Costco Corner: a penny saved is a penny put toward the next bottle...

Life is expensive. Exponentially so here in Honolulu. Enter Costco, the welcomed paradox of low cost and high quality that has Hawaii residents scrambling for a cart at every operating hour of the Costco day. When is the best time to traverse Costco’s fabled value-packed aisles? I have no idea; morning and night, weekdays and weekends, it always appears an endless sea of frantic slapdashery. Fight the bevy of busy patrons, however, and you can be rewarded with excellent value, everyday wines.  

Kevin joins me this month to review and rate two wines that may be a test of [American] patience.  All wines from Costco Corner are available at Costco while supplies last (which can be alarmingly brief, so best not to dawdle).

Disclaimer (you know, because I am a lawyer and all):  unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that the wines we review will be stocked at any particular Costco location. Costco has a mind of its own...

The hallowed aisles of Costco; where value happens.

2015 Palo das Bruxas Albariño, Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain.

Rías Baixas is a green and damp Denominación de Origen located in Galicia, an autonomous region on the coast of northwestern Spain. Galician culture has roots in ancient Celtic traditions that were influenced over the centuries by a mix of Roman legends and witchcraft. This history, combined with a landscape of ocean shores and immense forests, produced a myriad of mystic folklore. One such collection surrounds the bruxas, Galician witches from which this wine’s name is derived. These fabled witches would dialogue with nature through dances and spells to coax the vines into producing abundant and exquisite fruit. Galicia’s ancient petroglyphs recount some of these stories and practices. I would wager that climate and terroir had a greater influence over the vine’s production, but I suppose that doesn’t make for a very dramatic tale of intrigue.

[For those more interested in terroir, I might suggest Rocky beginnings …]

Rías Baixas is famous for its indigenous Albariño grape, the flagship varietal that accounts for over 90 percent of all plantings in the region. In a maritime region battered by the Atlantic and characterized by high precipitation and humidity, terroir and careful viticultural practices are critical.  Granite bedrock and alluvial, sandy soils are an excellent combination for water drainage, ensuring that roots are not overly saturated. To counter the region’s extensive rainfall and humidity, winemakers must get creative.  Most vines are afforded extra space to sprawl and are trained on a wire trellis anchored by granite pillars that can be over seven feet in height. In the fall, laborers can be found tiptoed on upside-down grape harvest bins in their attempt to access the ripe grape bunches now forming a beautiful canopy over the vineyard.

But what about this wine? Characteristically aromatic, this Albariño contained soft and somewhat underwhelming notes of citrus and stone fruit (hello, peach). The palate was balanced but not noteworthy, with a lingering and unpleasant sourness on the finish.

Into the belly of the box ...

We frequently prefer Albariño served cold, as the acidity habitually becomes overbearing when warm. This wine, however, improved greatly with rising temperatures in the glass.  An uncommon virtue with respect to white wine, patience in this case is pleasantly rewarded. The wine opened nicely to display a more round bouquet of pronounced stone fruit, citrus and tropical notes of unripened mango. On the palate, the wine gave a full rage of citrus, stone fruit and balanced minerals characteristic of the local terroir. The finish softened over time and left behind those harsh characteristics previously experienced when cold. After a rocky start, the wine ended on a positive note.

Verdict.  This wine, uncharacteristically, is best expressed when slightly warm. Initially, when cold, it appeared almost a daring challenge to defend the wine and its region.  Given time in the glass, however, the wine became less offensive and demonstrated a more classic profile of the region. Notwithstanding, at around $16 per bottle, there is better value found elsewhere.

2012 Château Raspail Gigondas, Southern Rhône Valley, France.

A mere 10 miles from the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the village of Gigondas, an appellation d'origine contrôlée in the Rhône River Valley, extends from the plain east of the Ouvèze River up to the Dentelles de Montmirail, a wondrous tableau of jagged limestone hills. Wine production in the appellation can be traced back at least to the Roman era, when Gigondas was utilized as a respite for the Roman Legion. Even in ancient times, Southern France was the prime destination for drinking and frivolity. Party on.

At around $21, a great value wine from Costco, while supplies last...

Gigondas enjoys a cooler climate than its more famous neighbor due to higher altitude (in some cases up to 600 meters) and a steady Mistral wind that blows down the valley.  The soils are more calcerous and consist of limestone and clay. This combination works brilliantly for the Grenache varietal, far and away the appellation’s most important grape.  While Grenache commands the best locations, smaller percentages of the vineyards are also devoted to other classic Rhône varietals, such as Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsaut. Consistently growing in quality and prestige, the rustic, powerful and spicy cuvées from this region can rival Châteauneuf-du-Pape at a fraction of the price.  Read: find value here.

The wine is a classic Rhône combination of Grenache (60 percent), Syrah (30 percent), and Mourvèdre (10 percent). The wine’s beautiful dark ruby color is the first inviting characteristic, soon followed by aromatics of black cherry, blackberry, and a subtle smokiness that is pleasant but not pronounced. On the palate, there are lingering pepper notes on the finish, a classic contribution from the Syrah grape, but otherwise the wine is a bit hot and a rather bland disappointment following the lovely aromatics.

Patience, grasshopper...

As the wine is given time to open up, it truly begins to shine. The nose unveils a more rounded bouquet of red and black fruit (strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blackberry) that makes one feel as though they are strolling through a farmer’s market in midsummer.  Licorice and herbal aromas pleasantly balance the nose. On the palate there is much more complexity and brightness from the fruit, with the Grenache taking more prominence as fruit jelly, opposed to early jamminess of the Syrah. Tannins have filled in the palate, providing a wonderful dryness and slight pucker in the mouth.

Verdict. After initial disappointment from nose to palate, we were both quite ready to dismiss this wine out of hand. The wine’s color and aromatics, however, possess a certain allure at the beginning that is just enough to hold interest in the adventure. We would recommend decanting the wine for 30-40 minutes, and thereafter enjoy the journey (preferably with friends).

Stay tuned for our next Costco Corner, where we review a few value rosés, and pair them with fresh fish tacos and a homemade raspberry rosé sorbet, just in time for summer. Huzzah!

What value wines have you recently procured from Costco’s hallowed aisles? Let us know in the comments below!