There's much more to Italian wine than Pinot Grigio. The number one U.S. import is only one of the 3,000 kinds of grape varieties that grow on the Italian peninsula. Learn about the many others this week at a new wine event christened Viva Vino LA. Modeled after New York's Italian Wine Week, there's an opportunity to taste all through Italy and discover native varietals from Sicily's Caleo to Friuli's traditional Refosco. More than 130 wineries are participating in events that range from in-store tastings to industry-orientated seminars. Viva Vino LA's biggest night is Wednesday May 18th at the Skirball Cultural Center, where at a grand tasting, upwards of 200 wines will be poured. (Tickets are $60 per person at the door. Order online and it's $40 per person with the promo code VVLACIAO).

Italian wines are absolutely having a moment, says Anthony Dias Blue. His Blue Lifestyle is one of the organizers of the event, along with the Italian Sommelier Association, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West and the North American Sommelier Association. “There's a real relationship of quality to price: you can find Italian wine that's really great quality and inexpensive,” he says. One factor that keeps production expenses down: the lower cost of vineyard acreage in Italy. And with 4,500 wineries and a mere 2,800 years of winemaking tradition, there's “no question that Italian wines are not snobby or elitist rather wines of the people,” says Blue.

Wine selection at La Carbonara, Campo de' Fiori, Rome; Credit: Jeff Kirshbaum

Wine selection at La Carbonara, Campo de' Fiori, Rome; Credit: Jeff Kirshbaum

Los Angeles appears to agree, as Italian restaurants proliferate (Brentwood = an upscale Little Italy) and food-friendly Italian wines are cherished for their familiarity and drinkability. Old World but not out of touch–Prosecco's popularity is ample proof of America's embrace of Italian wines. Viva Vino LA kicks off to the public on Tuesday with a Barolo tasting at K&L Hollywood and a seminar that looks at the Wines of the Veneto ($29) at the Wine House in West Los Angeles.

Special winemaker dinners include Piedmont reds matched with deliciously executed dishes at the Four Seasons' Culina and a winemaker dinner at Obika, Century City where 20-month aged Buffalo mozzarella will be paired with an Alois Lagedar 2009 Pinot Bianco. Wines of the Veneto be featured at Beverly Boulevard's Terroni each night; Pourtal Wine Bar in Santa Monica will spotlight Italian varietals all week, too.

Viva Vino LA's intent is to promote native varieties and the diverse offerings of Italy's wineries. Break away from the usual and try a Sangiovese, Nebiolo or Barbera or some wonderful Italian sparkling wines that are so appropriate for this time of year.

LA Weekly