ONE OF THE OLDEST WINEMAKING COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD
Retsina (Greek: Ρετσίνα ) is a Greek white or rosé wine which is flavoured with pine resin. It emerged from an ancient winemaking tradition, which dates back to the 2nd century BC. The name Retsina is derived from the Latin word ‘resina’, which means resin. There are other countries producing resinated wine, as well but the Greek one is the most popular. The European Union refers to the name "Retsina" as a protected designation of origin and as a traditional appellation for Greece and parts of the southern regions of Cyprus.
Retsina gets its unique flavour from the pine resin used to seal the vessels in which the wine was stored and shipped. At the time when glass bottles were not invented, a solution had to be found so that oxygen would not spoil the wine. Pine oils were used as sealants. These oils successfully blocked the air, but affected the taste of the wine. Today, the methods of wine production and storage have improved significantly. It has become easier to protect the wine from oxidation, thereby using much less resin than was originally the case. If you taste Retsina wines from Greece today, they are much tastier than in historical times. The Greeks, however, have gotten a taste for the unique taste over time and still produce Retsina.
Retsina is made using the same winemaking techniques as white wine or rosé. Only the addition of small pieces of Aleppo pine resin, which are added to the must during fermentation. The resin remains mixed with the must and releases an oily resin film on the liquid surface. When the wine is clarified, the resin and surface film is removed from the finished wine.
Retsina differs greatly in quality. A low-quality wine can taste very spicy and sharp. The approximately 11.5% vol alcohol containing wine should always be very young and consumed preferably in the first or second year. Good quality can be determined by the very bright and not already golden yellow colour and the smell shouldn't be too strong.
It’s produced and bottled in many locations in Greece. The main production centers are around Attica, Boeotia and Euboea. The traditional grape is Savatiano, Assurtiko and Rhoditis, which are often mixed together. Athiri is the main grape on the island of Rhodes. Depending on the location, other varieties can be blended.
The Greeks love the way this wine is mixed with pine aromas. The specific taste of Retsina can not be explained well to anyone who has never tried it, but in general it is mild, neither sweet nor bitter. Also the taste and flavour vary from brand to brand and are subject to personal preferences.
At first glance Retsina looks and even smells like a typical white wine. If you drink a sip of Retsina for the first time, you may be a bit shocked. It tastes like pine resin. It goes very well with strong, spicy and savory foods, such as Greek starters or "meze" like feta cheese, olives and stuffed grape leaves or ‘’dolmades’’. Other food that goes well with are cheese puff pastry/pita (tiropita), spinach puff pastry/pita (spanakopita), light vegetable dishes and also fish and seafood fit perfectly.
The wine should be served cold and enjoyed in wide, open glasses, as it dissipates the resinous aroma better than a narrow one. Who likes to try new things should definitely not be afraid to give Retsina a try.
One thing is for sure, enjoying this wine is an established tradition in Greece and reflects the deep love of the history and traditions. Retsina comes in a 500 ml bottle and can be enjoyed in any tavern or restaurant in Greece.
The most famous brands are:
As they say in Greece, Yamas!
This article was published first in the TML Magazine Issue 1, 2018.