by Rick Riozza

Blew in from Manhattan Beach (BOAC), didn’t get to bed last night. Just came back from covering Viva Vivo LA, the largest Italian wine festival held on the West Coast. From seminars to tastings to dinners, an exceptional array of Italian wines were enjoyed during the past week.

There are over 3,000 wine grape varieties that grow in Italy so you can bet that there are not just a few but many delicious wines that will attract your particular palate. This annual event, wonderfully staged by Allison Levine, at, strives to cast-the-net as to Italian wine appreciation, showcasing over 130 Italian wineries and their wines. Go on-line to catch the event next year:

No longer in the shadow of France as far as wine pre-eminence, Italia has established her own highly distinctive wine personality that matches perfectly with the wonderful flavors of its famed and envied cuisine. Indeed, as a wine enthusiast and writer one could spend an entire life doing Italia.


Colonizing Greeks called Italy Oenotria: the land of staked vines—which goes to show that even before the intruders, there was a major lineup of vineyards. In terms of geography, geology, and climate, Italy is so well suited to the vine that it ultimately could not fail to produce good (and great) wine in great variety.

Now if I were writing in autumn or in winter—believe me, we’d be discussing the heavenly reds of Barolo and Gattinara in Piemonte with their aromatic flavors of truffles and dried fruit and violets, or the Brunello di Montalcino in Tuscany with its black cherries, earth, leather, plums, and spices. Amarone from Verona, typically dry but with an illusion of sweetness, exhibits aromas of almonds, bitter chocolate, cherries, dried figs, flowers, and smoke. And when simply paired with aged Parmesan cheese (and a cigar, perhaps) the door to the wonders of wine opens.

But spring and summer here in the desert is hot haven. We need to be refreshed with a crisp, spritzy, flavorful fun wine to liven up luncheons, patio parties, and light dinner fare: Avanti! Prosecco!

Prosecco—dry, lemony, and bubbling, is Italy’s answer to a well-made, sparkling wine. Created from predominately Prosecco grapes from the northern region in the foothills of the Alps, it is light, affordable, and did I mention fun. The Zonin that I recommend below is my go-to sparkler for all my gatherings at any time of the day. Like on Thanksgiving morning when we’re prepping, we’re sipping Prosecco.

Traditionally Prosecco was made as a soft, somewhat sweet wine with just a little fizz, but today’s Proseccos are dry and very bubbly. Unlike Champagne that is “bottle fermented” this Italian sparkler goes through tank fermentation preserving the freshness and the flavor of the grapes. Chill it up! Straw-colored Prosecco, with its overtones of citrus, melon, lemon, almonds, and honey, is a perfect summer wine with its low level of alcohol of around 10%. And there’s that touch of bitterness in the finish to keep you thinking.

Venetians consider Prosecco an ideal apperitivo or ombrette (pick-me-up). Prosecco is also delicious when combined with fresh peach juice to make Venice’s most famous cocktail, the Bellini. It’s fairly reasonable for an Italian import, hovering at around $12–$15. But here’s a deal, I recommend the Zonin Prosecco Brut, at a great price of $7 at Trader Joes in Palm Desert, as our Wine of the Week.

I know that some wine descriptions by “experts” can be interesting—or, can drive you crazy. Here’s what Wilder on says about this Zonin:

“ …a strong earthy and floral quality that goes from the nose all through the palate.
The flavor is definitely funky, but also kind of alluring: like a pretty girl dancing
and sweaty. Really sweaty.”

Whoa! Pretty dancing girls don’t sweat—they glow. “Attractively intense with hints of wisteria flowers” would be my take on the wine, but I have to admit Wilder’s comments take the flavor profile to a sensuous ( if not an uncomfortable lecherous ) level. Just the price of a bottle turns me on. Most quaffers think this wine goes for around $20 and up! That’s why it’s our pick for the Wine of the Week.


Rick Riozza, the desert’s sommelier-about-town, hosts and entertains at corporate and private wine tastings and events. Contact him at

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