Retsina: Worth a Second Look

Retsina: Worth a Second Look

Retsina is often the brunt of the joke when it comes to Greek wine. Just recently I heard someone say, “Greek wine is great but don’t give me any retsina!” and I have to say I once used to agree! 

My first experience with Retsina was while taking the WSET Diploma class. I had memorized the production method for the wine but had never tried it. It was the 90’s and at that time that was almost all we were taught about Greece before Sofia Perpera and 'All About Greek Wine' had really made an impact. There was very little information about Greek wine available. I knew retsina was a wine generally made with Savatiano and Roditis grapes and flavored with Aleppo pine resin. The romantic sounding process was inspired by the traditional and ancient method of sealing amphora with pine resin. It was kind of like that great, white whale, talked about but never seen. I was taking the tasting portion of the exam and running through the wines when all of a sudden the pungent aroma of Pine Sol attacked my nostrils. It was amazing... amazingly awful. I was so excited because I immediately knew exactly what it was and how to write up the wine and its production method. I did not even taste it, since I knew that it would wreck my palate.

Fast-forward 18 years later on a journey through Northern Greece with Stephen Olson and a crew of sommeliers. Retsina reared its head towards the very end of the trip... I was a little worried as I was visiting a producer who seemed really kind, I did not want to offend them or have to suffer through it, but the retsina was poured and my eyes were opened.

The Kechris family has made retsina since 1939 in Thessaloniki. The hub of 4,000 years of civilization, these traditional wines were once very well known. Over the years, though, retsina became a pine-flavored wine, made in bulk and with average quality grapes. Luckily, Kechris takes pride in making retsina the traditional way, but using the very best quality ingredients. They start by using very high quality grapes, careful vinification to retain the aromatics of the grape, and a subtle addition of high quality fresh semi-solid resin in order to make an ethereal wine that is lightly tinged with pine aromatics.

Their Tear of the Pine is made with Assyrtiko grapes fermented in new oak with its lees. Rather than the Pine Sol notes of retsinas I had tasted before, it has a slight lemon basil note, hints of rosemary and thyme. Kechris also produces the only rose retsina in the world using Xinomavro grapes. They also make a more classic retsina, Kechribari (which means amber in Greek), from high quality Roditis fermented at cool temperatures just like any quality white wine. High quality retsina can be fabulous with food, for example anything fried, especially calamari or crispy fried fish. As Greek wines increase in popularity hopefully more of these high quality retsinas from Kechris and other producers will start becoming more widely available. I am happy to know now what all the excitement about retsina is all about.

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Photo Credit: R. Yorick

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