Greek Retsina

Greek retsina is a dry white wine made and drunk all over Greece with a distinctive pine and resin flavour that people usually either love or hate.

Kourtaki Retsina

For us, when we visit Greece, our first meal is very often kalamari (squid) and a bottle of retsina, perhaps preceded by an ouzo and some meze. It's the very taste of Greece on a plate and in a glass. It tells us we're back in our beloved Greece at last.  If retsina is an acquired taste, then we acquired it long ago. 

What is Greek Retsina?

Retsina is a dry white wine that has been in contact with pine resin to give it its unique flavour. The flavour of retsina is hard to describe, though once you taste it you never forget it. People who don't like it compare it to turpentine, which we obviously think is unfair. Perhaps they've just had some bad retsinas, for as with any wine the quality varies.

It's crisp, a little lemony, and even though it's dry there can be a touch of sweetness to it. The overpowering taste is of course the pine resin, however.  Imagine walking through a pine forest on a hot summer day and being able to capture that aroma in a bottle. To us, that is the essence of retsina.

Bottles of retsina

Which Greek Retsina to Choose?

Of course there is more than one type of retsina and flavors vary, depending on the process and the grape varieties. One name you see throughout the country is Kourtaki, though there are other best-selling brands including Malamatina and Ampelicious.

Many of the bigger and better winemakers like Gai'a started including a retsina in their line-ups, after a surge in its popularity a few years ago. If you find a bottle of Ritinitis Nobilis from Gai'a on offer anywhere, do try it. These quality retsinas tend to be lighter than the more commercial brands, concentrating more on the wine, and on the citrus taste rather than on being too resiny.

What we like to do is ask if the taverna or restaurant has any local retsinas, so we can try some we're unlikely to find anywhere else. You don't usually get draft retsina in the way you get house wines, made by the taverna-owner, as unless you know what you're doing it's easy to ruin a good wine by adding too much resin flavour to it.

Pouring a glass of retsina

Cheap Greek Retsina

Retsina traditionally comes in a 50cl bottle with a screwtop cap on it, though some of the more upscale brands use a conventional 70cl bottle with a cork or plastic stopper. It's one of the cheapest bottled Greek wines that there is, so it's very popular with students and those on a budget. Some people like to mix it with soft drinks to make a kind of retsina spritzer, and to make the retsina last longer. You can also mix it with colas, if you like, though we prefer our retsinas straight.

For a long time it was seen as the poor man's drink, which is one reason it'd had such a poor reputation in the past, but with the 21st-century renaissance in Greek winemaking, people have come to realise that retsina can be made well.

Bottle and glass of retsina

Retsina Rosé

The vast majority of the retsina made in Greece is white, but there are a few rosé retsinas around. They're not common so you should definitely snap one up if you see it.

Which Grape is Retsina Made From?

Most retsina is made from the savatiano grape, which is the country's most widely-planted grape. It is drought-resistant, which helps see it through the hot Greek summers, and it makes pretty reliable if not very exciting wine - though it can make good wine, if the winemaker is prepared to put more work in. 

Two other Greek grape varieties, the assyrtiko and the rhoditis, are often blended with savatiano, or sometimes used on their own, to produce yet another retsina variation. On the island of Rhodes, the most common grape is the athiri, so you'll get a slightly different retsina flavour yet again. On Lemnos, the only white grape grown is the muscat of Alexandria, so it's used for retsina as well as regular wine. As the grape is normally used for dessert wines because of its aromatic nature, you'll find retsinas from Lemnos to be more aromatic too.

Malamatina retsina label

What to Eat with Greek Retsina?

Retsina goes well with a large number of dishes. Fresh seafood is an obvious choice, though it will also pair well with meats such as roast chicken and roast lamb, because of the way Greeks like to use a lot of herbs and garlic to add flavour to their roast meat dishes. It goes well with dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) and other Greek starters, like fried sardines and anchovies, or even cheese.

The History of Greek Retsina

So why do the Greeks like wine with a resin taste to it? The tradition goes back over 2,000 years when Greeks stored wine in clay vessels called amphorae, which you can see in almost every archaeological museum in the country. In order to keep the vessels air-tight and keep the wine fresh for longer, Aleppo pine resin plugs were used as they were found to be very effective at keeping the air out. 

Greek AmphoraeAmphorae

The resin flavour penetrated the wine on sea voyages, and the Greek sailors found they developed a liking for the taste. It's thought that the first resinated wines were made in about the 2nd century BC.

Even when wooden barrels became more commonplace and proved ideal for storing and transporting wine, the Greeks continued using the resin to flavour their wine because by then they liked it so much. Today the resin is added during the fermentation period of the grapes.

And just as barrels have been around since the Romans, so too has retsina - and we'll drink to that. Yammas!

Some other Greek food and drink pages

  • Zakynthos Winemaker

    Antonis Maroudas is a Zakynthos winemaker who lives on the 'wine road' and is one of the people who make Zakynthos.

  • Zacharioudakis Winery

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.

  • Where to Eat in Athens and Piraeus

    If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.

  • What Is Metaxa?

    What is Metaxa? Metaxa is an amber Greek spirit combining brandy made by distilling wine, sweet wine from Samos and a secret recipe of Mediterranean botanicals.

  • What Is Greek Raki?

    Raki is an alcoholic drink made with distilled grapes and anise, and popular in Greece and other Mediterranean countries, including Greece’s neighbour Turkey.

  • Touring the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets tours the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete and learns about Crete grape varieties such as plyto, dafni, vidiano, vilana, mandilari and kotsifali.

  • Tipping in Greece

    The Greece Travel Secrets guide to tipping in Greece from two Greece travel experts, including when to tip, what to tip and when not to tip.

  • The Herb Man of Kouses

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Cretan Botano herbs and spices shop near Matala in southern Crete in search of the herb man of Kouses.

  • The Cretan Diet

    Studies have shown the Cretan Diet as one of the healthiest in the world, involving lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, and moderate amounts of wine.

  • Stilianou Winery near Knossos

    The Stilianou Winery near Knossos on Crete uses only Cretan grape varieties, with every bottle numbered, and aims for quality rather than quantity.

  • Santorini Wineries

    Visiting Santorini wineries is a popular activity on this Greek island in the Cyclades, whose volcanic soil provides a distinctive terroir.

  • Museum of Samos Wine

    A visit to the Museum of Samos Wine to learn about the muscat grapes that produce the best dessert wines in the world and also the Greek spirit, Metaxa.

  • Manousakis Wine Tasting

    We visit and tour the Manousakis Winery on Crete with a wine-tasting and a chance to buy their tsikoudia, sea salt, olive oil and other goodies.

  • Making Rakomelo on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets visits Crete and learns about making rakomelo from Jorgos Kourmoulis in Agouseliana.

  • Life as a Waiter on Zakynthos

    Life as a waiter on Zakynthos tells what it was like for travel writer Mike Gerrard to work in a Greek restaurant, the Mantalena in Alykanas.

  • How to Make Petimezi

    How to make Petimezi, the sweet Cretan syrup made from wine must, is explained to Greece Travel Secrets.

  • Greek Ouzo

    Greek ouzo is an aniseed-based aperitif made all over the country but especially on Lesbos, tasting like a Greek pastis or arak and usually drunk with water.

  • Greek Food and Drink

    Greek food and drink is a highlight of any visit and Greece Travel Secrets brings you info about food and drink from all over Greece, from Athens to Zakynthos.

  • Greek Alcoholic Drinks

    Greek alcoholic drinks include distinctly Greek drinks such as ouzo, Metaxa, retsina, raki, tsikoudia and tsipouro, but also Greek wines and Greek beers.

  • Goules Taverna Crete

    The Goules Taverna in Goulediana, south of Rethymnon, has been called one of the best tavernas on Crete and Greece Travel Secrets recently visited them.

  • Crete Olive Oil Tour

    For a Crete olive oil tour Greece Travel Secrets visits Biolea, one of the few olive oil factories on Crete that you can visit.

  • Corfu Olives

    Corfu olives are an important part of this Greek island's economy, with an estimated 3-4 million trees producing olive oil of exceptional quality.

  • Corfu Food and Drink

    Information for travelers on Corfu Food and Drink including restaurants and tavernas, Corfiot specialties, desserts, wine and other Greek drinks like ouzo.

  • Corfu Beer Festival

    The First Corfu Beer Festival took place in Arillas in North West Corfu and celebrated the beer of Bavaria and of Corfu, in the Ionian islands of Greece.

  • Best Cocktail Bars in Athens

    Two of the best cocktail bars in Athens, MoMix Kerameikos and The Clumsies, are making creative cocktails using that most Greek of Greek spirits, Metaxa.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. The Greek Holiday Calendar 2022

    Will there be a holiday or national celebration taking place during your trip to Greece? Find out here.

    Read More

  2. Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards: 4 Greek Destinations Named

    Three Greek islands and a city proved among the world’s most popular destinations with the users of the famous travel platform.

    Read More

  3. The Summer of My Greek Taverna

    The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone is a memoir of his time on the Greek island of Patmos in the Dodecanese, running a restaurant.

    Read More

  4. Tasteful Stays: 8 Athens Design Hotels for Foodies

    Athens is on the rise as a gastronomy destination, and connoisseurs know that it’s not just about tavernas anymore. Here are eight fine places to check into if you’re a foodie.

    Read More

  5. Arcadia: Amid the Sweet Aromas of the Moschofilero Grape

    The rich and fertile lands of Arcadia in the heart of the Peloponnese, where the vines of the Mantineia PDO flourish, are a feast for the senses.

    Read More

  6. 60 Guest Houses in Greece for the Perfect Winter Getaway (Map Included!)

    From Thrace to the Peloponnese, our comprehensive list of guest houses for that perfect winter escape caters to all tastes and budgets.

    Read More

  7. The Times Changes Side in Parthenon Marbles Debate

    London newspaper speaks up in favor of the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures at the Acropolis Museum.

    Read More

  8. Greece Among Top Choices of US Travelers Over 50 for Holidays in 2022

    Greece is among the top 10 international destinations that US travelers over 50 want to visit in 2022, according to a survey recently released by online travel magazine TravelAwaits.

    Read More

  9. Corfu to Reveal Secrets of Old Town Through New AR Tourism Guide

    Internet users will soon have the opportunity to explore the historic monuments and hidden gems of the old town of Corfu through a new augmented reality (AR) tourism guide. A UNESCO world heritage sit…

    Read More

  10. Greece PM: Italy Museum Sets Example for Parthenon Marbles’ Return

    The time has come for the Parthenon Marbles to return to Greece, their natural home, said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday, during a special ceremony at the Acropolis Museum, where he welc…

    Read More