You could be forgiven for thinking there were about a dozen grape varieties in the world. The so-called ‘international varieties’ (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and their cronies) seem to dominate the shelves and it is this handful of grape varieties we are all very used to seeing on wine labels. However, if you dig a little deeper, you will find a world rich in diversity and colour.

Unless you a) have never been to a restaurant or b) have been living in the jungle for the past 20 years you will more than likely be familiar with Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio is Italy’s biggest export and is still on the rise. The good news is that Italy is a goldmine for dry white wines in a similar light, fresh and very tasty vein. These are made from grape varieties you rarely see anywhere else and they are becoming really rather trendy in wine circles as people search for alternatives to Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Soave, Fiano, Gavi and Pecorino are deliciously light, delicately fruity, refreshing whites that are perfect at lunchtime with salads and fish or for just drinking on their own in the garden. Below are a few examples of the wonderfuil white wines created using these lesser known grapes.

Pra Soave Classico 2011
Pra Soave Monte Grande 2011
Moramari Fiano
Pecorino La Piuma Terre Di Chieti 2011
Umani Ronchi Passetto Bianco 2012
Umani Ronchi Vellodoro Pecorino 2012

Verdicchio and Vermentino are a bit zingier and flavoursome and can take stronger flavours in food.

Morisfarms Vermentino 2012
Sartarelli Tralivio Verdicchio Superiore 2011
Sartarelli Balciana Superiore 2010
Umani Ronchi Verdicchio 2012
Sartarelli Sparkling Verdicchio

The reds are a bit of a treat too. Italian reds vary from the incredibly rich and robust to the light and fruity. The great thing about Italian reds is their uniquely interesting and savoury character which means they make excellent dinner companions.

Holidaymakers are no strangers to Tuscany and this is familiar as Chianti land, but did you know that Morellino di Scansano, Rosso di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello are all also from Tuscany and are also made from Sangiovese which is the Chianti grape?

Umani Ronchi winery on the Adriatic coast of Italy is making great waves with Verdicchio whites and fruity, juicy red wines made from the Montepulciano grape. Montepulciano is a very easy-going variety with a lovely ripe fruit flavour and is a great place to start for newcomers to Italian reds.

Umani Ronchi Jorio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010
Umani Ronchi Pelago Rosso 2008

Northeast Italy is an exciting region for red wines, some of which have long had a reputation for being very tough and tannic, needing years in bottle before they are drinkable. Dolcetto, Barbaresco and Barbera are far softer and more approachable in their youth with gorgeous aromatics, and real vibrancy and freshness.

We were introduced to Piero Busso at a trade fair in Italy earlier this year and were very impressed with the quality of his wines. These are traditional wines made to suit modern palates – structured but soft and plump and approachable; no need to hide them away under the stairs for half a lifetime before opening.

Busso Barbera D'Alba 2011
Busso Dolcetto D'Alba 2012
Busso Barbaresco Mondino 2009
Busso Barbaresco Stefanetto 2008