Every wine blog, every wine list needs a "ringer," a benchmark, a standard, a base of comparison. Dark Horse is the official litmus wine of the HSC. If the list were just for and up to this author, it would probably have a different litmus test, but given that my wife likes the heavier, darker (bigger, if you will) reds, that element winds up factoring into things. The idea with the litmus test (and once you find one, it may winnow down any list you’re making quite a bit) is to find a wine that’s relatively cheap (in this case, DHBRB, while never on SPA, is usually around $8 or $9/bottle) and if you would rather drink the litmus wine than whatever other wine, it probably doesn’t belong on that list. Exceeding (and sometimes equalling) DHBRB is essentially the first gatekeeper to entry on the HSC list.
Like most blends, this one aims for a “best of all worlds” sort of approach and it succeeds to a qualified degree. It has a lot of body, not quite up to a full-on Cab or Zin, but on the heavier side, yet light (and inexpensive) enough that it could be used a very reasonable choice for any everyday wine. Where it departs from several other wines is not so much the mix of grapes (Malbec, Syrah, Temperanillo & Merlot) but the mix of countries. Argentina, Australia and the USA (California) are all represented in this huge, smashing blend.
For all of its solidity, this is a fairly smooth wine. You can definitely feel the higher body than some of the other wines, yet it carries very little to none of the harshness (what I call the taste of “cheap” – not always undesirable) you might expect from such a mix or a price point. There is hints of astringency to provide a subtle bite, but it’s mostly lost in those huge, dark taste overtones of darker fruit, i.e. black currants, blackberries, plum, hints of dark cherry. It has a nice linger, but doesn’t stay around long enough so as to wear out its welcome.
For $9 or less a bottle, this is one of the best values in any of the Utah liquor stores. I don’t wind up buying this a lot regularly, as a lot of the other names on my list are more my preference, if they happen to be on SPA, but if those are out or I’m having trouble trying to decide if a new wine should be added to the list, I’ll grab a bottle (or more...sometimes I'll get on streaks) of this, either for comparison or just to have. It is a terrific life-ring and fallback (“saver”), consistent, readily available and inexpensive. As such, this meets all the criteria to be a Standard.