Face it, Lockdown has been shit in so many ways, but if you’re a keen cook like La Trompette’s head sommelier Donald Edwards then it has been a rewarding time in the kitchen. Not only has he been experimenting away with cooking food but he’s also been into ‘radical wine pairings’, his new food-and-wine project that is captured on his personal blog. Here we re-post an excellent piece he’s written about that curious root vegetable, salsify.
“An old boss of mine once explained that he looked for wines that had internal contradictions. Wines that took you somewhere else than where you had, perhaps, been expecting.”
Living in the city can leave you starved of real scents. It’s a shock getting close enough to the Thames estuary to smell the seaweed and water. I love the way that a change of wind can so profoundly take you to a different time, seemingly a much earlier one.
We exist in a world of remembered smells: the garrigue, fishing wharves, the forest floor, the desert’s edge. Yet for all our love of this stimulation, our day to day smellscape is disarmingly prosaic. We shower daily, we clean our houses; at work we sterilise and then sterilise again to keep the unruly scents of the world away, and yet occasionally we still get those little reminders that life carries on.
Salsify is one of those vegetables that we rarely encounter outside of restaurants; I doubt many of us have cooked it at home all that often. Its interest lies in it being one of a small number of plants that smell like seafood (oysters in the case of salsify). To be fair oysters probably smell slightly of salsify as the chemical signals that we interpret as smelling like oysters almost certainly evolved in plants first.
Regardless of where the scent evolved, it provokes a category-error-type response when I encounter it in the freshly cut vegetable; a kind of mental confusion due to something presenting in a way that seems entirely out of character. Muddy roots ought to smell of the earth, not of cucumbers and bivalves.
An old boss of mine once explained that he looked for wines that had internal contradictions. Wines that took you somewhere else than where you had, perhaps, been expecting. I think that that ability of wine to present aromatic experiences as jarring as the waft of briny seaweed in the city is what makes it so interesting.
It’s one thing finding crushed oyster shells and the floral sweetness of cucumber water in the aromatics of a Muscadet or a particularly lean Chablis. It’s quite another when it’s wrapped up in the dark berries and wild herbs of Mencia from Monterrei and the Ribeira Sacra or intermingling with the peppery red fruits of Listan Prieto from Tenerife.
I don’t really understand how the scent of crushed oyster shells comes to be such a signifier of reduction in red wines but it intrigues me. I love how it takes me to a place completely different to where all the other scents seem to come from. It’s not obviously appealing; the gruff edge in Tom Waits’ voice. Lastly, its transience makes me smile, disappearing as the wine opens up and starts to tell the rest of its story.
We turn the corner, and the estuary is gone save for the distant cries of seagulls. The quotidian of the city returns. We move from the salsify to the main part of the dish, and the wine, now decanted, has opened up to show us why we chose it. The surprise detour via the seashore over, just another fleeting scent to linger in memory.
Read more of Edwards’ radical wine pairings here and follow him on Instagram @donalde81