What’s the deal with…Retsina?
Ah, we revisit the “What’s the deal with…” section of the blog with the long awaited Retsina tasting. I’ve had these hidden in my fridge for about a year consuming the attention of a personal dare with anticipation centered on fear and not much else. I selected 2 bottles to compare (these are kind of hard to find in my part of the world) and I believe both were under $10 a bottle, so who knows if they are “typical” showcases of the varietal, but I’m not going to go any further out of my way to investigate a sommeliers’ inside joke, which associates Retsina with pine and turpentine. Let’s see if my palate is indeed on par with these CMC’s and the people that actually grew up drinking this legendary wine, (when and where did that take place by the way?). Read on.
It reminds me of the time when I was six, hiding under the Christmas tree finishing off every ones left over wine and chasing it with laps of water from the metal tree base holder! The amount of purple children’s Tylenol it took to get rid of that hangover bordered on an overdose. Just kidding. But seriously, maybe it happened in a past life because I swear that it must have happened to and inspired the early makers of this mythical Greek wine.
The labels of both of the wines are borderline cryptic, (but I’m sure if I drank enough of this I’d be fluent in Greek) until they are turned to the back where they profess the love that the Greeks feel for their traditional wine, boast the harmonious blend, and the characteristic “Retsina” taste. Hmmm, where does it come from and is there any chance that it would compliment any food? Doubt it, but try me.
Apparently the pine, I’m not even going to call it a scent because it is most certainly a FLAVOR, comes from the addition of pine resin to the grape must. What?! According to Wikipedia pine resin was used 2000 years ago to seal the container the wine was stored in and masked any spoilage in the wine, then became a popular taste component, and was thus added to the wine once they started using barrels which made the resin unnecessary. Here is a historian Liutprand’s account of being served Retsina:
According to Liutprand, he was treated very rudely and undignified by the court of Nikephoros II being served goat stuffed with onion and served in fish sauce and “undrinkable” wine mixed with resin, pitch and gypsum-very offensive to his western tastes.
I had to stop drinking the infamous Boutari that I started with because I was starting to associate it with what Santa’s urine probably tastes like. The second bottle, the Achaia, was much more subtle, but I don’t think I am going to make myself finish the pour.
Key things to know about Retsina:
- It is not a varietal but a style of wine that was recently protected under the European Union. (who knew that would be necessary?!)
- The primary varietal used is savatiano.
- Modern Retsina is made following the same wine making techniques of white wine or rosé with the exception of small pieces of Aleppo Pine resin added to the must during fermentation. The pieces stay mixed with the must, and elute an oily resin film on the liquid surface; at racking the wine is clarified and the solids and surface film are removed from the finished wine.
- Vintage Retsinas are rare (though I couldn’t find any explanation for the reason).
Now that I know what Retsina is maybe I should find out what turpentine is…