If we had a Drachma for every time somebody has said to us in an incredulous tone, 'You sell Greek wine? What - like Retsina?' we would by now have retired to live in luxury on a Greek island. For Retsina is at once by far the most famous Greek wine and also its most disparaged. And, let's be honest, with good reason. Low quality Retsina dominated the Greek wine scene for many years, served up to tourists by the litre and therefore providing them with their lasting impression of the production of the entire country. The 20th century mass-produced versions of Retsina were made by adding relatively large quantities of resin to finished (low quality) wine, such that it became the dominant, overpowering flavour. It has certainly left an impression.
But Retsina has an ancient heritage. Two thousand years ago, wine was routinely flavoured with all sorts of things, including pine resin. Resin was also used to seal clay amphorae containing wine, or to form a protective layer over the wine itself. The flavours of Retsina would have been very familiar in both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
Because of this heritage, Retsina is today being rediscovered by quality-minded producers (and authenticity-loving consumers) in search of the uniquely Greek. The levels of resin permitted are now far lower, and it is added to the grape must rather than the finished wine. Some of the best wine producers in Greece are making truly thrilling Retsina, starting off first and foremost with a high quality wine, then using carefully sourced and judiciously applied resin to add a layer of complexity. Tetramythos' Retsina, for example, is made with resin from the pine trees surrounding the vineyard, and as such the whole product is from a single terroir. The result is superb, specific to its own part of Greece and, like all the best Retsinas, brilliantly suited to food. If you're looking for an accompaniment to roast chicken, for example, a modern, top quality Retsina with its rosemary-like notes, is a perfect match.