Wine…

… Ah, yes, wine.

It’s a funny thing about wine in Greece. Sometimes the cheapest, cloudiest, least prepossessing stuff in 40 litre plastic carboys is extremely good. Not usually, I admit, but surprisingly often. And if a taverna is any good, so is its house wine, I find. And it’s very much cheaper than wine in a bottle with a label. Especially if the label is, say, French.

People say that Greek wine doesn’t travel. What they mean is that when you drink it in a taverna with the sun baking the street, the aroma of Greek cuisine and cigarettes drifting across your nostrils and the tinkle of a Theodorakis ditty on the nicotine-caked speaker, it tastes completely different than if you take it home and drink it over your Marks and Sparks Gourmet Lo-Cal Complete TV Dinner for One while watching Eastenders. And if that is what they mean, it is inevitably true.

But it’s a strange thing that I find Greek wine often does not travel within Greece. Most of the mainland wines – from, say, Boutari and Demestica – seem to travel well within Greece, and even all the way home to Britain. But island wines are different. The wines of Rhodes and Crete are fantastic in their home territory, but disappointing elsewhere, and it really has to be that the total experience of these wines includes the ambience of their source. And so it should be.

I turn now to retsina. Many would say that retsina is so different that it is not a wine at all, but that’s unfair. It’s like saying that Guinness is not a beer (OK it’s a stout, but stout is a variety of beer). The fact that, on first acquaintance, retsina tastes more like what you would imagine diesel fuel to taste like is unarguable. But then which of us would say that our first sip of beer or draw on a cigarette was an entirely pleasurable experience? Like many other vices, the appreciation of retsina requires a degree of dedication to the task.

I am happy to say that, while I still prefer unresinated wine, I have acquired a taste for retsina. It has the following questionable virtue: it’s hard to drink enough of it to get legless. I know. I tried last night. I succeeded, but it was hard.

Olive Grove

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