Wild yeast sourdough, and a natural wine list have given pizza haunt Eco, a distinctive flavour.
**I heart pizza, I heart wine… Darren Smith finds two of his loves on the same restaurant table.**
Yeast: hands down my favourite micro-fungus – sacred single cell, animator of the inanimate, fizzing (‘yeast’ from Sanskrit ‘yasyati’ – ‘boils, seethes’) with the primordial chemical energy that gives us, among other things, our daily bread and our sweet, sweet wine.
Its magical associations, particularly with alcohol, go way back. ‘Al kohl’ was to medieval Arabs the powdered form of antimony, an element used in alchemy. It came to mean the essence of any material, and eventually the essence of wine – thus the winemaker’s turning grape sugars into alcohol was as much a marvel as the alchemist’s turning base metal into gold.
The paradigm shifted with Louis Pasteur, who identified that fermentation was caused not by sorcery but by a living thing – that is, ambient or ‘wild’ yeast. Nowadays, with the inflexible demands of industrialisation, cultured yeasts have become the norm for winemaker and bread baker alike.
Cultured yeast is generally designed to minimise risk of a botched fermentation, which is fair enough but, in the case of wine, it can also be used to boost the flavour profile of a given grape varietal. At best this can render winemaking a bit prosaic; at worst, it can become an excuse for an unskilled, paint-by-numbers approach to winemaking, where the vintner uses a certain off-the-shelf yeast as a shortcut to a particular flavour.
Some of us prefer a bit of magic. I know I do. And so do the good folk at Eco, a restaurant which has been using wild yeasts in the starter dough for its sourdough pizzas for years. Interestingly from a wine drinker’s perspective, Eco has recently gone one step further, introducing an outstanding selection of wild yeast-loving natural wines – all of them Italian, like the food – to its wine list.
Eco’s owner, Sami Wasif, is rightly proud of his sourdough. It has history (some starter doughs are well over 100 years old), it has character and, because there are so many species of wild yeast, which flourish in many different environments, you could even say it has a sort of microbial terroir. So the move to introduce natural wines is very, well, natural – and good news for lovers of pizza and wine, of which I am an enthusiastic one.
There is an earthy liveliness to natural wines that, not always, but very often sets them apart from their conventional counterparts. It’s in large part down to that ‘wild’ fermentation, a kind of magic of which we should all treat ourselves to a generous slice.
*Eco is holding a natural wine-tasting evening on Monday September 9th 2013, from 6.30 - 8.30pm, when you will be able to taste some of the delicious natural wines from its new wine list. The tasting will be hosted by Slow Food specialist and natural wine expert Dario Poddana. Tickets are priced at £20. *
*Also… if you love sourdough, Eco is offering customers who wish to bake their own sourdough pizzas at home some of its prized sourdough starter for free! Just call the number below or email to request it.*
**Eco:** 162 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UG. Telephone: 02079781108
For more information about Eco, visit: www.ecorestaurants.com
**Written by:** Darren Smith