Serious Eats: Drinks
$20 Costco Kirkland Champagne Isn't Actually A Good Deal
You never know what kinds of things you might find at Costco. Monster-sized televisions, even bigger blocks of cheese, diamond rings...and the cheapest Champagne I've seen anywhere. I can't remember the last time I saw Champagne (the real stuff from France) for less than $30. The cheapest in our recent roundup of nonvintage bottles was around $32, and the best price for Champagne we actually loved was 36 buckeroos. Champagne is pricey stuff—pricey land, pricey grapes, intensive production and aging process, and then, marketing.
So I was surprised to see Champagne on the label of two house-brand wines at Costco this week; Kirkland Signature sparkling wine is actually made in Champagne by Manuel Janisson in the village of Verzenay, and it runs just $20 for the white and $25 for the pink. But is it any good?
Let's start with the rosé.
The good news: there's a rich berry flavor—65% of this wine is Pinot Noir, 25% Meunier, and the remainder Chardonnay. This fruity wine reminded us a bit of strawberry jam on toast, with a hint of ripe peaches, too. It would be good with a ham-and-cheese quiche (or a croque madame.) It's a tiny bit sweet, but not sweet enough to serve with dessert.
The bad news: this wine could use some lemony tartness to tighten it up...It feels a little unstructured and hints of orange marmalade mask a bitterness that we associate with cheap wine. And at $25, it's not actually cheap.
What about the $20 bottle of regular white bubbly?
The good news: Costco's Kirkland Champagne is more than drinkable, with delicate, persistent bubbles, and a slight toasty richness. We liked the white better than the rosé, which is nice, since it's also five dollars cheaper. The white has a pleasant peachiness, hints of toffee and lemon marmalade, some nice bready flavors, and maybe even a hint of lavender.
The bad news: Though it's richer than many proseccos, and the delicate bubbles are elegant, this bottle is a little bland in flavor. Is it possible that the storage wasn't ideal at some point? Sure, and that might have deadened the flavor a bit. There's a touch of bitterness after you swallow that seems to fade a little as the wine is exposed to air, but even as it opens up, this wine doesn't have what great Champagne has: complexity, mineral flavors, tart, clean, bright acidity to add freshness. It's not bad wine, and it's a nice accompaniment to buttery crabcakes or even pigs in blankets. Consider popping the cork a few hours ahead and keeping it stopped up with a Champagne stopper to let just a tiny bit of oxygen in to enhance the fullness of flavor.
If the only sparkling wine in the world were Champagne, then I'd likely say, go for it—buy the Costco Kirkland Champagne. But neither of these bottles offers the complexity of flavor that really good Champagne does. These bottles don't use the best grapes from that region, and they're likely not treated with quite the same care that the high end wines are. But you're still paying a markup for grapes from a famously expensive region, when you could be spending less for comparable wine. At $20 or $25 bucks a bottle, you can do better—if you're willing to switch from Champagne to another kind of bubbly.
If you're looking for a fun and festive bottle of sparkling wine for this New Year's Eve—especially for a party—you can certainly do better for less. For about $14, you can buy this delicious Cremant de Limoux, or tons of other options in Cremant from France or Cava from Spain. Though they often don't offer the same height of flavor that Champagne does, these sparkling wines—made in the same method as Champagne (though not always from the same type of grapes)—can be totally delicious for under $20 and sometimes under $15. There are also a few great deals to be had in American bubbly, and if you're just looking for something fizzy and fruity, Prosecco will work for much less money. For a few recommendations for this New Year's Eve, check out our complete guide to sparkling wine.
Have you tried Costco's house brand Champagne? What did you think?