Montenegro for wine lovers

Budva, Montenegro
Budva, Montenegro.

Lying on the Balkan peninsula between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, Montenegro has five national parks, highlighting its dramatic landscapes and unspoilt nature.

Through the millennia, its original inhabitants, the Illyrians, were joined by Greeks, Romans, Slavs, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottoman Turks. While much of the coast was under Venice from 1392 to 1797, the mountainous interior came under the Ottoman Turks from 1496 to 1878. You’ll notice these influences in regional cuisine, architecture and dialects. Nowadays, tourism accounts for 25% of the country’s GDP – with the most popular destinations, Kotor and Budva, overlooking the Adriatic.

Montenegrin wines are little known abroad, as most are consumed at home. It’s believed the ancients already made wine here and celebrated the Dionysian cult. Regarding reds, the oldest known indigenous variety is Kratošija (very closely related to Primitivo / Zinfandel), recorded in the Budva Statute in the 15th century. But after the phylloxera epidemic in the early-20th century, the Vranac grape became more prominent, and now accounts for 70% of vines. Krsta? is the dominant autochthonous variety for whites. Traditional methods are still highly respected, but recently several new family-run boutique wineries have opened, bringing modern techniques and flavours to the Montenegrin wine scene.

We begin our tour in Podgorica. It’s not generally regarded as a top destination, but being the capital, it’s well served by year-round international flights, and it lies near several outstanding wineries.


Krgovi? Arhonto vineyard

On the vast Zeta Plain, surrounded by limestone mountains, Podgorica straddles the Mora?a river. The city was bombed during WWII, so most of it today is modern – city life focuses on the main square, Trg Republike, approached via the central thoroughfare, Ulica Slobode. One sight worth visiting is the neo-Byzantine Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, decorated with golden mosaics and consecrated in 2013.

Montenegro’s biggest winery, producing 90% of the country’s wine, is state-owned Plantaže. Plantaže’s extensive vineyards stretch south of Podgorica as far as Lake Skadar, accounting for some 11.5 million vines, two-thirds of which are Vranac. At the Šip?anik wine cellar, occupying a hangar at a former military base, Plantaže’s standard one-hour tasting comprises the three main native varieties – Krsta?, Kratošija and Vranac.

Plantaže took seven awards at Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) 2023, including a Silver medal for its red Pro Corde Vranac 2020. Pro Corde means ‘for the heart’ in Latin – apparently, it’s high in condensed tannins (believed to be health-promoting by some). It’s a reliable inexpensive buy, available at supermarkets throughout the country.

Driving north to the village of Rogami (where Kratošija is said to have originated), you’ll find several excellent family-run wineries. The biggest, producing 50,000 bottles annually, is Krgovi? Arhonto, founded in 2009 by Ljubiša Krgovi?, former governor of the Central Bank of Montenegro. At the winery, overlooking the ruins of the ancient Illyrian-Roman capital, Duklja (Doclea), be sure to taste Arhonto Kartošija (Primitivo di Montenegro) and Arhonto Vranac (70% Vranac, 30% mix of Kartošija and Cabernet). Note how Vranac is a full-bodied winter wine, high in tannins, as opposed to Kartošija, which is a little lighter and fruitier.

Nearby, Dragica Vu?ini?, Montenegro’s first female winemaker, runs the Zenta Vu?ini? winery. She learnt the art of viticulture from her parents and started commercial production in 2005. She’ll gladly show you the cellar, in a 25-metre-long tunnel, carved into the rocks below the house, and then take you up to the tasting room, with a wooden beamed ceiling and views over the vineyards. She makes seven different wines, all single-varietal, totalling 2,500…

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Montenegro for wine lovers Montenegro for wine lovers *Montenegro for wine lovers