This is how to sell your soul
IHAVE visited Austria four times in the past six or seven years, three times as a guest of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. It’s blessed with an annual budget that, when scaled up to match Australia’s far greater production and exports, is many times larger than our marketing spending.
It also has been blessed by a succession of outstanding chief executives, from Bert Salomon to the newly installed perpetual motion Willi Klinger (previously marketing director for Angelo Gaja), a landscape of breathtaking beauty, a range of superb white wines and some reds that are closing the gap.
Every second year, 120 or so journalists, sommeliers and retailers from every corner of the globe are invited to participate in the Austrian Wine Summit. Some are old faces; some are new, freshfaced and eager. The challenge is to come up with a three-day program that meets the needs and expectations of both groups. (New invitees this year included guests from Russia, Japan, Romania, South Korea, Latvia, Brazil, India and Israel among a total of more than 30 countries represented.)
One dinner alone would have been sufficient to satisfy many guests, myself included. The Landhaus Bacher is, for my money, one of the great restaurants of Europe. It happens to run cooking classes and has accommodation (www.landhaus-bacher.at) but it is the food on the plate that has generated the abundance of Michelin stars and Gault Millau hats.
Space prevents a detailed description of the various exquisite hors d’oeuvres that preceded the four-course dinner (and a few interpolations) or of the main dishes: mousse of green peas with smoked guinea fowl and asparagus salad; Austrian salmon with steamed salad and feather-light dumplings; venison with crushed nuts and marinated cherries; and sweet cheese souffle wrapped in pancakes with strawberries and rhubarb cream.
Had the perfectly cooked dishes been presented to a table of two or four, I would have been blown away. But each one arrived more or less simultaneously to 100 people, an achievement unmatched in my experience. We drank some very good Austrian wines but the wine list scales numerous vintages of the greatest wines of France.
I could say much more about the dinner, but another great event, brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed, was also a first. We boarded a boat at Krems on the Danube River and slowly made our way upstream, passing first the upper end of the vineyards and wineries of Kremstal, then passing along those of the Wachau, ending at Spitz.
The trip took two hours and, as we passed a selected vineyard and producer, a 2005 gruner veltliner from that producer was poured to accompany a chosen dish. Ten vineyards, 10 dishes, not of Landhaus Bacher standards perhaps but of unexpected quality and originality. Ten gruner veltliners may not seem so much but in between scuttling for digital cameras to take a ridiculous number of photographs of yet another spired church, back-vintage tastings kept us fully occupied.
The cleverness of the trip was the perspective laid out before us of the various vineyards, villages and wineries. I have travelled the same route by road on more than a few occasions, but this was entirely new.
And finally a word on gruner veltliner, which vies with riesling as Austria’s most important white grape. Like Hunter Valley semillon, it is little known outside its country of origin. Like semillon it ages magnificently (as, I must admit, did a flight of Austrian rieslings dating back to 1958 and, on a previous visit, gruner veltliners finishing with a lovely 1938, my birth year). And, like semillon, it deserves far greater recognition in the broader wine world.