Yorkshire's Independent Restaurant Guide

In Praise of Retsina

My twenties and thirties were spent in a love affair with Greece. First island hopping, staying in cheap rooms suggested by touts at the port, and then renting period houses in the dusty old towns of the Dodecanese or Cyclades.

Sophisticated it wasn’t. The main wine on offer was Demestica Achaia, inevitably called Domestos, invariably badly stored in the heat, so we resorted to ouzo and cold beers. It was that or the dreaded Retsina, served in tavernas where the food was cheap and cheerful, fresh, but with little variety.

I had no stomach for it then, and much as the holidays were fantastic, homecoming meant Italian food with a cheeky glass of Chianti was a treat.

I hadn’t been to Greece for a decade, but an invite to a friend’s villa in North East Corfu, the stamping ground of rich Russians and Peter Mandelson, showed how much had changed. The village shop stocked Krug Champagne (well, the Rothschilds’ Estate was just down the road) and a welter of wines with tasting notes. But the emphasis was on aged reds and although we drank decently we didn’t have the best of what Greece can now offer.

Fast forward to a beach front lunch at the fashionable Toulas in Agni, and a very modern dish of spicy prawns on a bed of intriguingly nutty rice with herbs and pine nuts. Each prawn shell on, but with all the nasty bits excavated from the head. Pretty as a picture. Prices to match. What to drink? The waiter suggested Retsina, a steal at 4 euros, a 50cl bottle, compared with the same for a glass of sauvignon of dubious provenance. Kourtakis is the label to go for though there are some more boutique brands on the market. And what do you know, it was perfect. The fresh, cold, light and slightly resinated glass of vino and the oil, spices and shellfish were like best friends. Just goes to prove that the Greeks probably always knew best.