Miles of aisles on the Superhighway of Wine

Miles of aisles on the Superhighway of Wine
Mathew Allen is the chief bottle-watcher in the wine beer and spirit department at COSTCO Carlsbad. Photo by Frank Mangio

I may need a few household things, but when I am finished at the COSTCO in Carlsbad, I have my few things PLUS nearly a case of a variety of wines to fill the cart.

Sound familiar?

The Carlsbad COSTCO has the second largest liquor department in the chain, topped only by the Scottsdale, Ariz. location.

This vast inventory of wines representing most countries that produce wine, can stock up to 100,000 bottles.

To put it in perspective, most community wine shops offer anywhere from 300 to 600 bottles.

Mathew Allen started at the Carlsbad location of COSTCO when it first opened in 1992, but it wasn’t until 10 years ago that he took charge of the wine, beer and spirits department.

Sales at the location have rocketed since then, following the U.S. consumption ramp-up.

A report just out from Wine Spectator headlined that, “the U.S. has passed France as the world’s No. 1 wine drinking country,” according to a 2013 Wine Market release.

A younger generation of Americans are choosing wine, especially imported, sweet wine, sparkling and Rose.

COSTCO is notorious for moving product around.

Their mantra to the consumer is, “if you see something you like at our store, you’d better buy it, because it may not be here next week.”

In the wine department, Allen talks to his customers constantly.  He answers their questions.

He loves wines that “taste better than the price.”  COSTCO’s wine department is one of the few where customers are not alone.

Allen knows where every bottle is located and after assessing what a customer would like, leads them to the usual names, plus some new discoveries.

He introduced me to his hot new Italian bottle, the Tenuta La Badiola 2009 Rosso 6/42, with a blend of 6 grapes in a Super Tuscan ($11.99).

He had tasted it and pointed out that it was from coastal Tuscany, a popular new Italian growing ground where large, influential wineries like Antinori and Gaja have taken positions.

“With an unfamiliar wine, I taste it, then talk to customers about their reaction to the wine.  If it seems positive, I order more.

“Ratings are important signage.  Showing a high number moves a lot of product, but I educate the buyer on exploring something new and expanding their tastes,” he advised.

So where are the bargains these days in COSTCO?

Allen advised to look through the pallets that hold many cases of new value wines, bought by COSTCO in high volume.  This is where the Italian Badiola 6/42 sits.

The Super Tuscan Bordeaux style established names like Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia will command 50 and 100 times that price, a good reason to try something new in that category.

What’s in the future for COSTCO?

Chances are complimentary tastings will begin soon.

Permitting has been obtained and the timing is being discussed.

Vittorio’s Continues its Wine Dinner Rollout

Vittorio’s Trattoria in Carmel Valley does a exemplary job of bringing in top wineries around the world to match up with its gourmet four-course wine dinners, in the $50 range.

From left: Katlin Armstrong of Foxen, Victor Megalhaes of Vittorio’s and Penny Williamson Dore of Foxen. Photo by Frank Mangio

From left: Katlin Armstrong of Foxen, Victor Megalhaes of Vittorio’s and Penny Williamson Dore of Foxen. Photo by Frank Mangio


Foxen Vineyards in Santa Barbara County recently wowed diners with their Pinot Noir ($24) and other French style wines.

Next date will be a wine dinner with the best wines from Argentina May 29 at 6 p.m.  Five courses are planned.

The loveliest wine to look for is a Malbec by Bodega Colome with roasted leg of lamb.  Cost is $49.50 per person.  RSVP at (858) 538-5884.

Wine Bytes

Fallbrook Winery’s “Flash Dinner” and music by SM Familia Reggae will be held at Pala Mesa’s Aquaterra May 23 from 6:30 to 10 p.m.  RSVP at (760) 731-6805.

Harry’s Bar & Grill on La Jolla Village Dr. San Diego, kicks off its new series with a showcase of Beni di Batasiolo’s wines paired with Chef Vicens dishes, May 28 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.  RSVP and check the cost at (858) 373-1252.  All wines are from Piemonte Italy.  This event celebrates the new owner, Garo Minassian.

Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido has a Foley Family Wines event May 30 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.  Call (760) 745-1200 for an RSVP and cost.

The Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival is a weekend of wine and food tasting, and the massive ascension of hot air balloons May 30 through June 1.  Many levels of ticket values are available.  Visit for the complete lineup and to buy tickets.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  His columns can be viewed 

He is one of the top wine commentators on the web.  Reach him at



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