Greek Wine Girl: Don’t Be Too Quick to Write-off Retsina

Greek Wine Girl Nicole Andersen is back! This time, she writes about the much-maligned Retsina, and says we should give it another chance. Read on!   


Retsina: made by ancient winemaking traditions

Retsina has a 3,500 year-old history. Truth be told, it’s a wine created by accident. It’s a wine with strong roots in Greece’s abundant history. It’s made by an ancient Greek tradition — a staple in the art and the beginning of winemaking by our ancestors. The ancient Greeks were actually intelligent in this task, if you ask me. Knowing that air exposure was damaging to their sweet nectar they found a way to protect it. By sealing their clay amphorae with pine resin, they could ensure its longevity.

The Retsina phenomenon was created in the region of central Greece, but soon became practice in other regions such as Macedonia and the Aegean Islands. Tree resin, the key component, is used in a number of ways. This method of sealing the amphora was believed to to keep the wine less prone to oxidation and to mask any “off-flavors” developed during winemaking.

 

Retsina Amphora
Essentially, Retsina is wine dominated by the taste of the pine resin used to seal the amphorae, like these at Tetramythos. PHOTO BY NICOLE ANDERSEN

 

The rise of Retsina

Retsina has been served in the taverns of Athens since the late 19th century. Fast forward to the 20th century — whatever escaped devastation during World War II, was ruined during the Civil War. The country struggled to rebuild and regroup, and obviously, winemaking slowed. But by the 1960’s, Retsina was widely available, and dominated Greece’s wine sales.

Thanks to the tourist boom of the 1960s, Retsina became Greece’s national drink. Unfortunately, this made people around the world equate “Greek wine” with Retsina. For years, it was one of the few Greek wines exported around the world. While you’d hear people describe this wine as “an acquired taste,” many didn’t like it. This has made it all the more challenging to get people to, in general, embrace the amazing wines coming out of Greece right now. Fortunately, that’s changing, as more and more people become familiar today’s Greek wine.

 

The case for Retsina

I find myself compelled to take this opportunity early in the year to talk about the often misunderstood Retsina. This feeling comes from the quick shifts in the wine market and the recent buzz of the fantastic wines Greece produces. This seems to be the year of recognition for Greece — a very long overdue one at that. Nonetheless, critics are warning consumers to stay away from this wine. Well, I’m here to tell you the exact opposite. Go on, pop bottles of Retsina with your Thanksgiving dinner, with your Greek chicken and potatoes — you won’t be disappointed.

Get rid of every thought you have about that “gross” Retsina you had in Greektown many years ago. That Retsina is long gone. Actually, the “new” Retsina has been around for some time.

While in New York recently, I heard a wine writer talk about how shocked he was when a sommelier had given him Retsina — it wasn’t what he remembered it to be. Retsina shouldn’t be given the mark of the black sheep in the Greek wine industry. Today’s Retsina has evolved, and it’s nothing like what people drank years ago.

Though some big name critics might beg to differ, I challenge this — I can’t let this stigma remain. Retsina is on many tables in Greek restaurants and taverns. I’ve seen bottles from Kechris opened on tables from Thessaloniki to the Aegean Islands. At many consumer events, people have pulled me aside and commented that they tried this Retsina in Greece and it was fantastic; or they’d never had one that good before. I’ve taken Retsina on the road to show customers and sommeliers — they couldn’t believe it when I told them what they were drinking.

 

Retsina cold press
At Kechris, grapes are pressed using cold-extraction, to make Retsina. PHOTO BY NICOLE ANDERSEN.

 

Why I changed my mind

To be frank, 8 years ago you couldn’t get me to touch it, as it was by far my least favorite Greek wine. That all changed once I became educated, and was introduced to the new dawn of Retsina.

Two summers ago, while traveling in Greece, I was introduced to Stelios Kechris and the Kechris family. A fantastic tasting table was waiting for me. Here, my impression of Retsina changed.

The Kechris family has a century-old winemaking history, with its specialty in Retsina. In 1984, Stelios Kechris took a bold and strategic move to invest in the production of high-quality retsina and re-invent the image of this traditional Greek wine. In 2006 with the contributions of his daughter Eleni Kechris, The Tear of the Pine, was introduced. This wine was a pure example of the future of Retsina. The Tear of the Pine was actually the first and only Retsina to receive a gold medal in two of the world’s most important wine competitions. Here at Kechris they are blending tradition with modern technology. After a short cold soak, the grape juice is transferred in oak barrels for fermentation. A select quantity of high-quality fresh pine resin is added in the must with the onset of fermentation and removed at the end of this process. After the fermentation is complete, the wine will mature in 1st and 2nd use oak barriques for a period of 6 months on fine lees.

 

                              

More great Retsina                 

Tetramythos Winery, located in Pountas-Kalavryton, made huge headway upon their arrival in Chicago four years ago. There was no comparison with the Retsina and what was already here in the market. Winemaker Panagiotis Papagiannopoulos makes Retsina exclusively from Roditis organically-grown on North facing vineyards at between 750-1,000 m on the North coast of the Peloponnese, near the town of Aegeon. Panagiotis collects the resin by hand from pine trees adjacent to the vineyards, adding one kilo of resin to every 1,000 liters of wine. The wine is fermented with the resin in clay amphorae which are made-to-order in Crete. A small amount of un-resinated Roditis is blended into the resinated wine before bottling, to maintain the wine’s elegance and freshness. You can find this Retsina at your local Binny’s but call first to see if your local store has it in stock.

 

Retsina in the U.S.

At the moment, Kechris and Tetramythos wines are scarcely available in Chicagoland market, but many of us are championing this traditional wine and working to change that. We hope more will be available soon. This wine is beginning to penetrate more markets in the U.S. Boston has embraced Restina in a big way, as it pairs well with their fresh seafood.

Haters gonna hate, as they say, but don’t be too quick to write-off this Greek wine. Try one of these new Retsinas, and you, too, will change your mind.


More from Greek Wine Girl Nicole Andersen:

Greek Wine Girl: Greece and Her Wine – Part I

Greek Wine Girl: Greece and Her Wines – Part 2

Greek Wine Girl: Greece and Her Wines – Part 3

Greek Wine Girl: Greece and Her Wines – Part 4


 

Nicole Andersen
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Nicole Andersen

Nicole Andersen, a.k.a. Greek Wine Girl, is a sommelier, and a 17-year veteran of the restaurant business. In 2010, she began burning the midnight oil, studying wine. In this capacity, she was introduced to the world of Greece and her wines. The quest to study them and a great passion for Greece and Greek wine was born.
Nicole Andersen
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This article has 11 Comments

  1. This is truly a nice article to reinstate specific retsinas as high quality wines. It is true that big damage has been done due to the low quality non branded retsina wines that were being served to tourists (extensively in the past and occasionally, I hope, nowadays). In many tourists minds it is associated with a strong headache the next day (similar to the one when drinking any non-branded wine) and it is quite difficult to change this impression. Being someone that is involved with Greek wines electronic commerce, I am truly grateful for this article and to contribute I would add one exceptional retsina from Attica, where most retsinas are produced, since that majority of them are based on Savvatiano grape variety. However the one from Gikas vineyards is based on Assyrtiko and is truly a very good one. The same stands for Ritinitis Nobilis by Gaia Estate, which comes from Peloponnese.

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