Topic of the Week 12/3/2018 - Master

Nerdy chemistry lessons on TDN from , , , and . Merci!

This week: Retsina!

What are the requirements and area(s) of production? If you hate it, try it with sheepsmilk feta, olives and great olive oil and it may change your tune.

  • The wines are required to be flavored with the resin of the Aleppo pine tree. Greek regions for retsina are a little fluid, as it is classified as a traditional wine under the PGI umbrella, instead of PDO where the wines face more rules. Most often, it is seen coming from the PGI districts within Sterea Ellada, notably Attica. The island of Evia and district of Viotia (both also in Central Greece) round out the more traditional areas of production.  Some retsina can be found in Macedonia, Rhodes, and Peloponesse as well. Most of the wines are produced from Savvatiano, but assyrtyko and even xinomavro (for rosé) can be found in some retsinas. 

  • So glad this is mentioned. And that to remember, have wine in its context. Have it with the food mentioned above and it can be fantastic. Trouble is we all get the cheap export versions and there are GREAT versions being made. I bet if they made a PetNat Retsina, it would be number 1 with a bullet. Also....experiment with the cheaper versions in cocktails....its very versatile. And Kokkineli I would think should become popular at some point. 

  • Pet-Nat Retsina you say? Pretty sure this isn't on the list at Frasca:

  • Good timing on this topic.  I've been studying Greece recently and I read somewhere (I think the Expanded Guide here) that there are even rose and PetNat versions being made  , as well as some more traditional sparkling. I wonder how much are being imported vs consumed locally because I'm in NYC and I never see these different versions but I want to!

    As one of Greece's two traditional PGI's Retsina can be made anywhere in Greece, although only 15 locations in Central Greece where production is centered, may also list an appellation on the label.  Retsina must be made exclusively from Savatiano and Roditis in order to be labeled Retsina (maybe this isn't strictly followed ?)  Roditis is a pink skinned grape so rose versions can be made called Kokkineli.  Savatiano and Roditis are still by far the two most planted grapes in Greece, at a combined 30% of the nation's acreage.

    The traditional tale is that the pine resin was used to seal clay vessels that the wine was stored in and thus Retsina was accidentally discovered, but many experts discredit this theory as many wines around the world besides Retsina were being altered and flavored during this time.  The resin was most likely added intentionally for both its flavor and antiseptic properties.

    Without the need to seal clay vessels with pine resin, modern Retsina is made through a much more gentle infusion nowadays.  The pine resin must be added in the first half of fermentation and may account for .15-1.0% of a wine's final volume, although most quality examples just meet the legal minimum.

    I haven't had good Retsina in some time.  When's the next Greece Masterclass?

  • Yeah, I wonder if anyone can shed some light on why and how assyrtiko and xinomavro are occassiinally allowed to be used. It's totally unimportant as the overwhelming majority of bottling are going to be Savatiano, but still would be nice to understand the exceptions. Who is neighborhood Greek specialist? 

  • I use a bit of Retsina in a Christmas cocktail!

  • Jeremy, Honestly I would think it's like any wines  that are traditionally blended. Balance. Producer profile preference. And in the case of Retsina, perhaps not over think it. Good to know for sure, but not essential. Like most "work horse' grapes  in most countries, Savatiano is a low acid grape. So producers might want that 'lift' and add a little Assyrtiko etc for a touch of acidity? Thats my guess. I will say the best ones I've had, were blended and that acidity balances out the impact of the Aleppo.

  • Check out this article by Mark Squires in Wine Advocate as to why he would not review Retsina,


  • I wouldn't be so bold as to call myself the neighborhood Greek specialist, but I do work as a market manager for a portfolio that has a great representation of small Greek producers, so I can shed some of the things I've learned about Retsina over the past couple of years.  Most of this is anecdotal/from memory, so apologies if anything is technically incorrect.

    Savvatiano is a high-yielding, low acid grape that is the work-horse of Retsina.  If and when you ever fly into Athens, you will see vineyards sprawled out beneath you at the city's limits.  They're all planted to Savvatiano (jet-fuel terroir?  Yum!).  It's hearty, disease resistant, and can (clearly) grow under unfavorable conditions.  

    Retsina is one of the two PGI indications in Greece (the other being Verdea) that has been created to preserve traditional styles of wine versus varietally specific ones.  Therefore, it can be made all over Greece.  To my understanding, Savvatiano became the preferred varietal over time due to the high domestic consumption of Retsina and the low associated cost.  Winemakers focusing on production of quality Retsina are working with more Noble varietals.  Kamara estate in Macedonia currently produce two iterations--one of which is 100% Assyrtiko that undergoes 8 days of skin contact during fermentation, making it the first orange wine Retsina, and another more traditional style using Roditis, organically farmed and produced.  Garalis makes a Retsina from Muscat of Alexandria on the island of Lemnos.  It doesn't appear that the varietals used are controlled, but that the wines must include pine resin in order to qualify for the traditional style. 

    Another interesting point regarding the production of Retsina is the quality of pine resin used as well as when it is incorporated during the winemaking process.  Dimitri Kitsoukis from Kamara spoke at length about the high-quality resin that he sources from the island of Evia.  One of the elements that has plagued Retsina on the international scale is that the wines can often be cloyingly sweet, syrupy, and disjointed (as well as having the aroma of a freshly-cracked bottle of Pine Sol).  A lot of mass-produced Retsina has low-quality pine resin introduced post-fermentation and/or at bottling.  The resin and wine, therefore, don't have a great chance to harmoniously incorporate.  Artisan producers are incorporating higher-quality resin and introducing during the ferment, which yield a dry, clean aromatized wine.  

    Sorry for the lengthy response, but I hope this contributes to the discussion and understanding of an oft-maligned style.  I find it wild that people will turn their noses up at the idea of a piney wine, but then will turn around and drink a super pine-hopped IPA.

  • Great info, thank you.

    I love the IPA comparison! Such a good point. I know people who enjoy Fernet Branca, (which one of my favorite Somms refers to as over-ambitious mouth wash) who won't give Retsina a chance.  I think it's all about context!  Vermouth, Amaro, Imperial IPA's, etc are so big right now that it's a good time to revisit Retsina.  If you introduce it as a white wine, you're going to disappoint people.  But in the right situation I think it could be great.

    I guess the answer to the other non-approved varietals being used is that since they're better quality grapes (more noble/ not hybrids) that the government simply looks the other way?  They wouldn't be the first example to let something outside of their wine laws slide as long as it's for a good reason.  Maybe if they were forced to label differently we could see the introduction of "Super Retsina's" with international varietals.  Which sounds better, Retsicaia or Retsinagnello?

  • Funny you mention the Italian connection, because a producer I tasted with has a barrel of Ripasso style Xinomavro that won’t stop fermenting, is nearly 18%, and doesn’t know what to do because he can’t technically release it as wine under Greek law because the ABV is too high, but he still wants to see what happens.