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Cheap Wine & Cheaper Words #4: Heading to CostCo for some culture and sophistication / Anthony Neil Smith

I'm not going to dunk on Walmart. I shop there a lot. In fact, in a lot of rural towns like mine, WalMart is a bit of a miracle - good things, cheap, and a lot of it. Sure, I also shop at the Cashwise, or Whole Foods or Trader Joe's when I'm near to them, but Walmart gets the majority of my business, just because.

But Sam's Club on the other hand, I don't have any use for. Mainly because my wife and I don't need a month's (usually more) supply of anything at a time except the mail-order toilet paper we get a few times a year in a giant box. Shit'll go stale before I get to it if I were to buy too many cookies, or wheat crackers, or onion dip, salsa, grapes, coffee creamer, giant blocks of cheese and so on. Also, I like to flit around with things like coffee and snacks. I don't want to be stuck with one choice for months on end.

Then my wife and her mother signed up for CostCo, about an hour away. While similar to Sam's Club, sure - and yes, my mother-in-law likes to buy four-month supplies of multiflavored instant grits, per se - there's a lot more to CostCo than I'd expected.

Of course, I'm referring to the booze shop.

I'd heard about Kirkland wine for awhile from the cheap wine blogs that feature Trader Joe's wine as well. Whereas TJ's review are usually, "drinkable, and for these prices, how can you say no?", the Kirkland reviews have been "How the fuck are they getting away with wine this good with prices this cheap?"

So I finally ventured over to the booze shop at CostCo, not thinking I'd come home with Kirkland, but with some other more recognizable brands they featured. But once there, I couldn't help myself. Take a look:

I'd at first thought having the Kirkland "block" icon on there was a bit ugly, but I don't mind it now, especially considering how nice the overall labels are. Not funky or weird, but definitely nice. So, the Cotes du Rhone Villages was about eight bucks, and the Napa Valley cabernet was about fifteen.

"Fifteen? I thought this was a cheap wine blog!"

Okay, so fifteen to twenty is what I'd call a splurge, sure, but when I compare the Napa Valley to other Napas in that price range, this stuff stands right up there with them, and is in fact more solid than several I've had. It's worth it on occasion.

A little knowledge: Napa Valley is the creme of the creme in California wine, you know that. But not all Napas are the same. Was the bottle sourced from several vineyards or only one? Was it a well-established winemaker who knows what's up, or a corporate stooge trying to hone in on the action and rely on people's ignorance about wine to make a buck? And is that so bad if they do if people like the wine?

Am I a wine snob?

Sure. And no. Depends on the day. Different wines for different times.

Anyway, the smaller the area of sourcing on the bottle, the better. California? Okay. Napa? Good. A particular place in Napa? Best. But then again, if you like it, then fuck all that. Drink what you like. If you can pay less for drinking what you like, that's a win.

So this Napa? A win.

Now, the Cotes du Rhone Villages. This is a smaller appellation than just saying it's a Cotes du Rhone, thus localizing it more, meaning it's better. I think. Last year, I bought a CDRV from Total Wine - a Pierre Henri Morel - and really, really enjoyed it. It was a great find, since so far, my French wine jaunts have not been the greatest. I either don't get French wine, or I don't like French wine, and the experiments will continue until I'm pretty sure one way or the other. I do know they're mostly all blends, compared to the American single (mostly) grape styles, and not as bold or juicy as "new world" wine. But they're also the gold standard, so...I'm not done.

Anyway, the CDRV from PHM was fantastic! And twice as much as the Kirkland bottle this year - again, only eight bucks. But honestly, I couldn't tell that one was better than the other. If I had to choose again, of course I'm going for the Kirkland! Twice as much wine for the same price!

So this was a boring, "inside wineball" sort of column, sorry. None of the fun Jim Harrison experience I promised. But some days it's like that.

What am I going to drink this wine with? Other than my beloved goldfish crackers and cajun seasoning - which my wife despises? I can certainly say what I won't be eating it with: Mexican food. I've found that wine and tacos, burritos, Taco Bell pizzas, enchiladas, gauc, and refried beans is revolting. Ew. Just, *shiver.* No, my friends, Mexican food should be enjoyed as the Food God intended - with Mexican beer and lime. Some tequila or mezcal shots on the side don't hurt, either, but I tend to save my tequila and mezcal for the summer. Something about snow on the ground and agave don't mix for me.

I prefer cabs with Italian food over Italian wine, though. Almost every Italian wine I've tried is just more tart than I like. But I still like a good chianti now and then. Or, when I was in Italy for a book festival, we ate outside every night in the town square at a joint called Pasquale's. They would always bring out bottles of lambrusco - a fizzy red - for the whole table and keep them coming all night. I loved it. I haven't been able to find lambrusco in the States that sparks the same love, though. Guess you had to be there.


Since we're talking about California wine too, I have a couple of California author suggestions.

Jordan Harper is on everybody's radar right now, as he's gained a lot of attention for his recent novel Everybody Knows. I guess that's just how the story goes (ha ha). But his earlier She Rides Shotgun and UK-only release The Last King of California are just as meaty. This guy knows his neo-noir and has been able to gain a rabid following who know good pulp when they read it.

But travel back in time a little further (forty-ish years) and you find Newton Thornburg, author of the cult-fave Cutter and Bone (which was interpreted by Hollywood as Cutter's Way), who wrote a slew of excellent novels that didn't get as much attention, such as Black Angus and To Die in California and Beautiful Kate. Gorgeous stuff, a very West Coast noir vibe, and oh my so tragic. Luckily, Amazon has nearly all of them available for Kindle on the cheap side. Do what I did and stock up. Read one every now and then. Savor them like a good Napa Valley cab.

Until next time, plonk swillers, keep it cheapish.

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