I recently revisited a new Gainesville foodie find: Southern Charm Kitchen. Located on SE Hawthorne Road, Southern Charm is the sister restaurant to Reggae Shack. I’ve been tasked with coming up with some wine pairings for their menu, as they are about to expand their wine list. A local wine rep was there, so we got to sample some wines with owner, Omar Oselimo, and create some general pairings for his international take on classic southern cooking. Fusion is a term that is often over-used in modern restaurants, but Southern Charm does fuse some interesting flavor profiles from the Fried Green Tomato Chevre Tart to the Fried Catfish Croque Monsieur. There are international nods to his love of Caribbean cooking (think Jamaica) but also some Indian influences stemming from his wife, Arpita. Since he is not a big wine drinker, a wine list was one of the last things on the docket for their new restaurant. For me it’s just another puzzle over dinner.
Since he has some staple favorites like the Pentecostal Fried Chicken, the Country Fried Tofu and the BBQ Goat, it was simplest to create a list with some basic varietals to generally pair with some of his signature dishes. We sampled an Argentine Chardonnay, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and an Italian Pinot Grigio and a Moscato. For reds we selected an Argentine Malbec and from California a Pinot Noir, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon, from the few we all sampled. This gives a nice basic spread from dry to sweet, from heavy to light, and sourced from a few locales. Now we could consider these wines while looking at the menu to find the best pairings with the staple of dishes (and we took notes for Omar to peruse).
One of the first standouts was the Marlborough Sauvy with the Fried Green Tomato Chevre Tart. Nothing works with Sauvignon Blanc quite like goat cheese, and that little bite of green tomato made magic with the acidity of the wine. Pairing the sweet Moscato with the Toasted Coconut Cake was pretty simple, though it could also work with some of the spicier dishes. The Malbec seemed like a great match with the BBQ Goat but could match up with numerous menu items, since Malbec is a pretty adaptable pairing wine. Smothered Pork chops seemed to fit the Cali Pinot Noir, with ripe and juicy flavors and a hint of acidity, though I might even pair that with the Roasted Beets in Sherry Tomatoes. Part of the fun is matching particular flavors from wine to menu item, but also to pair novelty and create contrasting flavors. There is an art to wine pairing that takes the process out of the pure sciences.
Since I knew they had a limited wine list I asked if I could bring a bottle of my own for dinner with friends after our impromptu wine sampling. You should always call in advance to see if a restaurant has a corking policy. If they charge between $5 and $20 per bottle I find that to be within reason. Since we were helping him out Omar generously waived the corking fee. I brought a bottle of the 2010 Seven Sinners Petite Sirah from Lodi, which I describe as brooding. This old vine fruit bomb has loads of ripe and jammy flavors upfront but is framed with spicy tannins, revealing a depth stemming from its older vine source. Hints of licorice and spice box dance on your tongue; each revisit brings another flavor potential. Older vines equal a more complex wine, and this wine has many layers that unfold in your glass. I was thinking I’d pair it with one of the BBQ dishes, since I love pairing Petite Sirah and barbecue, but Dolita’s Meatloaf Revenge spoke to me this night. The wine also paired well with the Roasted Chicken with Caramel and Sea Salt my friend chose (though it didn’t work as well with the pickled fish). My meatloaf had a lovely mix of meats that gave a pate-like richness and texture that wasn’t overpowered by this burly, brambly wine.
The Seven Sinners is available locally at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits for about $17 per bottle (though it may show up on their wine list, eventually). Check out Southern Charm Kitchen and come up with some wine pairings of your own.