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Retsina (Ρετσίνα)

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A bottle of retsina from the Greek producer Kourtaki

Retsina (Ρετσίνα) is a Greek white (or rosé) resinated wine that has been made for at least 2000 years. Its unique flavor is said to have originated from the practice of sealing wine vessels, particularly amphorae, with Aleppo Pine resin in ancient times. Before the invention of impermeable glass bottles, oxygen caused many wines to spoil within the year. Pine resin helped keep air out, while at the same time infusing the wine with resin aroma. The Romans began to use barrels in the 3rd century AD, removing any oenological necessity for resin, but the flavor itself was so popular that the style is still widespread today.

The earliest recorded mention of using resin with wine amphorae is by the first-century Roman writer Columella, who detailed in his work De Re Rustica (12,20,3 and 12,22,2) the different type of resin that could be used to seal a container or be mixed into the wine. He recommended, however that the very best wines should not be mixed with resin because of the unpleasant flavor introduced thereby. The Roman settlements in Illyria, Cisalpine Gaul and Gallia Narbonensis did not use resin coated amphorae due to the lack of suitable local pine trees and began to develop solid, less leak prone wooden barrels in the 1st century AD. By the 3rd century, barrel making was prevalent throughout the Roman Empire. An exception was the Eastern part of the empire Byzantium where the use of resin continued up to nowadays.

Today the traditional grape for Retsina is Savatiano with Assyrtiko and Rhoditis sometimes blended in, as well as other grape varieties throughout Greece. On the island of Rhodes, Athiri is the main grape. Modern Retsina is made following the same winemaking techniques of white wine or rosé with the exception of small pieces of Aleppo Pine resin added to the must during fermentation. The pieces stay mixed with the must, and elute an oily resin film on the liquid surface; at racking the wine is clarified and the solids and surface film are removed from the finished wine.

In Greece, local Retsina is produced throughout the country. Major production centers around Attica, Boeotia and Euboea. The European Union treats the name "Retsina" as a protected designation of origin and traditional appellation for Greece and parts of the southern regions of Cyprus.

Popular anecdotes about the evolution of retsina stem from the Roman conquest of Greece. Stories claim that the Romans plundered the wines of Greece, angering the citizens who turned to pine resin as a way of extending their store of wine and as a deterrent to their thirsty conquerors. The harsh flavor was said to put off the Romans, who refused to drink the bitter ferment. Another anecdote claims that an excess of undiluted retsina was lethal for King Eric I of Denmark and Sigurd I of Norway.

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