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Retsina – The 2,000-Year Old Wine Synonymous with Greek Summer

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Retsina. Credit: Yorick R/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

Retsina is a Greek wine with a distinctive pine and resin flavor that people usually either love or hate. It is a refreshing drink with a long history dating back to over 2,000 years and is linked to the warm summer months in the country.

While it is enjoyed year round, there is no doubt that Greeks are drawn to Retsina’s unique piney flavor when the weather gets warmer and the days get longer.

As the ancient Greeks have been producing and enjoying wine for thousands of years, many Greek wines have links to antiquity, and Retsina is no different. Its origins are thought to date back over 2,000 years.

Greek wine Retsina dates back thousands of years

The resinated Greek wine variety is imbued with a woody, piney flavor during the aging process, which involves sealing off the wine in a container with pine resin.

Historically, the pine resin was included out of necessity. In ancient times, most wine containers were not airtight, and oxygen could easily seep into the vessel, spoiling the wine in about a month.

Sealing off the container with pine resin helped keep oxygen out of the wine which in turn helped it stay fresh while also imparting a delicious piney flavor to the liquid.

This method was common throughout ancient Greece and was even adopted by neighboring cultures. By the third century AD, however, the ancient Romans used airtight barrels to age their wine, which made using pine resin obsolete.

According to popular legend, Greeks began putting resin in their wine to deter the Roman conquerors who conquered the country in the second century AD. The myth states that the Romans were not used to the flavor and refused to drink the wine, but it is likely not rooted in fact.

Even if true, the Romans soon took to the flavor and began to produce their own versions of the Greek wine.

However, as the flavor of the wine had become so popular in much of the ancient world, the practice persisted in many areas, giving us Retsina today.

There are countless mentions of Retsina throughout ancient texts, including in the works of Pliny the Elder, who states that resin extracted from pine trees located at high mountain altitudes imparts a stronger flavor than resin from pines found at lower altitudes.

Additionally, when Crusaders passed through the Greek islands on their way to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, many of them mentioned the unique resinated wine they enjoyed there.

The beverage is part of Greek history

Due to its history and cultural significance, Retsina is of protected geographic origin, according to the European Union, and authentic Retsina wine may only come from Greece and parts of Cyprus.

The wine is produced across Greece and is widely popular nationally, particularly in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.

In antiquity, Greece was amongst the most noteworthy producers of wine, with the earliest evidence of production dating back to over 6,500 years ago.

Greek wine was highly esteemed in the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, and highly priced wines were exported from Crete, Monemvasia, and other Greek ports.

The current context presents a contrast to Greece’s wine heritage. Modern wines are beginning to emerge in the rest of the world due to their unique value, and they are also setting a trend in the world of wine lovers.

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