Retsina is a unique style of wine made almost exclusively in Greece - where it has been made for over 2000 years. It is made with a base of white or rosé wine that is flavoured with pine resin. The wine is quite pungent, and people often find it more enjoyable when it is paired with specific Greek cuisine. Retsina also varies widely in quality, and an inferior wine can taste sharp - and has been described as having a turpentine note.
The name for Retsina is derived from a Latin word, ‘resina’. In early winemaking practices - lacking airtight containers for fermentation, many early white wines soured as a result of exposure to oxygen. To resolve this problem, winemakers covered their wine jugs in pine pitch, the same material used to waterproof boats.
The resin effectively sealed the containers so that the wine did not spoil, and consumers developed a taste for the resulting resin infused wine. The Romans began to use barrels in the 3rd century AD, removing the necessity for resin, but the aroma and flavour itself was so popular that the style is still widespread today.
In Greece, local Retsina is produced throughout the country, with major areas of production located around Attica, Boeotia and Euboea. The EU treats the name ‘Retsina’ as a protected designation of origin and traditional appellation for Greece and parts of the southern regions of Cyprus. The traditional grape is Savatiano with Assyrtiko and Rhoditis sometimes blended in, as well as other grape varieties throughout Greece.
Modern Retsina is made following the same winemaking techniques as white wine or rosé with the exception of small pieces of Aleppo Pine resin added to the must during fermentation. The pieces stay mixed in with the must, and release 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. Nowadays, protecting wine from oxidation is easy to do with far simpler means and much less resin is used for Retsina than traditionally.
The wine should be served extremely cold, and in wide, open glasses, an acute shaped glass will tend to trap the resinous aroma, rather than dissipating it like a wide mouthed glass will. Retsina pares best with strong, spicy, savoury foods like those served as appetizers, or ‘meze’, in Greece, with pickled, salty, or garlic ingredients, which counter the strong flavour of the Retsina. The wine can also be paired with spicy cuisines, but should not be consumed with subtle dishes. It's important to remember that Retsina is a highly acquired taste, and not all wine drinkers will find it to their liking.