David Pike this week talks to Chester Osborn, winemaker at d’Arenberg in the McLaren Vale.

YOU don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that the wine industry has become a very competitive business over the past few years. Wineries are constantly looking for an edge, that point of difference that may thrust their wine into the forefront of consumers’ minds.

Winning a gold medal or major trophy at one of the endless wine shows around Australia certainly helps to move boxes of wine, as do recommendations from a number of wine writers around the country. But neither of those options compares with a favourable review from American wine legend Robert Parker Jr.

Mr Parker is unquestionably one of the most influential wine reviewers in the world. Much has been written about him, his opinions and the fact that he has insured his tongue and mouth – or in general terms, his palate.

The point here is that if he likes your wine it will boost sales.

For a couple of years Chester Osborn, winemaker at d’Arenberg in the McLaren Vale, has tried to get an audience with Robert Parker in his home town of Baltimore. Chester says that: “The guys at Old Bridge Cellars in San Francisco have been at work for a while and I was lucky enough to get an audience with the man a few weeks ago.

“We were invited to his local pub in Baltimore were he conducts a lot of his tastings.

“We opened samples of all our wines in a private room that Mr Parker uses and sat down to taste through the wines.”

Chester says Mr Parker is a big figure in the industry in more ways than one.

“I didn’t quite realise just how big the man is and you can’t help but feel a little nervous in his presence,” he says. “You can have a joke with him, though.

“But during the tasting he was very focused on the wine. He didn’t want to hear the story about the names of the wines on show, he simply wanted to taste.

“He is a bloke who is writing for himself, no-one else.

“It is a little sad that his reviews can dominate, with an example such as the wines of Bordeaux, but in the end he is still writing for himself and wine he likes.”

Chester says he showed Mr Parker a number of wines from back vintages and was particularly interested in his response to wines such as the Olive Grove Chardonnay.

“He commented that, while he liked the aged wines – they were without fault – he preferred the wines in the tasting that displayed primary fruits; wines with vibrancy,” Chester says.

“He doesn’t care if they don’t age, he seemed more interested in the vibrancy of the wines.”

With regard to the d’Arenberg wines, Chester says that while Mr Parker doesn’t really give much away, he seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the wines from past couple of vintages. He was particularly impressed with the white and red Rhone-style wines, enjoying the juiciness, in particular, of the 2000s. Mr Parker suggested that the Twenty Eight Road Mourvedre was “Bandol on steroids” (referring to the French appellation); he liked the Ironstone Pressings Blend and was fond of the Dead Arm Shiraz.

Just how he will review the wines we will have to wait and see.

“After the tasting we settled into a spot of lunch, where the talk turned to idiosyncrasies of McLaren Vale and in particular the 2000 vintage,” Chester says.

Just getting an audience with Mr Parker is quite an achievement. Whether or not you agree with his reviews, he is a powerful critic and a good review can open the doors to markets that have been previously hard to push open, such as the US.

d’Arenberg The Last Ditch Viognier 2001 rrp $18.00 rating 17/20

Plenty of spicy aromatics, touches of floral characters and apricot stone fruits. Strong varietal aromas. The palate displays a ripe, viscous mouth feel with spice, apricot and dried peach stone fruit flavours and a note of citrus and nuttiness on the back palate. The wine is persistent with good length of flavour. Great value for money.

d’Arenberg The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 rrp $22.00 17.25/20

Aromatic and vibrant, showing strong varietal characters – blackcurrant fruits with some perfume and a touch of coconut and capsicum aromas. Brambles and blueberries entwine with blackcurrant fruits, ripe structured tannins and integrated acidity on the palate. Plenty to look for in this ripper, which, given a little time, will further integrate and still be drinking in three or four years.

d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 1999 rrp $22.00 18.50/20

Dark brooding briary fruits with prunes, licorice, plum, dark cherries and raspberries are enticing aromatics that will lure you into this ripper. The palate is just as expressive. Succulent savoury plum with sweetness of some blackberry fruits, approachable acidity and tannins with mocha characters on the finish that is long, persistent and invites you back for more.

d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2001 rrp $29.00 18.75/20

Apologies in advance if you have trouble finding this but it made me go weak at the knees. This is a fabulously fragrant wine.

An intensity of aromas that touch on mulberries, plums with spice, blossom and a hint of ginger. The palate shows sweet savoury fruits that are powerful and vibrant.

There is plenty of acidity and dusty drying tannins with some medicinal spice. A dense wine with complexity and persistence of flavour. Delicious.

d’Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 rrp $55.00 19/20

Plain and simple. I loved this wine when tasting it a few weeks ago.

It had tremendous intensity of fruit and complexity with its array of fruit flavours and stunning structure.

Dusty tannins combine with brambles, cassis, chocolate and damson flavours with touches of capsicum. It may be just a baby but is very appealing just now.

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