Food and Wine Pairing

Mezédes¹ and Retsina

Retsina wine goes with any food. Does it?

Retsina Bottle with Greek LandscapeIn my article Oinos and the Easter Feast, I had promised to write about my wine pairings for the Easter dinner. One of my choices was a Greek resinated wine.

As tables were set with all sorts of mezédes, I made myself a plate with taramosaláta2, dolmádes3, drob4, feta cheese and olives, all accompanied by radishes and green onions.

I hoped resinated wine was a good option to match these food flavours, as I had tasted a similar dish before with the Greek speciality. But back then, it was Gaia Ritinitis Nobilis, which I find rather neutral in taste and thus less likely to overpower the earthy flavours of these mezédes. In terms of structure, Retsina Papagiannakos, the version I had for this Easter, was very similar to its Gaia counterpart. Its high acidity really helped with feta cheese and taramosaláta, while the full body was essential to match powerful specialities like the dolmádes or the drob.

The flavours of the Papagiannakos version, however, were quite intense and varied and this was not really flattering for the food. Indeed, it worked perfectly well with feta cheese, but it slightly overwhelmed the other specialities.

I remain confident that Gaia Ritinitis Nobilis works better with the mezédes and recommend the Papagiannakos bottling to be tasted with oily fish such as sardines. The same approach should be taken for Assyrtiko-based Retsinas, such as Kechris The Tear of the Pine, not far from what you would pair with a wine of Santorini appellation.

While my Easter dinner pairing was far from perfect, I can draw a useful conclusion. I remember talking to a Greek businessman in Bucharest. Showing a number of quality Retsinas during a fair, he told me these wines could be paired with any food. Of course not any food, he simply meant that resinated wine could stand up to various food tastes. The experience I described above seems to question this.

After some reflection on the subject, I may have found the explanation. When it comes to what resinated wine tastes like, there are two extremes nowadays. Simple, rustic, inexpensive wine produced in huge quantities throughout Greece, the type of beverage you find in carafe by the beach, are overshadowed by modern products, made by quality-concerned wineries.

Retsina wines in the first category are neutral in aromas and flavours, which means they could barely harm any food. They sometimes have a consistent texture, too, which allows them to get well with various food weights. As resinated wine has been made in Greece since ancient times, most often in this style, it is not surprising that many Greeks share the businessman’s opinion. Of course, though not harmful, pairing this kind of resinated wine with food is not of great interest either.

In the second extreme are the wines mentioned in this article: Gaia Ritinitis Nobilis, Retsina Papagiannakos and Kechris The Tear of The Pine. Gaia makes sure Roditis does not get too aromatic, thus remaining closer to the traditional products’ neutrality. Papagiannakos gets the most out of Savatiano, naturally a quite flat grape variety, and Kechris uses the aromatic Assyrtiko to the full.

In between, there are quality – but not this ambitious – wines like those of Kourtaki or Malamatina. I think this type of resinated wine and, of course, Gaia would have more pleasantly accompanied the different flavours on my plate.

  • 1 Appetisers in Greek. Plural of mezé.
  • 2 Fish roe dip.
  • 3 Vine leaves stuffed with rice, herbs and spices. Greek word, plural of dolmá. The word may also refer to stuffed vegetable recipes in general.
  • 4 Romanian speciality. Put simply, this is a paste made primarily of lamb offals – liver, kidney, heart, etc, seasoned with herbs and wrapped in the caul of the lamb. A relevant recipe is available here.

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