What is Marsala Wine?
Edit: 29/09/17 We no longer supply Cantine Florio Marsala, but we do now stock a range Marsala wines, including a red wine, from Cantine Pellegrino:
Cantine Pellegrino Marsala Superiore Garibaldi Dolce 18%
Cantine Pellegrino Marsala Oro Superiore Riserva 18% – a good alternative to the Florio Targa Riserva
Cantine Pellegrino Marsala Rubino Fine 18%
Cantine Pellegrino Marsala Riserva 2000 Dry 19% – a good alternative to the
Marsala is probably Italy’s most famous fortified wine. It is produced on the Italian island of Sicily around the ancient coastal city of Marsala and was granted DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status in 1969. Marsala wine has perhaps become more well-known as a cooking ingredient in recent years than as a wine for drinking It is used in all sorts of recipes and, in fact, Cantine Florio used to produce a cooking Marsala called Gran Chef Marsala specifically for cooking. It is an essential ingredient in dishes such a chicken Marsala, Zabaglione, Tiramisu and in recent years had become popular as an ingredient in Christmas Cake and Christmas Puddings. There are, however, many great dry and sweet Marsala wines suitable for drinking on all sorts of occasions. Why not buy a bottle of good Marsala use a little in cooking and drink the rest?
Like Sherry, Port and Madeira it is thought that Marsala was fortified with alcohol so that it would be able to withstand the rigours of long ocean voyages. In the 18th century, England had a large military force in Madeira to keep an eye on Napolean and the French occupation of Italy. The British wished to ship some of the local wines home and simply added alcohol, fortifying the wine, as they had done with Port, to prevent the wines spoiling on the journey home. Thus Marsala, the fortified wine as we know it, was created. The popularity of Marsala can be considered, in part, to be due to the English trader, John Woodhouse, who recognised that, with the similarity to Port, Sherry and Madeira it would be very popular in the UK. Woodhouse pioneered mass production and commercialisation of Marsala wine.
Production of Marsala
Marsala starts life as a white wine made from indigenous Sicilian grapes such as the white grape varieties Catarratto, Grillo and Inzolia or, for the rarer red wines, Pignatello or Nerello Mascalese. During wine production fermentation is stopped with the addition of grape brandy when the desired levels of residual sugar are reached depending on whether the producer is making a sweet or dry style. Marsala often goes through a system called in perpetuum which involves the blending of vintages in a method not dissimilar the the solera system used in Sherry manufacture, however sometimes Marsale is made by static ageing of single casks.
Classification of Marsala
Marsala can be classified in four different ways.
Marsala Colour Classification
Ambra (Amber Coloured) – made from white grapes such as Grillo, Inzolia and Catarratto
Oro (Golden Coloured) – made from white grapes, same as above
Rubino (Ruby Coloured) – made from red grapes such as Pignatello, Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola
Marsala Age Classification
Marsala Fine – this youngest style, aged for a minimum of one year – often used for cooking
Marsala Superiore – wine that spends at least two years and up to three years in oak
Marsala Superiore Riserva – aged for at least four years in oak barrels, some producers age it for up to six years
Marsala Vergine – minimum of five years ageing in oak barrels, but some producers age it up to seven years
Marsala Vergine Soleras – a blend of different vintage aged for a minimum of five years in oak
Marsala Stravecchio – aged a minimum of ten years in oak
Marsala Sweetness Classification
There are three levels of sweetness used to classify Marsala,
Cooking with Marsala
Marsala is used a wide variety of dishes most famously in savoury dishes such as chicken marsala, risotto and veal marsala. It is also used in Italian desserts including zabaglione and tiramisu.
Marsala was traditionally served as between the first and second courses of a meal. Today Marsala is matched with all types of foods and tends to be served as either an aperitif or a dessert wine. The drier (secco) style is great served chilled as an aperitif with cold meats, olives, walnuts and almonds. Sweeter (dolce or semisecco) styles of Marsala can be served as a dessert wine and are good with cheeses (such as Parmesan or blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola), with fruit desserts, pastries or chocolate-based desserts.