Monday, July 27, 2015

When At The Greek Festival... Retsina

At the recent annual South Bay Greek Festival, held at St. Katherine’s Church in Redondo Beach, I was dismayed when I inquired at the beverage station about Greek wines. I was told their red and white selections were from California, and that they just had "some of this." The gentleman described it as Retsina, and told me it was "kinda pitchy." Not exactly a great sales pitch, but since I had read about Retsina and never tasted it, I was intrigued enough to buy a cup. "Good by the glass, better by the bottle," the server told me. I knew the sales training would kick in eventually. I thanked him for the offer and stayed with the cup.

Retsina is wine which is resinated, or flavored with pine resin. It originated, so says Wikipedia, around 100 AD. Ceramic vessels for wine were sealed with a pine resin to prevent leakage. The resin, of course, imparts its own set of aromas and flavors to the wine. While this may have initially been just a necessary evil, the effect of the resin was appreciated by many - like, the Greeks - and they continued to dose their wine with resin even after it was no longer needed. Technological advances - wood barrels - made the resin passé but the style lives on today.

The word Retsina, by the way, is a protected wine type in Greece. Anywhere else it’s made - I hear that Australia makes some - it must be labelled as "resinated wine."

The Retsina I tried was by Kourtaki of Attica, Everywhere I look I see the Savatiano grape listed as the main ingredient for this Retsina, but the label indicates a selection of “the finest grape varieties grown in Attica.” The alcohol is quite restrained, at just 11.5%. It sells for less than $10 per bottle.

The Retsina’s nose is laced heavily with the scent of petroleum. That "pitchy" flavor dominates the palate, with some citrus notes buried beneath. There is a nice acidity, though, and it pairs wonderfully with roasted chicken. A backbeat of eucalyptus makes for a pleasant finish. It’s not a wine for everybody. The server at the beverage table actually tried to warn me off of it. When I persisted, that's when he notified me it was "good by the glass, better by the bottle." As the wine grew on me throughout the glass, I thought he might actually be right.

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