Gregory Alonzo: The Wines and Casinos of the Black Mountains
Montenegro, the name dates back to the time of Venetian rule, and means “Black Mountain.” This is a beautiful and majestic land strewn with waterways and inlets from the Adriatic Sea.
For anyone who has seen the James Bond film, “Casino Royale,” Montenegro is an exotic land ripe with sun drenched beaches and opulent casinos. This tradition dates back to when the Kingdom of Montenegro came under the rule of Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator. Mussolini envisioned a principality along the lines of Monaco. Montenegro lies in the Western Balkans, and prior to independence had been absorbed into the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Today I am joined by long-time friend, and fellow sommelier, Kalina Novac.
“I am so happy that you selected the Forza for our tasting,” I nodded in approval. “The panoramic view of the bay is breathtaking.”
Our table had been set with a host of Montenegrin delicacies. Grilled tuna steaks, prawns, eel, Njegushi prosciutto (ham), lamb kebobs, stuffed eggplant, bruschetta, wild mushrooms, olives, and an assortment of breads and cheeses.
“I also remembered your favorite, blueberries.”
“Who needs wine,” we laughed heartily.
“Gregory, today I wanted to try something a bit different for our readers,” Kalina paused to collect her thoughts. “I want to show the versatility of Montenegrin wines.”
“Quite interesting,” I flashed her a quick smile. “Considering that Montenegrins are noted carnivores.”
“True, but in the coastal areas as Kotor, seafood is plentiful,” Kalina’s tone was a flat matter of fact. “The wines pair nicely with a variety of dishes.”
“What is our first selection?”
“Zivell,” We toasted each other.
Krstac is an ancient grape varietal that is indigenous to both Montenegro and Serbia. Our wine hails from the lush vineyards around Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica. The name Krstac is specific for the grape size and form a cluster resembling a cross.This is a high quality dry white wine. The bouquet is outstanding. It is extremely rich and harmonious with a distinct varietal scent. Visually, Krstac is a light yellow in color with a greenish hue. On the palate, the taste is fresh and quite pleasant. Krstac has a character all its own. I understand Kalina’s point that Montenegrin wines are versatile and can be paired with most dishes. Typical Krstac is 12.5% alcohol. “Young and fun” is the best characterization for our 2010 Krstac Plantaze Podgorica.
“I would also add that any dish you would pair with Chardonnay,” Kalina paused for effect. “Reconsider, and experiment with Krstac.”
Nodding in agreement, “Let’s press on. What is our next wine?”
Vranac is an ancient grape varietal that is indigenous to Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Vranac is considered to be the most important grape varietal in Montenegro. The name Vranac translates as “Black Stallion.” Wines produced from this grape varietal are often associated with strength, potency, and success. Wines produced in this part of the world are often referred to as “black” due to there deep intense coloring. Vranac produces a dry red wine of a unique taste and character, that is synonymous with the Balkans. Our selection exemplified the Vranac variety. Coloring was an intense dark ruby. On the nose develops a more complex aroma that includes hints of cinnamon, chocolate, liquorice, black fruits, and herbs. On the palate, the wine is subtle, round, and full, exhibiting flavors of cherry and fig. The finish is long and smooth. Typical Vranac is 12.5% alcohol.
“Vranac is quite simply a high quality dry red wine that is versatile and can be paired with a variety of dishes, “ Kalina was quick to add. “Pro Corde? Gregory, you read Latin. Can you translate?”
“Very loosely, it is a Latin tag for ‘heart healthy.’ I cocked an amused brow.
“What amuses this good Catholic boy?”
“I’ll have you know that I am a parochial school drop out,” I toyed with Kalina. “What I find amusing is that such claims are generally forbidden in the American wine market.”
We both chuckled because the original Vranac Pro Corde label featured a small EKG graph.
Kalina struggled to regain her composure. “I also wanted to add that Vranac goes well with a generous serving of garlic as a condiment to most dishes.
“On a different note,” I paused in reflection. “It is interesting to conclude that Alexander the Great probably drank something very similar to our Vranac.”
“Perhaps,” Kalina began to chuckle. “However, I’m sure he was only served the Reserve.”
We both erupted euphorically. Several long moments later, we were ready for our final selection.
“The best way to end our lunch is with a glass or two of brandy,” Kalina’s tone was one of sheer delight.
“Rakija,” I smiled gleefully because I love Montenegrin brandy.
“I have a bottle of Privjenic,” Kalina presented me with the bottle from Plantaze.
In Montenegro, brandy is typically served as an aperitif along with fresh fruit or salted snacks called “mezes.” What makes Privijenic unique is its high alcohol content, 100 proof. Another distinctive feature in Montenegrin brandy is that it is made in a process very similar to that of distilling vodka, however, the final result is a much more aromatic and intoxicating clear liqueur.
“Privijenic is an excellent way to warm up on those cold evenings before going out,” Kalina paused on the moment. “It is also quite popular to serve Montenegrin brandy slightly chilled.”
“At what temperature?” I queried.
“Just curious, any particular reason all your choices were from the Plantaze Vineyards?”
“Plantaze is one of Montenegro’s national producers and they produce only quality wines and spirits.”
“Kalina,” her languor stole over me. “You outdid yourself. Thank you for a succulent lunch and a most intriguing tasting.”
“We are not quite finished,” Kalina beemed with excitement.
“But of course. Only your favorite plum brandy,” Kalina’s eyes crinkled into a smile.
“But that my friends is another story …