In Praise of Malamatina, the Greek resinated wine

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.

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11 Responses to In Praise of Malamatina, the Greek resinated wine

  1. Brian P says:

    I am a big Retsina fan, but only really drink it about once per year. I really enjoy very piney Retsinas that others might dislike. 😉

    • This is my first experience with it. And with this brand specifically, I love the cheapness, the bottle cap, the label, and the small bottles (which I found online in Queens for $3.50 a piece!). I know that some of the wine shops I normally frequent have other, fancier brands in normal bottles. I’ll have to give some of them a try. Are there any brands you like? I’d like to find a super piney one.

      • Brian P says:

        there’s a really big festival at one of the Greek churches once a year here in Seattle. I usually buy a bottle of whatever they’re selling. never remember anything about it other than “I like it.” 🙂

  2. I think Malamatina must be the piney-est of them all!. I have always thought that retsina is an acquired taste, I used to hate it when I was younger. I think modern retsinas are easier to like, more discreet and go better with food, especially fish and fish food. I was surprised that that someone like you who doesn’t have retsina memories liked it instantly 🙂
    I admit the packaging and artwork are quite unique and i also like the fact that they are not trying to sell this for something that it isn’t. You must keep in mind though that this is the kind of wine that comes with an ingredient list so do give the other ones a try if you come across them.
    A spritzer . with malamatina and bitter lemon might be interesting I think.

    • Thanks for commenting, Christos — I wondered if you’d see this before you got my email. I’ll have to seek out a more expensive retsina too. I found a giant 1.5l jug of one in a wine shop in my neighborhood for less than $10 — incredibly, almost frighteningly cheap — but I passed on it in hopes of finding either Malamatina or a better quality one.

      But yeah, I’m a sucker for kitschy packaging. It’s amazing what great design can do for mundane or cheap products. Or, conversely, what bad design can do for something that deserves a wider audience.

      I think I liked retsina straight away because I was taken with its new (okay, millennia-old, but new to me) twist on white table wine. But it wasn’t extremely piney to me, which is part of why I want to try it again. Maybe my taste buds were just off that evening. Either way, it was perfect with seafood.

      • I got your mail first. To me the smell of retsina is the smell of a carpet of dry pine needles on a hot summer day in the pine forest. Not exactly the fresh pine smell. So probably this is the version of pine you should expect to get from this.

  3. Dear Harry,

    We should praise you for this brilliant article. We are very excited that you like Malamatina- needless to mention how honored we are to have a whole conversation rolling around our product 🙂
    Malamatina is a 100-year-old brand (since 1895) with a highly emotional value. It is considered- primarily among Greeks- as a cult product. Thus, the ‘cheapish’ label design is there on purpose (It brings forward the tradition and originality of Malamatina). The taste is indeed quite ‘piney’ (that’s what it’s all about, right? 😉
    We have wholesalers in Heapsted-NY and Carlstadt-N.Jersey. Which one is more convenient?
    Once again, thanks for amazing review!
    From all of us here in Malamatina, Greece

    All the best

    Thank you,
    Maria Palaiologos
    Digital Strategy & PR
    http://www.facebook.com/malamatina.official

    • Thank you for the comment, Maria! Some friends in Queens have located a couple of wine shops that stock Malamatina but I have yet to make the trek to stock up.

      And I love the label design! Please don’t change a thing!

      Harry

  4. Themis Vulgaris, Boston, MA says:

    Ten years ago, in Florina, Greece, we were introduced to this beautiful retsina. In Boston, I am happy to announce that people who never even considered drinking retsina, have become sound believers of this Greek specialty. It is the trademark of our house, and you can not compare a cold glass of Malamatina with some mezedes, to anything on this planet. Widely available here. Enjoy life!
    My humble opinion.

  5. mark nelson says:

    you can find Malamatina and a huge selection of other Greek wines including various other retsinas at a great Greek food store at 28 Raritan Ave in Highland Park, NJ .. walking distance from
    the New Brunswick NJ Transit train stop about 45 minutes from Manhattan by train

  6. em says:

    oak & steel by columbus circle carries malamatina, its my go-to place!

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