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Wines $20 to $40

A Pair of Sauvignon Blancs

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Not long ago I was eating dinner at a tiny winebar called Cantina Do Spade, in Venice, when a German woman at the table next to me made a request for parmesan on her risotto nero. "I can give it to you. But you will ruin your meal," the woman who was serving her said. Her tone suggested that ruining the chef's risotto would be a very unwise thing to do. (Risotto nero, of course, is black thanks to cuttlefish ink, and as any good Venetian will tell you—evidently quite directly—fish and cheese don't go together. At least when in Italy.)

I feel like a Venetian restaurant proprietor when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc and oak. Why would you want to ruin such a spritely grape by slathering it with a bunch of oak? But, oddly enough, again while I was in Venice, at the Ristorante Lineadombra (which I heartily recommend), the proprietor effectively insisted we drink a magnum—there were six of us, so it wasn't that extreme—of the 2003 Inama Vulcaia Fumé Sauvignon ($30). And I thought it was just terrific.

This is what fixed ideas are for, I suppose: to be zapped out of existence. Anyway, the Vulcaia Fumé still had the citrus notes characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc, but it also had a savory, leesy depth that was surprisingly appealing, and a silky textural richness that was very un-Sauvignon. Of course, it was also several years old, but even so I had to rethink my absolutes. The wine is fermented in 25% heavily toasted barriques, then given battonage every six weeks for about eight months. It ought to be appalling. Instead it's delightful. And it was very good with the large and, thanks to my rudimentary Italian, somewhat mysterious-of-species roasted fish we had with it.

Anyway, I got back to the states, and decided I ought to taste the 2007 Inama Vulcaia Sauvignon ($23) just for comparison. (Inama, by the way, is in Soave, close to Venice.) Fermented and aged in stainless steel, it's still a fairly rich style of Sauvignon, probably thanks to the malolactic fermentation it undergoes. But it's more familiar in its bright grapefruity citrus character and tart finish. And it's also mighty fine; a pleasure to drink. Unfortunately, neither of these wines are the easiest to find, but if you contact the importer, DallaTerra, they may be able to help.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Run with chefs and wine experts in the Celebrity Chef 5K and dance all night at Gail Simmons’ Last Bite Dessert Party during the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 20-22.