At the stomach doctor in Thessaloníki's covered market, a waitress deposits spicy, thin hamburgers and skewers of pork sprinkled with oregano directly onto the paper-covered table in front of us. Charcoal-grilled sardines, sausages and bowls of vinegary shredded cabbage tossed with scallions, carrots and parsley are delivered to us along with dented cups filled to the brim with cold retsina, the traditional Greek wine fermented with pine resin. We squeeze fat lemon wedges over the sizzling meat and fish and start eating, pausing only to grab at one of those spring-fed steel napkin dispensers because everything is soon dripping with juice—mouths, chins, hands.
It could be the 1950s, after the Greek civil war, when wine was cheap and sold in bulk by a few big companies and co-ops. Or the late '60s. The customers standing at the bar drinking grappa-like tsipouro could be talking about the military junta that ran the country until 1974.
I'm having tsipouro, too, flavored with anise. Everyone else at the table, including a Master of Wine, an enologist and a wine importer, is reveling in the thin retsina. Its very awfulness seems to excite them. We all crave something that doesn't require note taking. We need a break from obscure indigenous grapes with hard-to-pronounce names. We're tired of asking about what's in the blend. (Retsina is primarily Savatiano—sa-va-tya-NO.)