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On the Bottle: A Review of Costco's Kirkland Brand Wines

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My seven dinner companions and I sampled these four Kirkland Brand wines: Champagne, Chardonnay, Meritage, and Tawny Port.

1 My seven dinner companions and I sampled these four Kirkland Brand wines: Champagne, Chardonnay, Meritage, and Tawny Port.

The prices are definitely lower than competing bottles.

2 The prices are definitely lower than competing bottles.

We started with Brut Champagne - the real stuff, made in France - but found it a little disappointing, even at $19.99.  For the same price or just slightly more, you can do better.

3 We started with Brut Champagne - the real stuff, made in France - but found it a little disappointing, even at $19.99. For the same price or just slightly more, you can do better.

All we got were citrus and toasty notes, which seems to indicate that it's mostly Chardonnay - a cheaper grape to produce than the other two Champagne varietals, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which add depth to the blend.

4 All we got were citrus and toasty notes, which seems to indicate that it's mostly Chardonnay - a cheaper grape to produce than the other two Champagne varietals, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which add depth to the blend.

One great alternative: Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne sells for $22.99 at Costco. You'll taste more complexity - citrus, green apple, red berry fruit, sweet spice, and brioche toast - and a creamier texture.

5 One great alternative: Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne sells for $22.99 at Costco. You'll taste more complexity - citrus, green apple, red berry fruit, sweet spice, and brioche toast - and a creamier texture.

For $15.99 you can buy Banfi Rosa Regale, a dry sparkling rose from Italy, with lots of strawberry and raspberry flavor balanced by a bite of acidity.

6 For $15.99 you can buy Banfi Rosa Regale, a dry sparkling rose from Italy, with lots of strawberry and raspberry flavor balanced by a bite of acidity.

At $7.99, fans of creamy, oaky Chardonnay would do just fine with this wine.

7 At $7.99, fans of creamy, oaky Chardonnay would do just fine with this wine.

It's your basic medium-bodied, oak-dominated, just-a-little-citrus-note Chardonnay that you could pair with buttery sauces or roasted chicken.

8 It's your basic medium-bodied, oak-dominated, just-a-little-citrus-note Chardonnay that you could pair with buttery sauces or roasted chicken.

For an alternative in the oaky California Chardonnay world, I'd try La Crema at $14.99.  It's also from Sonoma, and you'll find it has a little more going on with some green apple and spice.

9 For an alternative in the oaky California Chardonnay world, I'd try La Crema at $14.99. It's also from Sonoma, and you'll find it has a little more going on with some green apple and spice.

Our red selection was a Bordeaux-style blend of 59% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc.  At $10.99, we were happy.

10 Our red selection was a Bordeaux-style blend of 59% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc. At $10.99, we were happy.

There was a lot of plum and dark berry fruit flavor balanced by just enough acid and tannin to keep it in check.  For the price, for a weeknight wine, it'll work fine with burgers and other meaty fare.

11 There was a lot of plum and dark berry fruit flavor balanced by just enough acid and tannin to keep it in check. For the price, for a weeknight wine, it'll work fine with burgers and other meaty fare.

You could also step it a up a little and try the Veramonte Primus from Chile.  At $13.99, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Carmenere still has a lot of dark fruit but adds a few spicy, herbal, and earthy notes to the mix.

12 You could also step it a up a little and try the Veramonte Primus from Chile. At $13.99, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Carmenere still has a lot of dark fruit but adds a few spicy, herbal, and earthy notes to the mix.

After dinner we tried the Kirkland 10 Year Old Tawny Port, which was a decent value for $16.99.

13 After dinner we tried the Kirkland 10 Year Old Tawny Port, which was a decent value for $16.99.

You will taste raisins, orange rind, and nuts in this light port.

14 You will taste raisins, orange rind, and nuts in this light port.

Costco is not only the number one retailer of wines in the United States, they've got their own collection of wines on the shelf, a changing assortment made in wine regions all over the world, with all the most popular varietals, made sparkling, still, and fortified. Supermarkets aren't allowed to sell wine in New York State, but on a recent trip to Arizona I was able to stroll the wine aisles and pick up a few of Costco's own Kirkland brand wines for my family to taste. Here's my take on the four bottles we sampled over dinner, with more information about each wine in the photo captions above.

  • Kirkland Brut Champagne NV (12% abv, $19.99) - This is legit Champagne from France and a bargain in that category, but we were disappointed. You'll taste a little citrus and some toast, but you could do better for the price with brut Champagne from Piper Hiedseick ($22.99 at Costco) or the rose sparkling Banfi Rosa Regale ($15.99 at Costco).
  • Kirkland Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2008 (13.5% abv, $7.99) - If you like an oaky, creamy Chardonnay, this wine will do you just fine for the price. Similar in style but a bit more complex is the La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2008 ($14.99 at Costco).
  • Kirkland Napa Valley Meritage 2007 (14.4% abv, $10.99) - This red blend is full of plum and dark berry fruit, but has a decent amount of tannin and acidity to balance it out. You'll notice it's high in alcohol, which could be a plus or minus depending on how you like to drink. The Veramonte Primus 2006 is a good upgrade ($13.99 at Costco).
  • Kirkland 10 Year Old Tawny Port (20% abv, $16.99) - You'll get what you pay for: light bodied port that tastes of raisins, nuts, a little orange rind, and a pleasant but not cloying sweetness. Inexpensive tawny ports always lack the depth of flavor you get from using premium grapes and extensive aging, but that's why they're under $20.

In summary: Don't expect magic at these prices, but for everyday wines, there are some decent options to be found. The lady serving samples in the frozen food aisle spied my cart and heartily recommended an Argentine Malbec at $7.99, so maybe next time I'll give it a try.

"On the Bottle" is a column about wine and spirits appearing every Friday on the Martha Stewart Living Radio blog. Email your boozy questions and wine quandries to radio@marthastewart.com and they'll be answered in an upcoming post.

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