I’d heard of the Greek style of wine called Retsina before, but I didn’t know there was anything that made it unique. I shared a little bottle of it with some friends at a fantastic Greek restaurant in Astoria, Queens called Bahari Estiatorio last weekend, and was taken with its fresh and slightly piney nose. I learned that the source of that pine note is where it gets its name: pine resin.
The story as that the wine was always stored in porous vessels, and that pine resin was used as a sealant, giving the wine a flavor that has been described by some as terpentine-like. This was not the case with the brand Malamatina. I didn’t notice much pine, but I certainly didn’t detect any off flavors. It was just a nice, refreshing table wine that perfectly complemented the grilled octopus and marinated squid. And the bottle, a 500ml size, was only $9. I think it should run about $4 or $5 at a wine shop.
Malamatina describes Retsina:
The addition of a small amount of pine resin during fermentation provides the characteristic retsina flavour, while at the same time allowing the fruity aromas of these varietals to emerge. By adding the beneficial properties of resin known since ancient times, the achieved result is a unique wine with a completely Greek identity.
It reminds me a little of Portugal’s Vinho Verde and Austria’s Grüner Veltliner—in spirit at least, if not flavor (and like many Grüners, this came with a bottle cap, like beer).
I was also intrigued by its whimsical bottle design with the little man tilted back draining a cup as a giant key opens his tummy. The restaurant served it in matching Malamatina glasses.
Malamatina, according to the company website, was founded in the late 19th century by Efstratios Malamatinas, who “obviously never imagined that his initiative would evolve into the powerful brand name ‘Retsina Malamatina.'” The brand got wider distribution in Greece in the 1950s with some bottling innovations. The company is currently run by the fourth generation of the Malamatinas family. New innovations include a resin-less version of the wine (which conceptually reminds me of the sin humo, or unsmoked mezcal by Fidencio) called Malama in 2004.
A peculiarity of the Greek Malamatina drinking public is to enjoy it mixed with Coca-Cola (or, less oddly, with seltzer and/or ice). A Philadelphia-based Greek-American blogger, in a tribute to Malamatina, posted a recipe for something he called a Toumba Libre: “Two parts Retsina Malamatina, one part Johnnie Walker Red Label and one part Coca-Cola.” But he adds that “The best way to drink it however is straight, like a real man should.”
I haven’t yet found a wine shop that carries Malamatina, but I’m still looking. If anyone knows where to find in NYC, please comment.