Kirkland Carneros Pinot Noir

Costco Serves Up The Quintessential Deal In Pinot Noir

Garnet Vineyards winemaker Allison Crowe see more at
Garnet Vineyards winemaker Allison Crowe see more at

If there is one thing you can say about Costco, they don’t stock crap, and that extends to their private-label Kirkland brand wines. Costco doesn’t normally disclose which winery that produced the wine, but does the next best thing, they credit the winemaker. In this case it is Allison Crowe, the winemaker at Garnet Vineyards, and it is not a reach to infer that Garnet is the likely source for this delicious Kirkland Pinot Noir. The Garnet name started its life in 1983 as a second label for the Carneros Pinot Noir pioneer Saintsbury. It went to market as a lighter-styled, lower priced offering, which to my tastes was at best simple tart cherry-cranberry fruited wine, and at its worst was barely worth drinking;  and it plodded along this way for 28 years. But 2011, the Garnet brand was sold to Silverado Winegrowers the firm which had been supplying the grapes to Saintsbury (for Garnet) all those years. So the grower becomes a producer, and what do you know? The quality goes up.  No doubt once they owned the label, they put more care into the production than Saintsbury did (after all Garnet was no longer a second label, it was the label) and more care into the vineyards and the fruit themselves. At any rate, the quality seems better, even in this sold off, declassified wine. Their winemaker, Allison Crowe, first cut her teeth with the talented and passionate Dan Karlsen at Chalone Vineyards where she interned while an enology student at UC Davis. Later Allison worked at Byington in high above Los Gatos in the Santa Cruz Mountains, before moving down the Mountain to spend almost 5 years with working for Randall Graham at Bonny Doon.

Kirkland pinotTasting Notes: 2012 Kirkland Carneros Pinot Noir

This is classic Carneros Pinot Noir, with its nose of black cherries,, scorched caramel, a momentary green note that turns briary, wisps of eucalyptus and creamy vanilla. In the background threatens the aroma of cooked beets,  like a day with a chance of rain. In the mouth, it is rich with deep, sweet black cherries, cooked strawberries, and plenty of deeper dark bass notes of black plum coming from a surprisingly concentrated core of fruit. The palate is smooth, round and quite weighty, with soft acids and few tannins. The young sweet fruit tapers nicely, though, giving the wine a moment’s leanness, as is tries in vain to grasp at an intellectually stimulating, and lingering finish, with some minerally notes of wet stones and gravel.  But ultimately it misses that gold ring of complexity. But who’s complaining?  At $10.99 it is a superior deal in Pinot Noir, comparing easily to wines that retail for$20 at retail. I highly recommend it. 88 points.

Bottom line: If the wine they sell-off to Costco is this good, this relatively new wine company has good things in store with it’s higher level production wines that draw largely on several estate vineyards, most notably the highly-regarded “Rodgers Creek” in the Petaluma Gap and Stanly Ranch vineyard in Carneros.

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Diary of a Winebuyer

About Me: Thirty years ago, I graduated with a degree in political science from the College of Letters and Science at the University of California at Berkeley. Having grown up at the height of the Cold War, I still have vivid remembrances of being instructed to hide under our elementary school desk, covering our heads. The young, white, female teacher, training us without explanation, to face away from the windows. I suppose it is not all that surprising that I had a particular interest in the realpolitik of international relations. My fascination grew with the discovery that certain conditions almost uniformly exist where all revolutions ferment. Did this mean that the revolutions which had occurred in the first half century were revolutions which had been usurped by Marxists who were in the right place at the right time? Probably. A favorite professor was A. J. Gregor. This was a man who, while rakishly wearing a Gestapo-styled black leather motorcycle jacket, exuded expertise on fascism (which he looked the part) and Marxism. Improbably, he did it with a significant swagger. Then in my last semester, I had the blind luck to take a class on Asian Marxist revolution, and the professor, who just happened to be visiting that year while he worked on some unnamed project, was Chalmers Johnson. In retrospect, I should have known his name, as he was a luminary in the political science community but at that time, I did not. It was a remarkable opportunity to experience the ivory tower, but I seem to remember being anxious to get on with life. After college, I drifted through a few of jobs that were of interest to me. One of my former high school teachers said to me. "If I were in your shoes, I'd get a job as a flight attendant." So in order to be young while I could still afford to, I accepted a job serving chicken or beef at Pan American. With that airline losing money faster than it could sell its routes, I got a job doing cellar work at David Bruce Winery. This was the beginning of my wine career. All during this period, I wrote a still unpublished novel about homegrown terrorists the U.C. Berkeley campus, attempting to use some of what I learned in school, weaving in the Vietnamese political and military strategies of Dau Tranh as professor Johnson had lectured years before. Since the early 1990's, I have been involved in the wine industry, selling fine wine in both the retail and wholesale arenas. I have approached learning about wine, by always challenging myself to question how I know what I think I know? And in an effort to try to find answers I've turned, with varying degrees of success to wine books. Overall, I've not been happy with the quality of most wine writing, finding the authors either to lack any deep knowledge, or unable to move much past what I consider to be superficial information. I recognize that wine writers have to monetize their work, but I believe this has dramatically held back our knowledge and understanding of wine. I have set out to add to our industry's base of knowledge where I can. My first series, 'The Terroir of Burgundy' (which I should probably re-edit and complete some kind of conclusion, but I got involved in this project), can be viewed here. I currently work as a sales and marketing manager for a Burgundy and Bordeaux importer based in Atherton, California.

5 thoughts on “Kirkland Carneros Pinot Noir”

  1. Hey Dean, glad you liked! This wine is a fun project to do for our friends at Costco and for wine fans who like a great deal in Pinot from Carneros. It is a bit like the farmer’s market- when you buy in-season direct from the farmer, it tastes great and doesn’t have to cost a lot. Coming mostly from Stanly Ranch Vineyard in Carneros, I find this wine responds well to a “hands off” approach in the cellar. As one of the home vineyards for Garnet, it’s possible I might do a vineyard designated Stanly Ranch Pinot from Garnet one of these days. Glad you discovered my little gem! Cheers!


    1. Great info Alison. I’m looking forward to trying some of your ‘bigger’ wines under the Garnet label, based on the sold off stuff. Nice work, and thanks for the “comment by the winemaker” addition to the post!


    2. We just bought a bottle of this from 2016 for $10 and I have to say I am impressed. We live in Oregon and largely buy Dundee-area Pinots (for far more than $10). For the money, this is the best Pinot I have ever tasted. Really — $10. The complexity of it is the biggest strong point. The Oregon Pinot’s excel in this and is why I prefer them to French offerings of similar wine. I was surprised and delighted by this wine. Going back tomorrow to buy more.


    1. Running a little hot right now? It’s probably lost it’s balance now that the baby fat has fallen off, if you are just now getting to the vintage I was writing about two years ago. These things weren’t meant for the long haul.


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