I had to. Every time I’ve gone into Costco to grab a bottle or two, my eyes always linger for a moment with morbid curiosity on the various Kirkland bottles for sale. I can wrap my head around Costco-brand ketchup or Costco-brand paper towel, but I have no idea what to make of Costco-brand wine, particularly since Kirkland (Costco’s proprietary label) keeps spitting out offerings from a vast array of well-to-do regions like Chateauneuf-de-Pape, Champagne, and, as seen here, Napa Valley. These areas have an established pedigree in the wine world: this particular bottle comes from Rutherford, arguably Napa’s most prestigious, highest-quality and most expensive sub-region. Rutherford is a tiny area in the heart of the Valley — when I went to Napa it took about 3 minutes for us to drive from one end of it to the other — and is one of the best places in the world to grow the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and its name on a label usually signifies that you’re going to be shelling out at least $50-$60 (and often much more) for the privilege of the bottle. This bottle was $17. The utter dichotomy in my head between “Rutherford wine” and “produced by Costco” made me have to see what was inside. One disturbingly inexpensive Napa Cab later, I cracked the Kirkland tonight feeling equal parts anticipation and dread.
I say “Napa Cab”, but to be perfectly accurate, this isn’t a single-varietal Cabernet wine. Instead, as the label points out, it’s a Meritage, which means a blend of two or more of the grape varieties found in the wines of Bordeaux, France: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. (As an aside, as faux-French as the word looks, it’s actually NOT pronounced in a Francophonic way — it rhymes with “heritage”, not with “mirage”.) This particular Meritage is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 12.5% Petit Verdot and 2.5% Cabernet Franc. If it had been 75% Cab Sauv, Kirkland could have chosen simply to label the bottle as a Rutherford Cab, but underneath that 75% threshold, California wine laws prohibit single-varietal labelling. I was particularly interested in the relatively high percentage of Petit Verdot in the wine; apart from sharing my initials, PV makes bold, full-bodied wine that is used to add depth of colour, flavour and tannin to a Bordeaux blend, although in most cases only trace amounts of it are used. Here it gets a broader co-starring role.
The extra Petit Verdot certainly lends some oomph to the colour of this wine, as it was almost entirely opaque in the glass, a deep thick ruby-purple hue. On the nose, the Kirkland didn’t smell overtly like a wine crafted by a giant grocery chain: it actually had a fairly classic Cabernet Sauvignon profile, with blackcurrant and blackberry intertwined with mint, cinnamon, maple and a light coating of dust. I remained worried that one sip would reveal it to be a clumsy, unbalanced, syrupy fruit grenade, but none of these fears ended up being warranted — the Meritage was actually pretty in control of itself. Just shy of full-bodied, it was largely kept in check by fine-grained but grippy tannins and medium levels of acid, and the ripeness of its sweet dark fruit was almost understated and never crossed that line into opulence. The influence of oak was a touch too prominent at the moment, its wood-induced chocolate and coffee flavours sitting on top of the fruit, muddying it instead of accenting it; however, this may be merely a symptom of the wine’s youth and may resolve itself with a little more bottle age. The Kirkland finishes with a clear menthol note, which lingers for a good half a minute after swallowing.
This wine isn’t breaking any new ground; it’s not a mystery to unravel and will likely not yield surprising levels of complexity after long cellaring; but who cares? It’s a chance to try the product of one of the great Cabernet zones on Earth for less than $20, and it produces a clearly identifiable California Cabernet with enough depth and structure to keep it interesting. If I ever buy this again, I’m going to run it through a blind tasting against another brand-name Rutherford Cab, a vinous Pepsi Challenge of sorts, to see how it stacks up…I can’t help but think that even this generally positive review was still impacted by some level of unconscious label bias and I’d love to know what someone unencumbered with Kirkland associations might react to this bottle. I can guarantee you it’s the best $17 bottle of Rutherford Cabernet I’ve ever had.
$15 to $20 CDN