Nerdy chemistry lessons on TDN from Jeremy Eubanks, Mark Shipway, vito pasquale, Mark Guillaudeu and Martin Beally. 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.
Jeremy Eubanks 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.