its history, Gallo has been sensitive to the consumer need for quality
value wine. Consider the cost, for example, of putting a modest $20 wine
on the dinner table every night. The tab comes to more than $7,000 a
year. For many couples raising children and saving for college, the
price is simply too high, no matter their level of interest in wine.
idea behind the 20-7 project was to meet the demand for value with a
wine that tasted like a $20 bottle, but cost $7. Despite the very best
of intentions, it didn't pencil out. Undaunted, Gallo upped the price
rather than abandoning the project altogether.
result is a new brand that is growing in popularity under senior
winemaker Beth Liston, who oversees Gallo's massive production facility
in Livingston, California. Most of the grapes for Dark Horse are sourced
from the Lodi region in the Sacramento Delta, and the wines are
line-priced at about $9 a bottle.
Winemaker Beth Liston
While the price is attractive,
it would be meaningless if the wines didn't deliver. On that score,
recent critical acclaim tells Liston she's on to something. At the San
Diego International Wine Challenge earlier this year, for example, seven
Dark Horse wines medaled, including a 90-point gold medal for the 2015
Dark Horse Sauvignon Blanc. Even its pinot noir took an 88-point silver
medal, something of a surprise because the region is generally thought
to be too warm for top-notch pinot.
"Pinot noir at this price
point is a challenge," Liston told me recently. "We're always striving
to get those hints of lavender and violets and cherries."
Horse project might not have been possible at one time, but advances in
viticulture and technical know-how at the winery have broadened the
opportunities to make good wine outside of the more established coastal
"The Lodi growers are doing great work with lower yields," said Liston, "and you do have some cool nights because of the Delta."
most unusual wine is the Big Red Blend, which changes every year.
Drawing upon Gallo's connections in Spain, Italy and South America, it
can include everything from cabernet sauvignon and merlot to
tempranillo, sangiovese and malbec. The most recent Big Red Blend
collected an 87-point silver medal at the San Diego competition.
tasted the lineup recently and was most impressed with the merlot and
chardonnay — grapes thought to be more suitable for a cooler climate
like pinot noir. The Big Red Blend also showed very well.
The name Dark Horse was chosen, as it was explained to me, because the quality of the bottle "sneaks up" on you. It's so true.