My oh my, has Retsina come a long way. In my former life, when I lived in the United States, I used to sell Greek wine. I would walk into a wine shop and start my spiel about the wines I had with me, Assyrtiko from Santorini, Agiorgitiko from Nemea, Moschofilero from Mantineia, Xinomavro from Naoussa, you know, the good stuff. More often than not, the wine shop buyer would stop me, point to a bottom shelf and say, I already have 2 Greek wines. I didn’t even need to turn my head to know that it was a 1.5l bottle of Retsina and a dusty bottle of Mavrodaphne.
I then needed to launch into a discussion about how Greek wine has improved drastically over the last few years (this was 2009), and how I promise I’m not selling Retsina. My early wine career was spent trashing Retsina and assuring wine buyers that these Greek wines were different and better. Now I’m eating my words. Well too be fair, Retsina used to be awful and it was one of the only Greek wines Americans knew.
Well years later, when I moved to Greece, still with the belief that Retsina was nasty, I met the sales manager of Kechris, a winery famous for their odd-shaped bottle of Retsina. With him, he also had 3 other versions of Retsina- a Retsina made from Assyrtiko grapes, a rose retsina from Xinomavro, and a slightly frizzante Retsina. I was blown away! The wines were made very well, they didn’t taste like turpentine, and quite frankly, they were delicioius. After that, I was hooked. I can now proudly say, I love Retsina- well quality Retsina, at least.
If you also have preconceived bad feeling of Retsina, I assure you it’s worth another look. Learn all about Retsina below; what it is, how it’s made, and it’s rich history in Greece.
What is Retsina?
Although many consider Retsina a type of white wine, it falls into its own category. Basically, it is wine flavored with pine resin (retsini) from the Aleppo tree. It’s a Greek wine product, I’d say. The initial wine comes in contact with pine resin during fermentation. As a result, Retsina comes to life with a distinctive taste that sets it apart from other wines. Retsina is a uniquely Greek product and only Greece has the right to use the name. Retsina is usually made with wine from Roditis or Savvatiano grapes. While it is made all over Greece, the main regions for Retsina production are in Attica, the wine region around Athens.
The pine resin, retsini, is sap from the Aleppo pine tree. Today in Greece Aleppo pine forests are found in Evia island, Skopelos island, Corinth, Halkidiki, and Attica. Retsini flavors vary from region to region. The biggest difference is Aleppo forests near the sea take on a salty flavor and retsini from Aleppo forests in the mountains have an earthier flavor.
History of Retsina
Ancient wines were flavored with pine
Retsina dates back thousands of years to the Ancient Greeks. The Ancient Greeks liked their wine, I mean, they dedicated a whole god to it! While they hadn’t quite figured out many nuances to winemaking, they knew that wine that was exposed to air spoiled faster.
Since technology in classical Greece was nothing like today, Greeks had to find a way around to seal their amphoras, the special clay vessels used to store wine. With trial and error, they realized pine resin could do just that, it’s pretty stick after all. Before long, they also noticed resin adds a distinctive flavor to the wine and they liked it! It also masked any off flavors the wine had. And that’s how Retsina was born.
Retsina’s Bad Reputation
During the 20th century, Retsina slowly developed a bad reputation. The reason? Many Greeks added resin to wine to mask any sour or spoiled flavors or aromas. In other words, they often tried to cover some of their mistakes using pine resin.
And if you factor in that they often used low-quality spoiled grapes and powdered retsini instead of fresh retsini, you start to understand why Retsina has long carried a bad reputation. Retsina had been described as smelling like turpentine, nail polish, and air freshener. Cheap wine made with cheap resin made by factories, not wine makers. It was a recipe for disaster. Retsina was EVERYWHERE in the 70’s and 80’s just as tourism in Greece was starting to flourish.
Retsina was often the first impression any non-Greeks had of Greek wine. It made a lot of people never want to try ANY Greek wine again.
Thankfully, those years are mostly behind us and Retsina has been making a huge comeback for the last decade or so.
Retsina Culture in Greece
Because of its historically low cost and abundance in the market, Retsina is as close to a national drink as a Greek wine can be. Retsina is/was served by the carafe in most local taverns, in people’s homes, and even at weddings. You can even grab a bottle at a periptero, or corner kiosk.
Retsina pairs really well with many Greek dishes, from fish to meat or vegetables (more Retsina food pairing ideas later). It’s excellent served cold by the sea with fried calamari, or enjoyed in a mezedopoleio in the alley taverns of Athens and Thessaloniki. Also common is mixing Retsina with Sprite or Coke (not different from Spain’s kalimoxto). Many villagers will also make their own batches of Retsina to drink at home (I am sure this is to cover up bad flavors though).
Now, many crappy Retsinas are still around. When in Greece, order bottled Retsina instead of by the carafe. Remember, you get what you pay for and while that 4 euro bottle might be tempting, if you up your budget, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
A rebirth of Retsina
Since it is a uniquely Greek product, many winemakers decided it was time to do it right and attempt to shed Retsina’s bad image; a huge mountain to climb. It’s simple really; quality wine and quality retsini. Instead of using spoiled grapes, winemakers used healthy grapes. Instead of crappy powdered retsini, using it in its purest form. With high-quality wine, the addition of retsini is an enhancement, not a cover-up. Even the entry level Restinas got an upgrade. Rebranding and marketing also played a huge role in how people perceive Retsina wine today.
Sure, you’ll still find old Greek men sitting at a seaside tavern sipping on their Retsina but Retsina is also on wine lists at Michelin starred restaurants.
Why Retsina is worth discovering
Apart from its distinctive flavor and taste, Resina is worth discovering because it is a uniquely designated Greek product. In other words, it can only be produced in Greece, just like Verdea wine in Zakynthos.
You will ever taste anything quite like Retsina. It’s unique, it’s different, and you just might like it. As I stated, Retsina also pairs great with many Greek dishes.
Is Retsina dry or sweet?
In short, Retsina is a dry white wine based beverage. It’s not like anything you’ve tasted before. I know that sounds confusing, but Retsina’s flavor is so uncommon that you have to try to really understand it. You can think of its taste as mild and aromatic.Retsina is not sweet though, the wine base of Roditis or Savvatiano is very dry.
What does Retsina smell and taste like?
Although the quality and flavor of Retsina can vary from brand to brand, you only need to try Retsina once to distinguish it from other wines. For example, you can immediately notice how the balsamic fragrance of pine complements the aromas of the grapes.Retsina smells like pine, herbal tea, botanics, fresh herbs, and spices. Depending on the wine base, you can also find aromas of tropical fruit like mango, citrus fruit like lemons and bergamot, and orchard fruit like green apple.
When it comes to your palate, you may feel a subtle bitterness with a refreshing aftertaste. Retsina has an earthy flavor, some citrus notes, and many botanical flavors as well. Retsina is a light bodied wine with medium acidity and low alcohol. It is crisp and refreshing with a dominant pine flavor.
(In)Famous Retsina brands
In many parts of Greece, Malamatina is almost synonymous with Retsina. You may even overhear waiters using this brand to refer to Retsina. And that is for a reason. Malamatina has been dominating the Greek Retsina market for more than a century. Its low price tag, golden color, resin and fruit aromas explain why this low-alcohol brand has been such a success in Greece. Now is it the best Retsina, nope. Is it the best to mix with Coke, perhaps.
Around the 1970s, Kourtaki Retsina became so popular that Greeks often used this brand name to refer to Retsina. Its bright yellow color, traditional pine aromas, and aromatic almost-spicy aftertaste have been the ingredients for its increasing popularity over the years. Thankfully, Kourtaki’s Retsina has increased in quality over the years. It’s great to see them adopted this new face of Retsina. It’s still very inexpensive but the turpentine smell has disappeared.
Although it first appeared in a single traditional tavern in 1938, Kechribari quickly rose to prominence. It has a light body with low alcohol and refreshing acidity that matches traditional Greek dishes. It has always been an exception to the bad reputation of Retsina.This is my personal favorite Retsina.
Modern Retsina Brands
Many wineries in the Attica region of Greece and the wineries in the areas surrounding Thessaloniki, embraced their Retsina heritage and started the Retsina revolution.
Tetramythos is an excellent winery across the board. Their basic Retsina is a little softer and would be a good wine to ease into Retsinas. They also make a Retsina in Amphora with organic Roditis grapes. This wine is exceptional but definitely more for the wine geeks.
KechrisTears the Retsina World Apart
Building on their success with Kechribari, the Kechris family has been one of the most influential players in the modern Retsina market. Its product, Tear of the Pine, is the first Retsina made from Assyrtiko. When Tear of the Pine was released, it blew the whole lid off the Retsina game. No one had dared use expensive Assyrtiko grapes for Retsina before. It’s an incredible wine you must try.
They also made two more very interesting Retsinas. The unfiltered Afros is a slightly frizzante Retsina which is my go-to appertif wine. Their Roza is a rosé Retsina made from Xinomavro. All the wines from the Kechris family are worth discovering.
Retsina from Mylonas Winery
Mylonas is basically the king of Savvatiano. They make 6+ different expressions of the grape and one of course being Retsina. Their Retsina is crisp, clean, and aromatic. Not only can you smell its aromas of peach, mango, lemon, and mastic, but you can also feel the taste of fruits in your palate. At that time, its refreshing acidity shines and can brighten up a meal.
Papagiannakos Winery’s Traditional Take on Retsina
Modern does not always have to be revolutionary. Papagiannakos takes the traditional taste of Retsina and elevates it with quality grapes and wine-making materials. The delicate aroma of pine blends well with the strain of lemon and results in a new version of Retsina that speaks to the finest palate!
Retsina Food Pairing
Retsina goes with nearly everything. Because it has an herbal character it adds a bit of extra flavor to the dish. Any food you would add parsley, mint, oregano, basil, or cilantro to would be a good match with Retsina. Retsina also has lemony and citrus flavors, so again anything you would squeeze a lemon on would pairs well with Retsina.
Seafood dishes with Retsina
Although Retsina can pair well with various dishes, it really shines with seafood. Its acidity and pine aromas mean it can blend exceptionally with fatty fish and anything that comes out of the water.
- Grilled octopus
- Fried calamari
- Grilled sardines
- Sea urchin
Greek Appetizers (Meze) and Food with Retsina
Pretty much every Greek dish goes with Retsina. Greeks add herbs and lemon to nearly everything so Retsina is a natural match. Because its so versatily, it is an excellent choice to side with mezedes. So remember that the next time you visit a tavern or rebetadiko in Greece.
- Stuffed grape leaves (dolmades)
- Fava spread
- Fried zucchini
- Greek salad
- Bitter greens
- Roasted lamb
- Greek chicken with lemon potatoes
Bonus Retsina Food Pairings
Here are a few of the unusual dishes that I’ve discovered that go surprisingly well with Retsina.
- Grilled sausages
- Pad Thai
- Butternut squash soup
- Vietnamese spring rolls
- Tempura vegetables
- Garlic mushrooms
- Endive salad
A Few Last Words on Retsina
A couple things you should know when shopping for Retsina. There are a surprising amount of rules about what can and can’t be put on the label. Retsina cannot have the vintage on the label nor can it list the grape varieties. This is a bit outdated thinking but winemakers are moving to fix it. They’ve come up with creative ways to help communicate the vintage to consumers, ie by putting LN20 instead of 2020.
What does retsina wine taste like? ›
The flavor of retsina, a wine infused with the resin of Aleppo pine trees, has often been likened to turpentine, even by people who like the stuff. Most modern retsinas are made with poor, thin wine. A potent addition of resin masks the dullness of the base with a sharp, bracing pungency.What is the difference between wine and retsina? ›
Retsina is a wine process, really, not a wine—pine resin is added to a base of white wine (typically Roditis or Savatiano), thus creating a pine resin flavor and aromatic. This supposedly mimics ancient traditions, when ancient Greeks sealed wines with resin closures.Is retsina any good? ›
Retsina is the best known traditional Greek wine. Its reputation, not always positive, had long overshadowed that of other distinguished Greek wines and appellations.How much alcohol is in retsina? ›
Retsina has an alcohol content of 12 to 12.5 percent and is best served chilled at 10C.What is the best way to drink retsina? ›
Retsina is served cold and goes very well with fish, seafood, cheese and appetizers (or mezedes, as they call them in Greece).Is retsina wine sweet or dry? ›
You can think of its taste as mild and aromatic. Retsina is not sweet though, the wine base of Roditis or Savvatiano is very dry.Is retsina a type of cheap Greek? ›
Retsina is produced and bottled at specific locations in Central Greece: Attica (mainly the area of Mesogia), Boeotia and Evia. It is a traditional Greek wine, which has been considered for many decades as a cheap popular choice.Why is retsina cheap? ›
High demand in the 60's affected negatively the resulting quality so the market was flooded with seas of cheap Retsinas sold in bulk. Tonnes of resin were added to mask wine flaws from poor raw material and terrible handling in the cellar.How do Greeks drink retsina? ›
It's one of the cheapest bottled Greek wines that there is, so it's very popular with students and those on a budget. Some people like to mix it with soft drinks to make a kind of retsina spritzer, and to make the retsina last longer. You can also mix it with colas, if you like, though we prefer our retsinas straight.What is the strongest Greek alcohol? ›
Kitro of Naxos
Flourishing on the Cycladic island of Naxos, the citron tree produces citron leaves from which the exclusive Kitro liqueur is made. According to the website Greek Federation of Spirit Producers, this is the driest and strongest of all Greek liqueurs, with 36% vol.
What wine do Greek people drink? ›
Red, white, orange and rosé wines are made across Greece, in both still and sparkling format and at various levels of dryness or sweetness. Greece is also known for retsina, a traditional wine flavored with pine resin.What is the most popular wine in Greece? ›
Assyrtiko. Assyrtiko is one of the most popular Greek products and recognized wine varieties in Greece and can be found all across the country since its production is not limited to one specific region but rather covers the majority of the land.Should retsina be chilled? ›
Wisegeek encourages serving retsina stone cold in a wide-mouth glass, allowing the resin flavor to mellow further. It is best served with traditional Greek food, where the savory, spicy and sometimes salty flavors can mesh together well.What is the most popular Greek alcohol? ›
Ouzo is considered the national drink of Greece. In technical terms, it is either produced by partial distillation or the admixture of plain alcohol with aromatic herbs.What strength is retsina? ›
Gaia Ritinitis Nobilis Retsina 2022.
|Serve with||fresh olives, feta cheese, Greek salad or salty snacks|
Malamatina Retsina 4.2 out of 5 stars. Read reviews for Average rating value is 4.2 of 5.What alcohol is drunk in Greece? ›
While ouzo is considered the national drink of Greece, many other drinks are popular. A refreshing beer is common during summer, while wine and tsipouro, also called raki, are also consumed. In addition, most bars serve cocktails with rum, vodka, tequila or other imported spirits.What do they drink at Greek wedding? ›
Considered Greece's national spirit, ouzo (the anise-flavored liqueur) is a fairly boozy drink that is typically served neat in small skinny glasses. (Yes, it's the stuff you see in the infamous drinking scene in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where they raise their glasses and say OPA!)How do you eat wine gums? ›
I personally don't think there is a right or wrong way to eat wine gums. Semi-firm or aged to your preference, wine gums are delightful sweets which can be enjoyed like a fine wine, taking in the aromas of the fruit, or by simply enjoying a nostalgic moment from your childhood.Does retsina contain sulfites? ›
Retsina Black Label is the purest expression of the most ancient Greek winemaking tradition, in a natural Savatiano vinification, with no sulfites or any additives, from biodynamic grapes.
Is retsina a Greek wine? ›
RETSINA, THE GREEK TRADITIONAL WINE. The retsina is very probably the best known traditional Greek wine in the world, anyone who has been to Greece for a holiday had the chance to taste this particular aromatic wine. Usually is offered in two versions, white and pink.Why does my wine taste like pine? ›
The piney flavors come from bits of Aleppo Pine resin, which are added to the must during fermentation. The leftover pieces are clarified from the wine before bottling.Is Greek wine expensive? ›
1 – It's relatively inexpensive, especially in Greece. You'll pick up quality Greek wine in Greece for around ten Euro or even less.What does retsina mean in Greek? ›
Retsina (Greek: Ρετσίνα) is a Greek white (or rosé) resinated wine, which has been made for at least 2,000 years. Its unique flavor is said to have originated from the practice of sealing wine vessels, particularly amphorae, with Aleppo pine resin in ancient times.What is the oldest Greek wine? ›
The oldest Greek wine (2,000 years old) served today is the famous white wine, Retsina. The very same wine that the ancient Greeks drank can be tasted today.Why does cheap wine taste better than expensive? ›
“Most cheap/bulk wine has residual sugar.” We believe that the residual sugar used to improve the flavor of affordable wines (that is lacking in many fine wines) is the reason why cheap wines tend to rank equally to fine wines.Where is the cheapest wine in the world? ›
Cheapest countries in the world to buy a bottle of wine.
Mastika or mastiha is a liqueur seasoned with mastic, a resin with a slightly pine or cedar-like flavor gathered from the mastic tree, a small evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean region.Is Greek alcohol strong? ›
But it's still considered an anise-flavored liquor. This authentic Greek product is a strong drink with an ABV of around 50% but can be as low as 40%. The alcohol is produced from the residue of the wine press once the grapes and juice are separated. Essentially, this liquor is made from wine production leftovers.Can you drink Greek water? ›
The water you drink in parts of Greece like Athens and Thessaloniki is generally safe drinking water and is from a good water supply. However, it may occasionally taste like chlorine as it's added to the water system.
Which alcohol is least harmful to your liver? ›
- Red Wine. ...
- Light Beer. ...
- Tequila. ...
- Gin & Rum & Vodka & Whiskey.
Is Greece strict on the drinking age? The official legal drinking age in Greece is 18 in public and you also have to be 18 to buy alcohol. In reality, these laws are not strictly enforced and in many tourist zones, they're not enforced at all.What do Greeks drink with dinner? ›
As you'd expect from a Mediterranean cuisine, wine is the usual accompaniment to a meal in a Greek restaurant. Greece has been a centre of wine-making for its entire history and though there are few big name wines produced here, there are many very palatable wines perfectly suited to Greek food.What is traditional Greek breakfast? ›
A typical Greek breakfast usually consists of a wide variety of bread, pastry, fruits, and Greek yogurt. These foods are high in nutritional value and a great source of energy — an excellent way to begin your Greek food adventures!What is the after dinner shot in Greece? ›
Tentura is typically served in small shot glasses over ice or in cocktails, and usually after a meal as it can be employed as a digestive drink.What are the leading causes of death in Greece? ›
Nevertheless, CVD remains the main cause of death and disability in Greece, accounting for one-third of deaths annually. As noted by Tousoulis D., “the residual cardiovascular risk that remains unexplained is considerable.Do Greeks drink red or white wine? ›
Greek winemakers enjoy a Mediterranean climate with a long, warm growing season and short winters. White wines are predominant, with about 62 percent of the wines produced being white.Why was Greek wine so strong? ›
They were restricted to using wild strains, blowing around the vineyard and found on the skins of grapes. Wild yeasts often struggle to continue converting sugars to alcohol at about 6% and, all things going well, secondary yeasts then kick in to push abv higher.Is retsina dry? ›
Since 1940 Retsina has been a traditional trade name and is only produced in Greece and Cyprus. This well-known, dry Restina white wine is a quality product.Should wine be chilled or room temp? ›
Serve red wines slightly cooler than room temperature, between 62–68 degrees F (15–20 °C). Generally speaking, serve white wines slightly warmer than fridge temperature, between 49-55 degrees F (7–12 °C). Learn more about wine! Subscribe to Wine Folly's free newsletter and get the practical guide on wine.
What wines should not be cold? ›
White, Rosé and Sparkling Wine: Whites need a chill to lift delicate aromas and acidity. However, when they're too cold, flavors become muted. Like reds, fuller-bodied wines like Chardonnay from Burgundy and California shine between 50°F and 60°F. Dessert wines like Sauternes fall into the same range.What is the oldest Greek liquor? ›
History. Ouzo has its roots in tsipouro, which is said to have been the work of a group of 14th-century monks on Mount Athos. One version of it was flavored with anise. This version eventually came to be called ouzo.What are the tasting notes of retsina? ›
The Taste of Retsina
Aromas of linseed oil and lime peel lead into flavors of apples and roses, a perfume that ends on a pine-and-lime, saline finish.
Wisegeek encourages serving retsina stone cold in a wide-mouth glass, allowing the resin flavor to mellow further. It is best served with traditional Greek food, where the savory, spicy and sometimes salty flavors can mesh together well.What do Greek people drink for alcohol? ›
While ouzo is considered the national drink of Greece, many other drinks are popular. A refreshing beer is common during summer, while wine and tsipouro, also called raki, are also consumed. In addition, most bars serve cocktails with rum, vodka, tequila or other imported spirits.What do Greeks drink at weddings? ›
The bride and groom will also share “the common cup” where they will take three sips of wine from the cup as the cup represents a successful and happy marriage . Traditionally, there are two readings that are presented during a Greek Orthodox wedding. The first one will be the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians.