My first interaction with Costco was a few years ago, when I set up a complex bartering system with a coworker. He brought me coconut water in bulk, and in exchange I would try to show up to work on time. We were both happy.
My second Costco experience was a month ago at home in Michigan. My parents started their membership while I spent most of my time in the wine section, and kept saying stuff like "Wow...it's so cheap!" To anyone who has ever set foot in a Costco, it was the equivalent of me saying "Wow...that ocean is so full of water!" or "OMG. Shocking news. The tortoise beat the hare." So obvious...but still so wonderful.
In most locations and for many bottles, Costco offers substantial discounts relative to other wine retailers. So in true Costco style, buying wine in bulk is a dream that can become a reality. And according to the sign I saw in a southeast Michigan location, the general public is allowed to buy alcohol there even without a membership. Of course, the prices and selections vary from store to store, and you're much more likely to find large-production wines than what you'd discover at your local specialty wine shop.
The wine aisles at Costco are dizzying—which bottles are worth buying and which should you pass by? We tasted 22 white wines from Costco. Here's our guide to the best of the bunch.
Favorite Light, Crisp White Wines
You've probably seen Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc before, and at $13, we found it a terrifically refreshing option. While we noticed tropical fruit aromas, this wine's flavor is much more in the citrus and grapefruit camp. It's slightly grassy and very tart, so be mindful of that when choosing food to eat with it—try to avoid dishes or sauces with a lot of sugar in them. Citrus-dressed salads, fried seafood, and salty cheeses are your friends when you're drinking this Sauvignon Blanc.
If you're into Sauv Blancs on the greener side, reach for Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012 ($14). The scent reminded us of jalapeño, green pepper, and lime, though the flavors offer a floral side. Consider pasta with anchovies to pair with this interesting wine.
Moving from New Zealand to Italy, the Fontana Candida Frascati DOC 2011 ($9) blend of Malvasia Bianca di Candia, Trebbiano Toscano, and Malvasia di Lazio is an easy-drinking summer sipper. With floral and somewhat lemony fragrances, the wine offers bright acidity, peach flavors, and a little savory complexity at the end. I'd love to have this alongside a flaky white fish.
Favorite Medium-Bodied White Wines
If you've never tried Greek wine, you'll be pleasantly surprised if you start by sipping on the Boutari Moschofilero PDO Mantinia 2012 ($14). This wine has sweet aromas of tropical fruit cut by lemon. We were pleasantly surprised by the softness of this wine to counter the more tart stone fruit flavors of nectarine and apricot. I'd also grab this bottle for my next roasted chicken dinner.
We've found a few Italian Pinot Grigios that are good budget buys when exploring the wine lists at chain restaurants. You'll find 'em at Costco, too: KRIS Pinot Grigio IgT 2011 ($11) has crisp lemon flavors balanced by an almost almond-like richness at the end. And Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio IgT 2012 ($9) is full of zesty lime and a little ripe apricot. These versatile options would do well at an outdoor dinner party.
If you're looking for acid and minerality, Zenato Pinot Grigio IgT 2012 ($10) is a solid buy. It smells like green apple and offers the tartness of a freshly cut lime. As the wine warms up, it reveals a richness that's great for sipping with food.
Favorite Full-Bodied White Wines
From the Dundee region in Oregon, Sokol Blosser's Evolution White Wine ($15, but we've seen it at Costco for as low as $11) is a blend of 9 different grape varieties, including Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Muscat. You might be tricked by the rich aromas of vanilla and pear into thinking you're in for an oak-bomb, but the fruit and crisp acidity comes through clearly. Tropical fruit flavors are balanced by apple-y tartness. This wine has enough heft to stand up to meatier dishes—something along the lines of pork with apples.
The budget Chardonnays we tried were generally less convincing because of too much (or too fake-tasting) oak. That said, the Edna Valley Chardonnay Central Coast 2011 (around $11) had more acidity than the others to keep it fresh and interesting. Sure, the wine smelled of sweet vanilla and caramel, but the pronounced citrus and long finish made us think more of lemon bars or lemon pie than just wood. A little air and warmth will mellow this wine out. Serve it to cut through a creamy sauce on scallops, chicken, or pasta.
Do you shop for wine at Costco? What are your recent great-deal discoveries?
About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting. You can follow her on twitter @seemagunda
Wines provided as samples for review consideration.