Marsala Wine - Not Just for Cooking

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Chicken Marsala is a well known Italian dish. But, did you know that Marsala is also a fine drinking wine?

Marsala is a fortified wine that originated in the town of Marsala on the west coast of Sicily. True Marsala still only comes from Sicily and is produced from Sicilian indigenous grapes.

Marsala is most often thought of as a cooking wine.  But, there are actually five quality levels:

  • Fine - Aged for 1 year and commonly used in cooking

  • Superior - Aged for 2 years and used most commonly in cooking

  • Superior Reserve - Aged 4 years

  • Virgin or Solera - Aged 5 years

  • Virgin Stravecchio/Virgin Reserve - Aged for 10 or more years

Marsala wines are also produced in three levels of sweetness:

  • Secco - Dry (little to no residual sugar). This wine completes fermentation before it is fortified.

  • Semisecco - Semi sweet. This wine is fortified near the end of fermentation so as to leave a small amount of residual sugar.

  • Dolce - Sweet. This wine is fortified during fermentation. The higher level of the fortifying alcohol kills the yeast before fermentation is complete, hence sugar remains in the wine.

There are also three styles of Marsala wine:

  • Gold - Produced with white grapes (Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia, Domaschino and Grecanico)

  • Amber - Also produced with white grapes but the grape must (i.e., unfortified grape juice) is cooked to the point where the natural sugars caramelize, giving the wine the amber color

    • Flavors of Gold and Amber Marsala include apricot, brown sugar, and vanilla

  • Ruby - Produced with up to 30% red grapes (Pignatello, Nero d'Avola, Nerello Mascalese, and Frappato)

    • Flavors of Ruby Marsala include cherry, dried fruit, honey, walnut and licorice. 

High-end Marsala wines are produced by a system called 'Soleras' where new and old wines are blended. This will be the subject of a future posting.

A glass of Marsala wine should be served at approximately 55 degrees F and is wonderful when paired with Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Roquefort and other bold cheese. And because it’s fortified, it doesn’t need to be kept in a refrigerator. Just store it in a cool, dark place and it will retain its flavor for a very long time.

So, don’t drink the cooking wine. Save it for great sauce reductions. But do seek out a nicer bottle and enjoy! Cheers!