When not to buy wine at Costco

I have struggled to evaluate Costco as a source of “fine” wine.  Sure, the prices are good, but I have had quite a few bad experiences.  It seems like Costco are just too price focussed.  So we get offered wines from reasonably good estates but poor vintages.  Or decent wines getting to the end of their life.

I really trust Costco to find me the best price on a wide range of items, especially electronics and white goods where, in exchange for accepting last year’s model, enormous savings can be made.  Also consumables like washing powder, water, beer and bog rolls are generally cheapest at Costco, providing you buy in bulk.

I am just not convinced that the wine department is staffed by real enthusiasts.  I am certainly not going to defame Costco, I am sure their wine buyers are diligent, and that the provenance of all their wines is thoroughly checked.  It is just that, if I was a wine negociant, and someone came knocking with price as the sole criterion for purchase, I would be tempted to find the cases I could sell cheap.  A good name/bad year combination – looks good value?  A wine that less price sensitive buyers rejected – I can afford to let it go cheap!  A batch with a high percentage of corked bottles – who would know?

On my last visit, I was tempted by the fine wine display, so splashed out £19.92 on a bottle of Château Camensac 1995.

Camensac corked....for some reason

Camensac 1982 was the best wine I have ever drunk and I recently tried the 1996 which was excellent.  I was desperately looking forward to trying the 1995 and disconsolate when I opened the bottle.  Horrible, musty smell on the cork, and in the bottle.  I tried decanting, poured a little into a glass – an almost fizzy taste like old orange juice starting to ferment.  Corked I reckon.

Now it is clearly not Costco’s fault (or indeed the winemaker’s) that the wine was spoilt.  But how do I take it back?  Do I bring the empty bottle back to the enquiries desk and try to explain and ask for a refund?  If so, when?  I only visit Costco every three or four months.

If I buy wine from one of the e-tailers, I simply ring up or email, and they immediately credit my account.  I can even pop into Majestic, safe in the knowledge that they will understand and refund.  But Costco, and for that matter the supermarkets are a different matter – it seems awkward to return a bottle.  So I have taken this one on the chin and my bank manager will be charging me a few more pence on my overdraft next month.

I have reluctantly concluded that the answer is not to stop buying wine from Costco, but to stop buying expensive wine from Costco.  There are some great deals on cava and champagne, and on branded wines in 6 packs.  There are even some cheapish wines in the fine wine section that I have tried and loved.  But spending more than a few quid a bottle is just too risky.

7 Responses to “When not to buy wine at Costco”

  1. dhonig Says:

    Interesting. Here in Indiana, at least the north Indianapolis location, Costco has a “wine guy” at the wine display every Saturday. I have never had to return a wine to Costco, but if I did, I have no doubt he would handle it for me. He has always proven himself knowledgeable and helpful.

  2. Peter May Says:

    I have been with friends who have taken stuff back to Costco and there has been absolutely no problem about returning goods.

    I think it unfair to complain here if you did not even attempt to complain to Costco. As for your comment about returining wine to supermarkets, I am amazed that you haven’t done so. There is no problem, refund or replacement without question is standard.

    As for your statement that the blame for the corked wine cannot be laid at the door of the wine-maker — are you so certain?

    The winery had the choice of which and whose corks to purchase. They had the option of testing them themselves for TCA. They had the option of which quality level of corks to buy. They had the option of avoiding having a corked wine altogether by choosing to close their wines with a screwcap.

    But the only thing that got screwed here was ……. you!

    For shame. Don’t let them get away with it. Put the cork back in the bottle and take it back.

  3. Alex Says:

    I think you have to take it back. £20 is a lot of money on a bottle of wine. You’re right that it’s not Costco’s fault that a wine is corked (in the same way that it’s not a small, independent wine merchant’s fault) but at the same time you’ve been sold something which isn’t fit for purpose.

    I suspect a lot of large retailers are quite happy for their image to be daunting, while the small guys absorb have to absorb the cost in the name of customer service. As consumers, we need to keep alll the vendors (but particularly the big ones!) on their toes!

  4. Golly Says:

    I only ever visit Costco in the US and tend to wander around in wide eyed wonderment like I just stepped off the boat. However, at the Royal Oak store in Michigan there’s always a ‘wine guy’ around who’s happy to chat to anyone who isn’t looking at 3 litre jugs for $3. If you can manouver him next to the fish guy you can usually wash down free samples of shrimp and lobster with free wine – Homer Simpson style.

  5. Bev Davenport Says:

    Costco is the most helpful place ever for returning items. If you had put the wine back in the bottle and returned it 6 months later they would have refunded you.
    I took a kettle back once that failed. I thought I had it less than a year but it turned out it had been nearly two. The assistant said that things are guaranteed for life, so i got a refund and bought a new one. I also really rate their opticians. High tech eye tests and really helpful in choosing glasses and if you pop in and ask to have your glasses tightened or something they do it and give them a clean too. I could go on…. I love costco!

  6. Paul Says:

    I do agree with your statement about not buying expensive wine from Costco – I personally have never spent more than £10 per bottle in costco and whilst I have been impressed with them all in their own way, I have had more than an everage amount of bottles with ‘iffy’ corks (maybe 4/10). I’m not sure if it’s just my local store storing them incorrectly, but I would definetely go elsewhere to make a more expensive purchase.

  7. sara monk Says:

    I took back an empty bottle of champagne after New Year’s to Waitrose…my husband and I both had insisted that upon drinking the champagne the bottle didn’t have enough bubbles. The bottle was empty; they tutted a little but refunded me my purchase. I shop there a lot.

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