, as sweetened pear, apple and minerals all mingle together. Despite its shortcomings, it's a good value. Drink 2020-2024. Verdict: Recommended.
Tan: It's a bit syrupy on the midpalate and there's not enough grapefruit bitters to balance that sweetness. Meh. You can do better at Costco. Much, much better. See below. Verdict: Not recommended.
2019 Kirkland Signature California Pinot Grigio
12% alcohol; $12.99 for a 3-liter box
Owen: Showing more heft than the "Grave" pinot grigio, this leads with jasmine and pink grapefruit blossom on the nose with pear tones. The palate has good freshness to back everything up. Pear and lemon Starburst candy flavors combine with minerals and white peach on the palate. Drink 2020-2023. Verdict: Recommended.
Tan: As the adage goes, don't judge a book by its cover. It's the best box wine I've tasted this year. This would be my pandemic drinking wine, where I can have a few glasses without getting sloshed — melon and honey notes layered with clay and limestone to finish. This pinot grigio is better than half the house whites I had when I was still dining out and reviewing restaurants and bars. Verdict: Highly recommended.
2020 Kirkland Signature "Ti Point" Sauvignon Blanc
12.5% alcohol; $6.99
Owen: The Kirkland Signature "Ti Point" Sauvignon Blanc is made by Tracy Haslam of Ti Point Wines in Marlborough, New Zealand. This shows gooseberry and kiwi tones that mingle with shades of green bell pepper on the nose. The flavors almost exactly mimic the aromas on the nose with some Gravenstein apple, stony accents and minerals. Drink 2020-2023. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Tan: We both agreed this was the second-best white wine of the Costco lot. Aromatic with tropical notes on the nose. It tastes like a crisp, spiked Sprite, softened with pineapple and limestone. A nice patio wine on a warm day. Verdict: Highly recommended.
2018 Kirkland Signature "Premier Cru" Chablis
13.5% alcohol; $19.99
Owen: Sourced from two different vineyards in Van Ligneau and Vaugiraut, France, this outstanding 2018 Chablis is crafted by Odile Van Der Moere. Light, flinty tones mingle with ripe pear and lemon zest on the nose. The palate is plush and soft with a wonderful, long, crescendo finish. This has good cellaring potential. Drink 2020-2028. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Tan: The Chablis was the best Costco wine I had last year. This year, it's neck and neck with another red for best in class. Last December, this Chablis and the Champagne ($19.99) were the only Costco-label wines we both gave a "highly recommended" grade that were still available after the holidays. I surmise it's because of the $19.99 price, which is on the high end for Costco wine. Bargain hunters seek Kirkland wines under $7. But even at 20 bucks, this is a better value than those wines under 10 bucks. Like last year, I blind-tasted this bottle with other Chablis in the $50 range again, and this was just as good as the bottles in the higher price range. Like Owen said, that lingering finish is just outstanding. Verdict: Highly recommended.
2019 Kirkland Signature "California" Chardonnay
14.5% alcohol; $7.99 for 1.5-liter bottle
Owen: It is unclear where this wine came from. The label simply states that this was "cellared and bottled by Dc Flynt MW Selections in Modesto, California." The wine is quite cloying even if it finishes long, with overripe pear and a saccharin note. I wouldn't recommend this to my worst enemy. Drink 2020-2023. Verdict: Not recommended.
Tan: This plonk is a dead ringer for a California Wine Cooler. Remember those? Even all the syrupy sweetness couldn't mask this boozy monstrosity. The bottle said it's 14.5% alcohol. It tastes much hotter than that. I can feel the heat dripping down my throat. Verdict: Not recommended.
2019 Kirkland Signature Sonoma County Chardonnay
13.5% alcohol; $7.99
Owen: It is impossible to ascertain where this wine is made, only a small mention of Geyserville, California, on the label. Vanilla bean with ripe pear and baked apple tones fill the nose. The palate is fresh with good balance and a soft mouthfeel. Layers of banana and vanilla cream are woven together with minerals and ripe peach on the palate. Drink 2020-2025. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Tan: I didn't like this as much as you did — some apples and pears on the palate, and some vanilla from the oak aging. But it didn't blow me away. A passable table wine. Verdict: Recommended.
2019 Kirkland Signature Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alcohol; $12.89
Owen: The palate is quite sweet and overripe, with red fruits and cola tones. This does not deliver much for the price compared to the other wines. Drink 2020-2023. Verdict: Not recommended.
Tan: It's not as bad as last year's, but it doesn't move the needle enough for a "recommended" buy. It tastes like a flat cherry cola. Man, I love Russian River pinots as much as I love those from Ribbon Ridge. I encouraged first-timers to seek out Russian River wines, just not this one. Verdict: Not recommended.
2019 Kirkland Signature Cotes du Rhone Villages
14.5% alcohol; $6.99
Owen: Crafted by Patrick Lesec, this wine is a proprietary blend of Mourvedre, syrah and Grenache. This Cotes du Rhone Villages shows plenty of freshness and textural elements with ripe red and dark currants, red florals, cigar ash and garrigue tones alongside firm tannins and bright acidity. This is a pretty complex wine. Drink 2020-2025. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Tan: The best red in this sampling — dulcet plum with crème de cassis on the palate. I would have never guessed the alcohol was 14.5%-high. I can't taste the heat, the wine is so beautifully crafted. I agree, Owen, that this is the best bang for your buck, the best red I've had this year for under $10. I would buy every bottle I see. I would even snatch a bottle out of granny's hand at the store. I have no shame. Verdict: Highly recommended.
2019 Kirkland Signature California Cabernet Sauvignon
13% alcohol; $7.99 for 1.5-liter bottle
Owen: It's unknown where this wine came from. The sweetened tones on the nose are downright offensive. The palate is flat and saccharine-driven with very little in terms of actual fruit flavors. This is really disappointing stuff even at this price. I wouldn't even sell this at a truck stop. Verdict: Not recommended.
Tan: The source is unknown because who would cop to blending this crap. It tastes like it's been adulterated. You could float an orange slice on top and convince all your house guests that this is sangria, it's so sweet. Verdict: Not recommended.
2018 Kirkland Signature Napa Valley Red Blend
14.5% alcohol; $10.99
Owen: A proprietary blend of mostly merlot (47%) and cabernet sauvignon (44%) with small portions Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, this was made by Glenn Hugo. Mocha, tar and black licorice tones all fill the nose. The palate shows good balance but has little in terms of complexity, with black tea and black fruits that mingle with minerals on the palate. This doesn't deliver much in terms of Napa Valley character in a Bordeaux-style wine. Drink 2020-2025. Verdict: Not recommended.
Tan: Really? I can tell this is a big red from Napa with a whiff. I can taste the robust cherry notes up front; plums and dark fruits followed. I would sip this on a damp, windy Sunday afternoon while lounging on my couch glued to NFL RedZone. Verdict: Recommended.
2019 Kirkland Signature Malbec
14% alcohol; $6.99
Owen: Sourced from Mendoza, Argentina, the 2019 Malbec shows milk chocolate and tobacco leaf tones with blackberry compote on the nose. The palate is plush, showing a soft mouthfeel. Ripe black fruits collide with minerals, milk chocolate and smoky tones on the palate. Drink 2020-2025. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Tan: I thought this was the second-best red in this lot; lots of cacao on the nose and on the palate with lush, dark fruit and black tea in taste. Both the Issaquah and Sodo Costco branches were well stocked with this. I would buy a case. I would never in a million years have guessed that this was a $7 wine. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Kirkland Signature 10-Year-Old Tawny Porto
20% alcohol; $16.99
Owen: Made by Fonseca Guimaraens, this 10-year-old tawny shows great value — velvety texture and ripe red plum, orange rind and raisin flavors mingle with red cherry cordially on the palate. It's complex, fantastic and downright delicious now. This has a long life ahead of it. This is a classic style for a 10-year tawny. This would usually be priced more than 20 bucks. Drink 2020-2028. Verdict: Highly recommended.
Tan: We haven't reviewed Costco's port before. I'm glad I took a reader's recommendation. I didn't even know they carried their own line of port. This is outstanding, silky in texture, with a rich body of apricot and other dry fruits, layered with caramel and rounded out with hints of vanilla and fall spices. Verdict: Highly recommended.