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Sherry renaissance reaches Charleston

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Even today, in the deepest, darkest part of winter, there are people comfortably strolling historic city blocks lined with palm trees in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

That same scene is familiar in Charleston, of course, which is one of the reasons that beverage professionals say the city is developing an affinity for sherry, Jerez’s best-known product.

“With our proximity to the ocean, and a social eating and drinking culture, Charleston is very similar to the sherry region,” said Brandon Underwood, dining room manager for Edmund’s Oast, which recently hosted a sherry dinner featuring the fortified wine paired with cured meats and buttermilk with bitter greens.

Edmund’s Oast is one of a number of high-end restaurants to lately amplify its sherry selection. At Edmund’s, there are now six sherries offered by the glass, as well as a collection of unlisted bottles “for more enthusiastic sherry lovers.”

Both Underwood and Edmund’s head chef Reid Henninger lived in Spain, where they were exposed to sherry that wasn’t associated with the overheated blends kept in the back corners of elderly relatives’ neglected pantries.

“Sherry has been maligned in America for decades,” Talia Baiocchi wrote in “Sherry: A Modern Guide to The Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret,” released in 2014 by Ten Speed Press.

Yet Baiocchi found hope in what she’s termed the “modern sherry renaissance,” a phenomenon fueled by evangelical sommeliers and an American palate that’s begun to tilt toward higher-acid, bitter and savory flavors. “It may never saturate the mass market in such a way that you run into it on a list at a country club in Tucson,” she allows. Indeed, Charleston restaurateur Brooks Reitz in 2013 was quoted in this paper forecasting an extensive sherry list for his forthcoming Saint Alban.

Reitz ultimately scratched those plans, but his concern that sherry was being “lost in the shuffle” at Charleston restaurants is starting to seem as misplaced as a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, wherever it’s perched.

“We believe it is some of the most complex wine in the world,” Underwood said.

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