An extraordinary white from Valpolicella by Fumanelli

best soave wineThe claim that Houston is enogastronomically challenged doesn’t seem to slow the tide of Italian winemakers who visit here every week.

It was actually Valpolicella winemaker Armando Fumanelli’s first visit to the Bayou City when he and I connected last Tuesday to taste through his wines.

Now, why would an Italian noble, real estate mogul, vintage race car collector and racer, and legacy winemaker visit a place like Texas?

Beats me…

Once he and I got past his sales pitch, it was fascinating to hear him talk about Valpolicella history and the way the appellation has been transformed and overcropped since the 1920s when the modern era of winemaking there began.

He talked at length about the Veneto’s unbridled entrepreneurial spirit (a tradition that stretches back to Renaissance Venice and the city’s maritime republic) and how it naturally spilled over into wine production.

One of the most interesting points he made was when he explained that Valpolicella was perhaps the first appellation in Italy where winemakers applied an assembly-line approach to the mass production of a previously artisanal product.

This shift in wine production paralleled Italy’s industrialization under fascism and the emergence of a demand for dry wines (my observation, not his).

In many ways, Valpolicella is a metaphor for Italy and the way that artisanal life and traditional agricultural values are struggling to survive there (my words, not his).

A great example of this was his Terso (above), an IGT blend of slightly dried (15-20 days) Garganega and Trebbiano Toscano (50/50 per cent). The latter grape had been grubbed up by most growers, he said, when they realized how lucrative Corvina (for Valpolicella and Amarone) could be. His family is one of the few to retain a significant number of hectares planted to this Trebbiano clone.

I was blown away by the depth and nuance of the wine and was wholly impressed by its value. reports an average price of $35 across the U.S.

Sadly, it’s not in Texas yet but this will most certainly be a Saturday-night wine at our house once it gets here.

best valpolicellaOf the flight we tasted, I also really loved his entry-tier Valpolicella which lands here at under $20 (WineSearcher shows a national average retail price of $18).

At 12.5 per cent alcohol, this clean, fresh wine was true Valpolicella (above), maybe a little more polished than the ones I used to drink during my university days in Padua but delicious and classic.

Armando, you had me at “12.5.” This wine hits that sweet spot among our family’s Monday-Thursday night wines.

It was a brilliant pairing for a dish of lorghittas (below) with kid ragù and chop prepared by Efisio Farris at his Arcodoro, Houston’s Sardinian-restaurant and mainstay, where the tasting was held.

lorighittasThe pasta shape, Efisio told me, comes from the ring shape. In Sardinian, a loriga is a ring used to hitch cattle.

The pasta is made by hand by “a couple of old ladies” on the island, he said, and they are couriered regularly to him here in Houston. It’s a dried pasta that has a shelf life of roughly six months, he explained. They were phenomenal, really.

So in case you’re still worried about the challenge of eating and drinking well in Houston, you can rest easy.

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