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There’s nothing quite like the “Costco Hunt” — the search for products that are abundantly in stock one day and completely gone the next. Once thse products disappear, they become almost legendary, discussed among shoppers with a mystique about having once existed. That’s part of the reason people stand in front of Costco stores waiting for them to open on a daily basis.
You may not have known it, but there is a huge cult of Costco fanatics who love scouring their local warehouse to find killer deals on wine, as well as anything else they can fit in their oversized Costco shopping cart.
Before I jump into some secrets about shopping for wine at Costco, let me first discuss why you should care.
Costco wine is typically priced anywhere from 10 to 20 percent less than wine at other wine stores, and sometimes even less. If you shop online, you can get prices close to that of Costco, but in terms of physical stores, Costco is hard to beat on price.
The wines that Costco sells are generally good values in that for each varietal and region, the bottles that Costco carries will be strong offerings at a great price. To this extent, it feels sometimes as though Costco pre-screens the bottles, to eliminate any duds (although I’ve found a few). There were rumors, too, that Costco would only carry wines rated 90 points or more by the major critics, although at the lower end of the price spectrum that doesn’t seem to be true.
To this extent, buying wine at Costco allows you to be adventurous and try new things. You don’t have to feel as though you might be overpaying for a bottle of gruner veltliner when you don’t know what to expect. You can bank on the fact that it’s probably a good representation of the varietal and region for the price.
One other thing to note — and I haven’t tried this but it seems widely known — is that Costco does not restrict the sale of alcohol to non-members. This means that you don’t have to have a paid Costco membership to purchase wine. You can tell the membership representative at the main door that you are coming in to buy wine specifically and they should let you through.
Everyone likes to save a buck and get a good deal, so here are eight tricks to help you when shopping for wine at Costco.
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This goes for anything at Costco. But when you’re in the store, and you find something that’s an incredible deal, you should buy as much as you can right then and there. Wine, like everything else at Costco, can disappear overnight. I can think of a handful of wines like that, and I know a few more that are going fast — like the house-branded Kirkland Rioja and Côtes du Rhône Villages, both $6.99, by the way.
Anyone who shops at Costco knows the Kirkland brand, Costco’s own private label that sells everything at a great price, including wine. Some of the Kirkland wines have proven to be insane values. I listed two above. The Kirkland Châteauneuf-du-Pape is also a great buy — $19.99. Kirkland wines might not be the most prestigious bottle to bring to a dinner party, but pour it into a decanter, hide the bottle, and see what people think when they taste them. I bet you’ll be surprised to find your snobbiest wine friends will find the wines to be delicious, but they’d be even more surprised if they found out how much you paid for them.
If the price ends in $.97, it is a markdown from the regular price which would have ended in $.99. Sometimes, you’ll see the price end in $.49 or $.79 or any other unusual string of numbers. This typically means that Costco negotiated a special price with the producer, and given Costco’s buying power, you are probably getting an even better deal on these items.
Unlike many wine retailers, Costco will stock different vintages of the same wine in the same bin. This is really important, as a bottle from a great growing year and a bottle from a lesser one could be sitting right next to each other for the same price. How do you know what vintages are best? Here’s a good link, and there are plenty of mobile apps to help you out. Don’t be afraid to move all the bottles around to see what’s in there. You might be surprised.
Not everyone will feel comfortable doing this, but Costco stores extra bottles of the wines you see displayed, along with some that you don’t, underneath the wooden boxes. Don’t be afraid to start digging around down there no matter how strange you might look to others around you. You never know what you will find — one of my biggest scores at Costco was when I found a 2005 Château Pontensac for $13. This is an excellent $30 to $40 Bordeaux. I was going to buy every bottle I could find. There were three left in the wooden bin, but I dug around underneath and found an additional two. I just consumed the last of these a year or so ago, and it was fabulous.
If you don’t understand what this means, click here. Some wines at Costco will be stacked and presented in the wooden boxes that the wine was shipped in from the vineyard. If one of these is empty or almost empty you can put the wooden box in your cart and take it home. Just something to keep an eye out for when you’re shopping.
If the sign has an asterisk in the upper right hand corner, it means that it’s a clearance item and that it will not be restocked. In the case of wine, you will obviously want to stock up on these if it’s a wine that you enjoy. Combine this with the one that suggests you dig underneath the bins, and you can tell when you are getting a good deal or a clearance price, and that you need to stock up right away or this bottle will disappear.
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While paying attention to the price and the pricing structure, also look for prices that are visibly marked down on the tag. Sometimes it will be $3 off, but other times it can be $6 to $8 off. These specials don’t last long, and can really save you money when you find them. I recently found this Argentinian red blend marked down $6, from an original price of $23.49 (note the $.49). It turned out to be an excellent buy.