Retsina is a resinated wine and one of the few around these days. You see, resinated wine has along history. Primitive winemaking methods sought out pine resin as a solution. Apparently, resin-coated earthenware would render a porous container sealed. This would help store the wine that early vintners produced. Tastes grew more accepting of pine-laced wine coming out of the now-airtight jugs and it wasn't long until people figured out that adding resin to the wine itself would help even more in guarding wine's freshness.
And how! Today's resinated wine has the freshness of surgical tables and Pine Sol, but in the right conditions, it offers lovely refreshment value, no matter whether you are looking for nostalgia or tradition or not.
RETSINA RULE #1: DON'T FORCE IT -- WAIT FOR IT
I like to think that you need to be in the right mood to drink Retsina. Some people never are. In the summer I often am. Some Retsina is plonk, but good bottles, like Malamatina Retsina (shown linked above in its cute little 500mL format with its cute little yellow man socking back the Retsina so successfully that a wondrous giant key emerges to unlock his stomach) or Retsina Kourtaki are very enjoyable aperitifs, or so I find.
The Malamatina, whose name seems to strangely convey "you'll feel bad when morning comes" in some Latinate dialect, is nothing to fear at all. Bottom line: Like Malamatina's, any good glass of Retsina is light in colour, body and alcohol. It should pack zingy refreshment, not just because it is served very cold, but because the pungent resinated pine flavour is a real trip for your tastebuds.
RETSINA RULE #2: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SERVE IT WITH
My friend Alex Kapelos-Peters favours a little Retsina at the properly appointed moment. Last summer, Alex's mother, who is Greek, emailed us her suggestions for food pairings when she heard that we were about to open a bunch of different brands of Retsina. Ideas she sent us included olives, tomatoes, and other finger foods, especially fried foods, such as breaded fish, as the wine cuts the taste of the oil.
Yes I suppose they work. But to me nothing embraces the unique resinated tinge that pervades every wide-flaring V-shaped glass of Retsina as well as leftover pizza crusts. There's something about the yeasty quasi-doughiness about this bread -- some specifically Greek pita bread would suitably apply here -- and it matches perfectly with the strident and antiseptic nature of this wine. Try it! I urge you. If you want to dress it up a little, serve it with severely bland, medium-hard cheeses, like marbled cheddar or Colby cheese.
RETSINA RULE #3: HAVE IT BEFORE YOU START DRINK-SWITCHING
Ultimately, you want nothing that's going to get in the way of the one-of-a-kind refreshment of this amazing drink. The food should not upstage the wine and neither should other wine. What I mean is that you can't make the leap from a non-resinated wine to Retsina and not be oddly jolted. Avoid this.
As I said before, Retsina is a great aperitif! So start off with a cleansed palate, a strong thirst and an open mind. Surely this cold and refreshing wine will get you through the dog days of summer.
Thessalonki, Ellas (Greece). 11%.