Montenegro is a small country on the western side of the Balkan Peninsula, its western border defined by the meeting point of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. A typical southern European country, the Montenegrin landscape is relatively dry, mountainous and definitively Mediterranean. Hence there is a long-established culture of viticulture and winemaking here.
With Greece just 100 miles (161km) to the south-east and Italy only a fraction further across the Adriatic, it was almost inevitable that Montenegrin culture would one day encounter wine in some form or another. While there is yet to be evidence of such a developed wine culture as that found in neighboring Croatia, it is almost beyond doubt that the area now known as Montenegro ('black mountain') saw wine production long before the likes of France and even Italy. In fact, several of the grapes for which Italy is now known came from this area of the world, either by sea or up the Adriatic coastline to Venice, via modern-day Croatia and Slovenia.
Robust red Primitivo (America's Zinfandel) is a prime example of this grape-migration pattern. It is believed to have made its Italian landfall around Bari, Puglia, which lies directly across the Adriatic from the Montenegrin city of Bar. Whether the names Bar and Bari are connected in any way is unclear, but it is telling that the Bar-Bari ferry crossing remains the key connection between Montenegro and Italy.
Today Montenegro produces very little wine from the Primitivo/Zinfandel grape (or Crljenak Kasteljanski as it is known in this part of the world), and is best known for its intense, deeply colored varietal wine made from Vranac. Well-made Vranac is at its best after several years in bottle, and with judicious use of oak, Montenegrin Vranac can rival the powerful wines of southern France. It can also have a fresh acid balance rarely seen across the water in Puglia – a trait bestowed on it by the cooler altitudes at which the vines can be grown in Montenegro.