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Three Henrys offers a royally fine daily drinker

A perplexing question, but — I promise — not a silly one: What might Huguenot heritage taste like?

It seems the easy and direct answer is the eponymous Huguenot torte. Yet, while I have nothing but praise for the sweet apple-and-nut confection … it is, like the best of the “tour guide tales” charming, oui, authentic, non. Evelyn Florence, responsible for submitting the dish to the famed “Charleston Receipts” cookbook, discovered the treat at a family member’s wedding in (brace yourself) Galveston, Texas. Indeed, the recipe — originating somewhere between Arkansas and Missouri — was a favorite of First Lady Bess Truman and has shown up elsewhere as “Ozark Pudding.”

Florence came home, tried her hand at the dish, and then sometime during the Second World War placed it on the menu of the Huguenot Tavern, a Church St.-spot that advertised as “where can be had the distinctive dishes and desserts of old Charles Town.” A few years later it was in that famous little green-and-white cookbook; today it’s at springtime tea rooms, on fall dessert plates and deep in the hearts of many a foodie, Charlestonian and non-Charlestonian alike.

The story of the Carolina Huguenots — those French refugees of the colonial era, seeking religious liberty in a new land — includes many humble moments, but perhaps leaning too hard on “Ozark Pudding” is a bit much. Thus I turn to something more modern, but (at least) fundamentally more French: A wine label that’s sure to turn a few history-minded heads and please the palates of many more besides — Three Henrys.

If that moniker rings some bell in the back of your mind, that’s because it comes from the War of the Three Henrys, one set piece in the French Wars of Religion that consumed the 16th century and continued to smolder and flare up with regularity through the early 18th.

Named for the three Henrys seeking the French throne — Henry III, King of France; Henry of Navarre; and Henry of Guise. The brief conflict saw the assassination of Henry of Guise while he was on his way to assassinate Henry III, then the following year the assassination of Henry III in revenge for the assassination of Henry of Guise. This left only Henry of Navarre — a Huguenot who had already been doing pretty well in the fighting, with his innovative use of light cavalry and musketeers but hey, being the last Henry standing was a good way to win the war, and so it went.

So Henry of Navarre followed Henry III, decided, with a phrase you may remember from your history books “Paris is worth a Mass,” and — after winning the war on the Huguenot side, converted to Catholicism and became Henry IV of France.

If you’re finding this all very confusing, perhaps you don’t need one Henry less, but just one more — a generous pouring of Three Henrys wine.

So how does a somewhat obscure event become the name of a fine contemporary label? Well, there are three folks — Andy Berly, David Lyle and Brad Norton — who have come together to create the brand, and three wines — a pinot noir, a rosé and a chardonnay — that they offer. Further, old Henry IV’s story perfectly encapsulates the goals of the winemakers — pleasant and pragmatic, and known for yet another famous phrase: “If God keeps me, I will make sure that no peasant in my realm will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot on Sunday!”

This “chicken in every pot” call is part of the mission of Three Henrys, described by its owners as “a delicious daily drinker.” These are designed to be a quality table wine, pleasant companions in any season and to a wide range of side dishes. Indeed, when I asked Andy what his favorite food pairing with the pinot noir might be, he pondered a few good choices before settling on lamb; Brad, however, quickly and unapologetically offered “Chinese leftovers.”

Perhaps this is a balance to the trio’s earlier project, Luna de Esparanza — a serious and substantive line of mostly Malbecs from Argentina. These wines have garnered high praise and high marks (their 2014 Barrel Fermented Malbec has a score of 92 from Wine Enthusiast); but a higher price point keeps most folks from, well … opening up a bottle to have alongside Chinese leftovers.

So they sat down to figure out how they might make such a creation and, soon thereafter, Three Henrys was born. Brad’s a 26-year veteran of the winemaking industry with connections around the globe, and led the team to Minervois, in the Languedoc region of France, a little less than an hour’s drive north of the Spanish border. There they brought about Olivier and Nicholas Mandeville, a father-son duo who know the process inside and out.

The result? A pinot noir and a rosé that have both received 90-point scores from The Tasting Panel, available at a reasonable everyday price point and spreading like wildfire from their Charleston headquarters to the rest of the country — from the wine shops of the Holy City, to the hotels and restaurants of Western North Carolina, through the Southeast and, coming soon, into Texas and Oklahoma. Their first ready-for-the-shelves chardonnay is currently on its way to the states and should be available by early 2020.

So, may this marriage of France and the Carolina Lowcountry find all the success on our shores that the rightfully-proud Huguenots have found throughout the centuries. Another line, purportedly said by a courtier of Henry III’s to the then-king to explain Henry of Navarre’s popularity, comes to mind: “… There is no wedding he does not enliven, no baptism at which he is not godfather, no funeral he does not attend. He is courteous, humane, generous, the honorer of all and the detractor of none. In a word, he is a king by affection, just as Your Majesty is by law.” High esteem, fine quality and yet casual joviality — we suggest you raise a glass of these Three Henrys with an upcoming meal, tout suite.

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