Monday, 21 June 2010

Argentina vs Greece means Torrontés vs Retsina. But who wins?

Torrontés is the white wine grape most closely associated with white wine made in Argentina, and Argentina is the New World winemaking country most closely associated with Torrontés.

So it makes sense that to accompany any event with an Argentinian theme, Torrontés would be the only white wine of choice.

And why not. It's distinctly aromatic, typically heavy with fruits such as apricots and even lychees on the nose, sometimes with scents of roses, soft and smooth on the palate with low acidity but a weighty and flavoursome finish, often with quite an alcoholic kick.

Argento Reserva is as good a representative as many, born of grapes grown at over 5,500 feet in the premium Cafayate Valley of the prime Torrontés region of Salta, it's  floral, spicy with menthol, peach and lemon zest and punchy with alcohol at well over 13%.

The white wine most closely associated with Greece is equally unique and easily just as aromatic, but it isn't as easy a choice to make. Because it's Retsina. 

Retsina is a wine that even independent specialist merchant and Greek wine importer Nick Kontarines of Yamas Wines describes as 'the Marmite of the wine world'. That is, you either love it or you hate it. 

If only it were that simple Nick. Because there is only one Marmite. It only comes at one (delicious in my view) quality level. Whereas Retsina encompasses a number of styles and weights to suit a number of preferences.

Greeks accustomed to its pine resin smell - and it is a smell, not a scent, not an aroma and definitely not a bouquet - and flavours have grown up with this wine. It is familiar like an old friend from way back, and for expatriates, a true taste of home, evocative of big family meals under the stars and langorous days waiting for the olives to ripen. 

What makes Retsina, Retsina, is the addition of pine resin. Formerly used to help preserve the wine by preventing oxidisation, nowadays it is more a matter of doing what has always been done. The depth and strength of the pine flavour is dictated by the quality and number of pieces of Aleppo Pine resin now added during fermentation.

Nick offers at least three varieties including a couple of 'modern' styles, in which the resination is a matter of style not necessity, a contemporary attempt to retain the essence of Retsina without alienating wine drinkers new to its discrete charms. And charms it has. Today, young and fresh premium quality Retsina is as unusual, delightful and refreshing a white wine as Argentinian Torrontés, sharing the South American wine's strength of aroma, flavour-packed style and low acidity. But it is also very very different.

For a newcomer, Nick suggests Ino Retsina. Made from 100% Savatiano grapes when you open the bottle the pine is right there on the nose. 

Pour a glass. Inhale deeply. 

It's redolent of blue skies, even bluer seas and soft white beaches. Pineapples. On the palate it's like cooked apples and marinated lemons, but above all else there's a certain dew heavy wet earthiness, pine needles on a woodland floor. It is a distinctly dry white wine. And it's crisp and light, not heavy, easy to drink and superbly refreshing when ice cold and alongside heavily flavoured Mediterranean food. It's great for cutting through tomato based sauces at lunch and herb rich meat dinners. 

Enjoy it with feta, tzatziki and hummous, chicken and kid and kebabs. And pour yourself another glass - it's only 11% alcohol after all. And it's only Retsina. What's the worst that can happen? A draw perhaps? 

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