Montenegro, douze points: toasting the ultimate Balkan wine cellar
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
This month, the Adriatic coast’s high-rolling new resort, Portonovi, opens. At its centre is the One&Only Portonovi, a five-star hotel with panoramic views of Boka Bay, a Giorgio Locatelli restaurant and a spa by Swiss wellness gurus Chenot.
The wine list, not surprisingly, is awash with showboaty cuvées. But it also takes a deep dive into wines from the Balkan peninsula. “This part of Europe has incredible winemaking heritage, but under communism the focus shifted to quantity over quality,” says sommelier Rafaela Pons. “Now we’re seeing the revival of old vineyards and native varietals, and a lot of estates bringing in winemakers from France and Italy, which is helping to bring a new refinement to these wines.”
Montenegro’s strong suits are Cabernet Sauvignon and the indigenous varietal Vranac – a red grape that, in the right hands, produces “a full body and complex nose like a Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo blend”, says Pons. The 2016 Vranac Reserve by Sjekloca, a tiny family-owned winery south-east of Portonovi, scrubs up very well. Among the sweet wines, guests can sample Zizak, an indigenous white varietal now being revived by Montenegrin growers including the award-winning Savina, not far from the hotel.
Serbia’s speciality, Prokupac, makes an appearance in Credo, a red blend by Vinarija Virtus. The real Serbian standout, though, is the Meursault-like Omnibus Lector, a 100 per cent Chardonnay from Erdevik, a dynamic producer on the Danube. Intense and fresh, it won a coveted Platinum award at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2020.
Croatia’s premier wine region, Istria, has a reputation that is already well established; some have even dubbed it “the new Tuscany” – a high-octane Cabernet blend from the well-regarded Meneghetti winery is listed at One&Only for a punchy €242.
One of the more unusual itineraries on offer at One&Only Portonovi sees guests whisked along in a statesmanlike Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow to the villa that once belonged to Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito. After a private tour of the 1970s interiors, the day is rounded off with a sunset wine tasting at the Savina winery, high up on a hill.
When it comes to booking a room, serious oenophiles – and party animals – should make a beeline for Suite One, which comes complete with its own walk-in wine vault. This can be stocked with up to 150 bottles from the hotel’s 250-label list: the ultimate Balkan minibar.