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Michael Madrigale Revisits Childhood Memories at Costco, Brings Along Wine This Time

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The right beverages can enhance any food. We asked several wine pros to pair up wines with a meal of cheap eats.

Michael Madrigael

Sommelier: Michael Madrigale, Head Sommelier of Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud

Venue: Costco

Cost for food, all in: $1.50

Michael Madrigale: My brother worked at Costco while he was in college. He was there for about two months. During one of his shifts he responded to the needs of an angry couple by sneering, "Hey dude, tell your wife to stop giving me shit." He was fired on the spot. I laughed so hard in his face when he came home in his crumpled blue smock and told me what had happened. That laughter soon turned to disappointment as I realized that my days of scamming his membership card for unlimited laps around the free sample aisles were over. It was on that fateful day back in 1997 that my relationship with Costco ended and I haven't been back since. That is, until last week.

I was wandering around the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn with a bottle of Jura Chardonnay and Riedel Overture glass and no place to eat. That neighborhood has some great restaurants but none were exactly what I was in the mood for.

Then I saw a large building on the horizon. A monolith type structure chock-full of free samples and double gallon sized containers of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing; a wonderland of Kirkland Signature selections and big-time savings. A place where I was going to drink my bottle of 2012 Julien Labet "Les Varrons" Côtes du Jura and pair it not only with cheap eats, but with FREE EATS.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sneaking wine into motherf*cking COSTCO.

I went inside and immediately took the flat, track escalator to the second floor where the food department is. I had my backpack on me which held the open bottle of Labet and my glass tucked inside of it. I started to have second thoughts on how the hell I was going to eat free samples and drink a glass of wine while not drawing attention to myself. Because this was surely against Costco policy, right? Maybe even illegal. Fuck it. In for a penny, in for a two and a half pound easy use Utz Cheese Balls barrel. If I blended in with the value shoppers I could eat and drink and no one there would be the wiser. The best way to do this would be to become one of them. I grabbed a double wide cart and started shopping as if I was running a Little League concession stand and we were coming up on game day. This strategy proved to be a home run.

I took out my bottle, poured myself a nice heathy glass, and placed the rest on the baby seat. One sip and immediately my mouth began to water. I needed something to eat! In the cold cuts department an employee named Theresa was rolling Dietz and Watson Uncured Smoked Lite Ham into little rollatinis and then giving the free samples out on toothpicks. Damn if they weren’t calling my name.

What an awesome pairing. So good I went back again for doubles. The ham was salty with a high note of white pepper and just a kiss of honey on the finish. The Labet Chard’s richness combined with the saltiness of the ham perfectly and they balanced each other.

So far, no one had noticed that I was using Costco’s free sample culture as my own personal Pebble Beach Food & Wine. Still, I remained on guard. Fast and furiously I hit up the Bibigo Steamed Veggie Dumplings (mealy, and a little bland, but saved by the pool of Kikkoman Gluten Free Soy Sauce that it was swimming in), the Johnsonville Bratwurst (GARLIC, GARLIC everywhere), and took sips of the Labet to wash them down. I was surprised at how well the wine worked with every free sample that I was given. Who knew topped up Jura whites were so bomb with Monosodium glutamate?!

I started to feel a few stares from the Costco customers as I sipped my glass of wine along the aisles. Then at one point the lady giving out Allison’s Loaded Potato Salad asked "Where’d ya get that wine? Did you get that here?" The jig was up. Time to go. I quickly made my way downstairs past the cashier and headed towards the door, but a radiant sign board indicated a fine salvation for the last sip in the bottle. I would need to pause for awhile longer.

An all beef dog for $1.50? I couldn’t resist. Onions and mustard only. Usually I’m in for ketchup and relish as well, but here I felt it would overpower the wine. My combo was delicious. Tangy and sour together, a perfect match.

I sat there and enjoyed every last bite and sip. The flavor of the Costco hot dog was familiar even though I hadn't tasted one in nearly 20 years. It was transporting: I remembered the day my brother was fired and started to laugh out loud again. Thanks, Costco.