This is how to sell your soul

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

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 (­ 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.

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