Marketed to Millennials, but Tasty for Everyone

The Original Dark Horse Pinot Grigio, 2016
California, $9.99

The Original Dark Horse is a gateway wine, according to a recently published article in Forbes magazine.

The brand is designed to gradually wean inexperienced millennials from beer, cider and stuff that comes in jugs and hook them into pricier wine offerings.

Once they start drinking better wines at lower prices, marketers believe, millennials will move on to more expensive wines fancied by older generations whose ranks are diminishing.

Although I’m not in the target audience for this marketing ploy, it’s fine with me because it means a lot more good, inexpensive wine is reaching store shelves. While Dark Horse and others chase the younger, emerging and fastest-growing market, those of us who long ago moved beyond the angst of appreciating prestige wine can now drop down for a lovely, well-made bottle that’s less than $10.

In many ways, the older generations had it much easier than our successors. We only had to give up Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller Lite and Gallo Hearty Burgundy to move into decent Zinfandels, Chardonnays and Cabs. Today’s consumers have more and better choices for their drink of preference, ranging from excellent small-batch beers to ever-evolving craft cocktails.

So, they have to be lured to wine by advertising and nudged by canned wine spritzers, small cartons of blended wines and convenient boxes of wine suitable for parties or a gathering on the beach. And once they’ve made the step to drinking wine, in comes Dark Horse and others to close the deal with wines that are far better than their prices indicate.

E. & J. Gallo Winery, the producers of Dark Horse, is one of the best in the business at luring new customers into fine wine, and has been ever since brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded the company in 1933.

The family business is in the hands of younger generations now, and it has been expanding rapidly beyond the table wines that built the company. The Gallo portfolio now contains 80 brands that include wines from Barefoot and Vin Vault to such respected labels as J. Vineyards, Louis M. Martini and William Hill Estates, with lots of good, less expensive brands in between.

In addition to keeping its prices down, Gallo is using branding effectively to meet young wine drinkers where they live — in their fast-paced lifestyle without a lot of time to think about and discover wine, the Forbes article says.

To build loyalty to Dark Horse, Gallo has chosen a winemaker, Beth Liston, who is not only highly skilled, but market savvy. Liston also is the personality behind the Dark Horse brand; she’s attractive, mid-30s, tattooed and hip.

I’ve tried three of the eight wines offered by Dark Horse — rosé, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. I liked each one a lot, but the Pinot Grigio, which was recently introduced, stands out.

I’m reluctant to try inexpensive Pinot Grigio, because many are too sweet for my taste. With Dark Horse, Liston has created a dry wine that’s full of flavor with a crisp finish.

This wine is a blend of 76 percent Pinot Grigio, 15 percent Chardonnay, 2 percent Viognier and 7 percent other selected varieties. In an interview last year, Liston said she likes to experiment using obscure varieties of grapes, a technique that has paid off with this wine.

Dark Horse Pinot Grigio is just arriving in some stores, and you may have to ask for it. Other Dark Horse wines are widely available and well worth trying. I particularly like the rosé, which is a dry, Provence-style wine. The Sauvignon Blanc is very good, crisp, dry and full of fruit flavors.

These well-crafted wines are a great bargain just under $10, but I found them recently at $7.99, which is a steal and worth buying by the case.

The Original Dark Horse may be targeted for the millennials, but it has hit the bullseye with me.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at

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