Retsina is a Greek white wine with a unique flavor that has a rich history dating back to the second century. The wine can also be made as a Rose. It acquired the unique taste from the sealing technology used in the day for terracotta amphorae. A wine amphora would be sealed using Aleppo pine resin to keep oxygen out. Before they discovered this way of sealing the vessels, Greek winemakers could only keep wine for a year after which it was stale and undrinkable. Pine resin served its purpose well, preserving wine for much longer, but it also infused a resin aroma into the wine. Even after barrels came into use in the 3rd century, the production methods preserved the resin flavor, making it a signature flavor of the Greek wine.
Traditional Greek Winemaking
Some of the earliest accounts of the making of retsina come from the ancient texts of Cato (234BC-149BC). In the texts, there was a recipe for a wine by the name Leucocoum, which translates roughly to “White Wine of Kos.” Production of the wine would begin about 70 days before the grapes were ready for harvesting. Seawater would be collected from the shore on a day when the sea was calm. When harvest time came, grapes were harvested and scattered outside to dry for several days. After drying followed the removal of stems. The grapes would then be placed into the large terracotta jars 1/5 filled with decanted seawater. The berries were then left to sit in the seawater to increase absorption.
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Retsina: Taste in The Earlier Centuries
You wouldn’t typically associate wine with a salty taste. Though there are wines with a saline finish, this is often very subtle. In the times of ancient Greece, a salty wine was as normal as the subway is. In these times, salt was used a lot in winemaking. The reason for this was because sulfur dioxide was not being used as a preservative yet, even in the 17th century. This left salt as the main means of preserving wine even though it still remained highly perishable.
Retsina: Taste Today
Modern methods of making the wine are a far cry from the wine of the earlier times that, in today’s standards, would be compared to floor-cleaning detergent. The main notes you are likely to taste are herbal and crisp, making the wine a perfect pair for spicy food. The commercial version of the wine that is available today ranges from high-quality bottles that are a great pairing for seafood to those that are mixed with soda as a cheap alternative that students can have even on a tight budget. The best quality retsina typically has aromas such as lime peel, linseed oil, roses, and apple. The finish, keeping to the traditional way of making the wine, is salty. On the palate, the wine has an oily texture with fruity flavors of apple and peach as the most notable aromas and a slight smell of resin.
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Retsina is a wine consumed all across the country and produced in all wine regions. Some of the main areas of production include Boeotia, Attica, and Euboea. Retsina is the traditional appellation used for wines made in Greece and the southern parts of Cyprus. There is an Australian version of the wine from South Australia referred to as ‘resinated wine’ since Retsina remains a protected trademark for wines from Greece only.
Varieties of Retsina
The varieties of the wine coming out these days are good examples of how a wine can come from a regular type to a contender for one of the best European-style white wines. There are some new versions of the wine that you should have a taste of if you have not had already.
Gaia: The wine appellation from the Gaia Ritinitis Nobilis winemaker is one of the most popular modern versions of the wine. The wine is made mainly from Roditis grapes with a little pine resin. The result is a clean and refreshing style of Retsina with herbal aromas.
Domaine Papagiannakos: This is an appellation of the wine from the Attica region. It is made using Savatiano grapes, is one of the more refreshing varieties of retsina. The wine has a crisp, lively character with minty, lavender and pine notes.
Kourtaki: The Kourtaki retsina is easily identifiable with the yellow label which makes it stand out on store shelves. The wine is characterized by menthol flavor and aroma that makes it one of the most befitting introductions to this kind of wine.
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