By which I mean, Tin Roof is Costco hot.
Learning Wine Savvy Via Carburetor Rebuild Kits
I am going to bet that you’ve never heard of the individual who buys and sells more wine than anyone else in the world. Which is perfectly fitting, because before she started buying and selling more wine than anyone else in the world, she had never heard of wine.
I am referring, of course, to Annette Alvarez-Peters, wine hustler supreme for Costco, who along with a team of underlings is responsible for the annual purchase of nearly one billion dollars worth of wine, stocking the shelves of 337 Costco outlets in 34 states.
In case you’ve never been inside a Costco, this is the retailer that hires people to stand at the entrance to make sure you are a Costco member—even though you have to be a Costco member to buy anything—and then hires more people to stand at the exit to check your receipt against your purchases, which they never do—but is still too cheap to give you a half-cent plastic grocery bag with whatever you just bought.
For my $40 annual ‘fee’, that means that even if I absconded with 8000 grocery bags over the course of a year, they’d still break even.
Anyway, Annette made wine world waves in a CNBC interview earlier this year when she was asked by anchor Carl Quintilla if she thought wine was more important than toilet paper, underwear or tinfoil.
Her response was, ‘Why?’
When Quintilla pressed her, saying, ‘Because it’s personal,’ Alvarez-Peters replied, ‘If you want to think of it like that. But at the end of the day, it’s just a beverage.’
Just a beverage, Annette? Just a beverage?? To quote the immortal Arthur Fonzarelli: ‘And I suppose your mother is just a mother?’
Now, I am not at all sure that wine is, in fact, more ‘personal’ than toilet paper or absorbent underwear, which are far more embarrassing to buy than merlot, especially if the checkout chick is cute and it isn’t eight o’clock in the morning. But what really stuck in the craw of wine people was that Annette rose to this exalted and powerful position without the slightest knowledge of or interest in wine; previously, she’d been employed by Costco’s auto parts division and had zero training in the wine business.
People who have slaved in this difficult trade for their entire careers don’t like it when someone who instantly free associates ‘Napa’ with Sensa-Trac Front Shock Absorbers suddenly hawks more hooch in an hour than they will in a lifetime.
Plus, she’s young and smokin’ hot—cuter than any Costco checkout chiquita I’ve ever seen—and that’s also sort of verboten to the textbook vinophile. A wine buyer should be old, wise and curmudgeonly like the late buyer for Trader Joe’s, who may not have been smokin’ but who sure was Berning.
The thing is, ye splenetic sauvignon snobs, Costco doesn’t aspire to be a hand-sell boutique bottle shop where geeky, passionate clerks like you can turn customers on to sensational wines from unheard-of appellations in remote hinterlands.
Quite simply, Costco wants to be a gigantic wholesale warehouse that sells more wine than Sam’s Club. And, by being hyper trend-conscious, keeping their inventory under 200 labels (Wal-Mart carries five hundred), and focusing on top-tier wines—Costco sells Châteaux Margaux, Lynch-Bages, Latour and d’Yquem from decent vintages and at fair prices—as well as well as bargain-basement closeouts, they do.
There is, in fact, a policy within the chain to keep markups of non-Kirkwood products under 13%. As a result, when former wine director David Andrew left in 2003, Costco wanted to hire from within—preferably someone who understood Costco culture first, volume discount business strategy second and third, wine as a commodity, since with a small army of tasters having his/her back, the new wine czar wouldn’t need to be a Master Sommelier to succeed.
In fact, it has been suggested that with an overly anal obsession with the small picture instead of the big, failure would be expected.
So, when Annette Alvarez-Peters was caught on the CNBC video writing ‘Delicious’ in her wine descriptor notes, it caused great mirth among wine writers, who themselves—they figure—would have come up with something a little deeper for the cameras, like ‘Hedonistic with dusty minerals, a hint of clean earth and melted asphalt.’
Rest assured, poets: Annette, Costco and fifty million club members are laughing right along with you—all the way to the Left Bank.
What Does This Have To Do With The Cats at Tin Roof…?
Only this: Before I cover any ‘review’ wine I’m sent with which I am not particularly familiar (like Tin Roof), I tend to nose around the net to see if I can find enough digital fodder to fill a column without totally inventing more than a couple of paragraphs—and to make sure that no blogger dared describe a wine as ‘delicious’ in their tasting notes. We can’t have any of that.
With Tin Roof, I found a piece written by The Frugal Tasters covering a bottle of Tin Roof merlot they had picked up at Costco for around eight bucks—a price which, however commendable, is part of any big-box’s table stakes.
It was the fact that it appeared on the Costco manifest to begin with that impressed me—with only two hundred SKUs, it is the winemaker’s equivalent to an author getting Oprah to list their book.
Unfortunately, when it all plays out, there isn’t a whole lot I can say about the winery since the web site is loaded with press release provender like ‘a new adventure in taste’ and ‘wines to share with friends’ and ‘both a collection of wine and a state of mind’—stuff to gag on, but not to sink your teeth into.
Without doubt, the grapes are not home-grown, but purchased from vineyards in the four million acre Central Coast and the three million acre North Coast—both AVAs with prodigious output. Prices are kept low by stainless steel fermentation of all varietals, and to maintain a presence on the ever-changing Costco list, they must make a boatload of the stuff and have plenty of repeat customers.
No winemaker is mentioned anywhere on the site, nor is any Big Mama architect/provider, but I am assuming that both must exist. Even the ‘Press’ tab contains nothing usable for the press except for a list of awards that Tin Roof has picked up, and nothing since 2009.
So, having exhausted all avenues by which I might find someone else to do my work for me, I am left with the task of actually sampling the wines and writing about them.
They are, to a bottle, solid 86 pointers, which, by the 100 point scale standards of the big boys—Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate and Wine & Spirits—indicate recommended wines, high on value and displaying finesse, character, varietal flavor and no obvious flaws.
…And some that you may even find delicious.
Tin Roof Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, California, 2011, about $8: Not a super-chiseled or mineral-driven sauvignon blanc, the wine shows a grassy character with lime peel, peach, grapefruit and a pointed finish with enough acidity to keep things interesting.
Tin Roof Cellars Chardonnay, California, 2011, about $8: Soft on the palate, vaguely leesy and slightly sweet; the nose is floral, the palate touched with apple peel, grilled pineapple and creamy vanilla to finish.
Tin Roof Cellars Red Blend, California, 2011, about $8: Zinfandel, petite syrah and merlot, the wine is quite well done in the genre: An explosive jam bomb filled with stewed fruits, brown sugar, black pepper and big billows of cooked plum with cinnamon.
Tin Roof Cellars Merlot, California, 2009, about $8: The only older vintage in the bunch, the merlot—the most popular Tin Roof wine I am guessing from Google search results. It is plush and intricate, with layers of black cherry, cassis and wild berry framed by spice and delicate tannins.
Tin Roof Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2011, about $8: Supple and nicely rounded, aromas of blackberry, coffee and cedar draw you in; the mouth-filling, fruit-forward palate keeps you there. Tannins are gripping, but integrated. A nice choice, remarkable at the price.
Tin Roof Cellars Zinfandel, California, 2011, about $8: Zesty and surprisingly grandiose: Lots of smoky forest fruits like raspberry and blackberry, well balanced by spice, mocha and bright acidity. A great accompaniment for BBQ.