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Food & Wine

Costco's Kirkland label is treasure for the price

While playing golf recently, I was informed of a recent Cabernet taste-off between an unnamed $100 bottle of Bordeaux and a $17.99 bottle of Kirkland Signature Cabernet. You know where this is going: The Kirkland won hands down!

I had to taste for myself, so I hustled down to Costco and bought the 2002 Alexander Valley Cabernet. It was delicious and a terrific bargain. I needed to know more, so I contacted the bottler, the Winery Exchange in Santa Rosa.

My message was relayed to Costco, where a buyer in the wine department responded.

As we all know, Kirkland is Costco's private label for just about everything. I was under the impression that proprietary wine is a new program, but it has been in place for four years.

Costco's stated goal is "to find a wine in a well known region at a great value that exceeds your expectation." They selectively rotate varietals and consider the search for the Kirkland brand a "treasure hunt" in their wine section.

They search the world and buy wine from many great regions: Bordeaux, the Barossa Valley, Montalcino, Burgundy and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, just to name a few. The Cab purchase was only 4,580 cases, relatively few, considering there are 346 Costco warehouses in the United States.

I asked about the source of the wine and even said I would not publish the information if it were confidential. No information was forthcoming.

I can appreciate the reasons. The wineries supplying the grapes or juice do not want to compete with themselves or have it known that sales of their name brands are not quite what they should be.

I returned to Costco and its treasure hunt theme and found another Kirkland bottling, 2003 Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) from Savigny-Les-Beaune. This is a village wine without a vineyard designation - in other words, a blend of grapes from various vineyards in that appellation. This wine doesn't measure up to the quality of the Alexander Valley Cab but was certainly drinkable. Priced at $17.99, it is better than most anything you could buy at the price from Burgundy. Since they only made a 1,000 cases of this one, it really is like a game to find a bottle!

The Cab is available on Costco's Web site, but the minimum purchase is a case.

Single bottles of a 2000 Brunello di Montalcino for $37.99 and a 2003 Margaux from Bordeaux for $24.99 also can be purchased on the Internet. I did not taste the latter two but imagine they will be well worth the money.

I thought it only fair to check out Target's approach to wine. They have hired Andrea Immer, a well-known wine author and a very visible master sommelier, to be their spokeswoman and wine selector. The wines she endorses are mostly low-end imports that reflect her personal tastes in a particular price bracket. I am sure they are drinkable.

The different thing Target and Immer endorse is wine in a "cube." Everybody else calls it "wine in a box," but these boxes are cubes. Cubes come in two sizes, two bottles for $9.99 and four for $15.99. You can even buy insulated covers for the cubes.

The cubes are uniquely vintage dated; they may be the first boxes ever to have vintage dates. They come in most of the popular varietals, which stay drinkable for six weeks after opening if kept in a cool place. A bladder in the box collapses as wine is poured to keep oxygen (the enemy of wine) from entering.

The Trinchero family, better known as the owners of Sutter Home, produce the wine. I tried a 2003 Cabernet Shiraz from California, usually a compatible blend. I am not sure what happened here, but the blend needs a little work.

Steve Hicks is a wine adviser and consultant and a partner in a winery. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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