When Americans think about Marsala wine, it’s usually connected to cooking chicken dishes. But in fact, wine experts say there is much more to it.
This review will tell you all the basics (and some more) you need to know about Marsala wine.
What is Marsala Wine?
Marsala wine is a fortified wine that originates from the Italian town of Marsala in Sicily. It is made from a blend of white grapes and is fortified with brandy to increase its alcohol content and taste.
What Are The Different Types of Marsala Wine?
Marsala wine comes in different styles, categorized based on its sweetness and aging process.
Oro or Fine Marsala – Gold Marsala Wine
This is the lightest and youngest type of Marsala wine. It has a pale golden color, with a sweet and delicate flavor that is perfect for desserts or as an aperitif.
Oro Marsala is made from the white grape varieties Grillo, Inzolia, and Catarratto, which are grown in the region around Marsala.
It is aged for a minimum of one year in oak casks, which gives it a light and fresh taste. Oro Marsala is often used in cooking, especially in sweet dishes like tiramisu and zabaglione.
Ambra or Amber Marsala Wine
This type of Marsala has a slightly deeper color and flavor than Oro Marsala. It is also made from the same white grape varieties but is aged for a minimum of one year in oak casks that have been lightly toasted, giving it a more intense and nutty flavor.
Ambra Marsala is a sweet marsala and is often used as a dessert wine or served as an aperitif. It pairs well with cheeses, nuts, and dried fruit.
Rubino or Red Marsala Wine
As the name suggests, this type of Marsala is made with red grape varieties, primarily Nero d’Avola and Perricone.
It has a rich, full-bodied flavor with notes of dried fruit, spices, and caramel. Rubino Marsala is aged for a minimum of two years in oak casks, which gives it its characteristic flavor. It is often used in cooking, especially in savory dishes like meat stews and risotto.
Vergine or Soleras Marsala
This is the highest quality and most complex type of Marsala wine. It is made from the same grape varieties as Ambra and Rubino Marsala but is aged for a minimum of five years using the solera method. This involves blending different vintages of wine, which gives it a unique and complex flavor profile.
Vergine Marsala has a deep amber color and a rich, nutty flavor with notes of caramel, raisins, and spices. It is often served as a dessert wine paired with chocolate or strong cheeses like blue cheese.
Is Marsala Wine Red or White?
Marsala wine can be both red and white. The color of Marsala wine is determined by the grape varieties used in its production.
White Marsala wine is made from white grape varieties, such as Grillo, Inzolia, and Catarratto, while red Marsala wine is made from red grape varieties, such as Nero d’Avola and Perricone.
Marsala wine can also be amber in color, which is achieved by aging the wine in oak casks that have been lightly toasted. So, the color of Marsala wine can range from pale golden to amber to ruby-red, depending on the type of Marsala and the aging process.
What Do Marsala Wines Taste Like?
In general, Marsala wine has a distinct nutty and caramel-like flavor profile, which is achieved through the aging process. The sweetness level can vary from marsala wine dry to sweet, depending on the type of Marsala.
Here are some general descriptions of the taste profiles of each type of Marsala wine we listed above:
Oro or Fine Marsala offers a delicate, sweet taste with notes of honey, apricot, and vanilla. It has a light and refreshing flavor with a slightly nutty finish.
Amber Marsala offers a slightly more intense flavor than Oro Marsala, with a nutty and caramel-like taste. It has a deep amber color and a full-bodied texture with a little bitter finish.
Rubino marsala wine has a rich and full-bodied flavor with notes of dried fruit, spices, and caramel. It has a deep ruby-red color and a sweet finish.
Vergine Marsala is the most complex and rich nutty flavor profile. It has notes of caramel, raisins, spices, and a hint of oak. Vergine Marsala has a deep amber color and a long and complex finish.
Is There a Dry Marsala Wine?
Yes, there is a dry version of Marsala fortified wines, which is commonly referred to as “secco” in Italian.
Dry Marsala wine is produced by allowing the wine to ferment completely, which results in a wine that has very little residual sugar. This type of Marsala has a more savory and nutty taste than sweet Marsala, with notes of almond, walnut, and citrus.
Dry Marsala wine is often used in savory dishes, such as chicken marsala or veal marsala, where its complex flavor profile can enhance the dish. It is also a popular ingredient in some classic Italian recipes, such as osso buco and risotto.
Dry Marsala wine can also be enjoyed as an aperitif or paired with a variety of foods, such as olives, cheese board, and cured meats.
The Main Grapes Used in Marsala Wine
Each grape variety used to create this special wine contributes to the flavor profile of the Marsala wine.
The white grape varieties used in Oro and Ambra Marsala give these wines their light and delicate flavors, while the red grape varieties used in Rubino Marsala provide a more full-bodied and complex taste.
Here is a drill down of the grapes used for each type of marsala wine we listed above:
Oro Marsala is made from the white grape varieties Grillo, Inzolia, and Catarratto. These grapes are grown in the region around Marsala and are known for their light and refreshing flavors.
Ambra Marsala is also made from the white grape varieties Grillo, Inzolia, and Catarratto but is aged for a more extended period and in oak casks that have been lightly toasted. This gives the wine a deeper amber color and a more intense flavor profile.
Rubino Marsala is made from the red grapes Nero d’Avola and Perricone, grown in the same region as the white grape varieties. These grapes give Rubino Marsala its rich, full-bodied flavor with notes of dried fruit, spices, and caramel.
Vergine Marsala is made from the same grape varieties as Ambra and Rubino Marsala but is aged for a minimum of five years using the solera method. This involves blending different vintages of wine, which gives it a unique and complex flavor profile. The grapes used in Vergine Marsala are also grown in the region around Marsala.
Best marsala wine for cooking – Is Marsala A Cooking Wine?
Marsala wine is often used as a cooking wine because it adds a rich and complex flavor to a variety of dishes. In fact, Marsala is a key ingredient in many classic Italian recipes, such as chicken marsala, veal marsala, and risotto.
The sweetness and nutty flavor profile of Marsala wine make it an ideal ingredient for savory dishes that require a rich and flavorful sauce. Sweet Marsala is also used in some desserts, such as tiramisu and zabaglione, where its sweetness can enhance the flavor of the dish.
However, it is important to note that not all Marsala wines are suitable for cooking. Some Marsala wines are specifically labeled as “cooking wine” and contain added salt, which can alter the flavor of the dish. It is best to use high-quality Marsala wine when cooking to ensure that the dish has the desired flavor profile.
The Best Way To Serve Marsala Wine
The best way to serve Marsala wine really depends on the type of Marsala you choose to drink.
Sweet Marsala is typically served as a dessert wine, chilled or at room temperature. Dry Marsala is often served as an aperitif or as a pairing for savory dishes. It should be served slightly chilled, around 55-60°F, in a small wine glass. Fine or Superiore Marsala are best served in a small wine glass at cellar temperature, around 60-64°F.
Regardless of the type of Marsala you have, be sure to serve it in a proper wine glass to enhance its aroma and flavor. The glass should be small and narrow to concentrate the wine’s bouquet and allow for proper swirling.
Best Food Pairings For Marsala Wine
Marsala wine is not only a good wine for cooking, but it can also be served for drinking along with different delicious foods and dishes.
Top 5 food pairings for Dry Marsala
- Savory dishes: Dry Marsalas pair well with savory Italian favorite dishes such as chicken or veal marsala, mushroom risotto, or shrimp scampi. The dry and nutty flavor of Marsala wine is amazing for enhancing the natural flavors of the dish.
- Cheese: Dry Marsala pairs well with hard, aged cheeses such as Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, creating a complementary and interesting mouth flavor profile.
- Olives: The nutty, savory unique taste of dry Marsala pairs well with a variety of olives, such as Kalamata or green olives stuffed with almonds. This combination creates a complex yet very balanced flavor profile.
- Charcuterie: Dry Marsala wine pairs well with cured meats such as prosciutto, salami, and chorizo.
- Roasted nuts: Dry Marsala wine pairs well with roasted nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, or cashews. The nutty and earthy notes in dry Marsala complement the flavors of roasted nuts. Moreover, the wine’s acidity helps to cut through the richness of the nuts.
Marsala Wine Substitutes – Is There Such Thing?
There are some Marsala wine substitutes that you can use if you don’t have Marsala wine on hand. Here are the main options:
Sherry is a fortified wine that is similar to Marsala in terms of its nutty and complex flavor profile. However, sherry tends to be drier than Marsala, so you may need to add a bit of sugar to the recipe to compensate for the sweetness that Marsala provides.
Madeira is another fortified wine that can be used as a substitute for Marsala. Madeira tends to be sweeter and more robust than Marsala, so you may need to adjust the amount used in the recipe to achieve the desired flavor profile.
Dry Red wine
If you don’t have any fortified wines on hand, you can use a dry red wine as a substitute for Marsala in savory dishes such as chicken or veal Marsala. However, keep in mind that red wine will not provide the same nutty and sweet flavor profile as Marsala, so the dish may taste slightly different.
Dry or Semi-Sweet White wine
If you need a substitute for dry Marsala wine in a recipe, you can use white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. However, keep in mind that white wine will not provide the same nutty and earthy flavor profile as dry Marsala, so the dish may taste slightly different.
It’s important to note that while these substitutes can work in a pinch, they may not provide the same depth of flavor as Marsala. That means the end result may be slightly different than intended when using Marsala.
Final Editor Words
As you can see, there are many interesting things to know about this special Italian wine. We hope this review helped you discover the wine and expand your knowledge.
Here are a few final tips we have for our readers when it comes to Marsala wine:
- Quality matters: When choosing Marsala wine, look for a high-quality bottle from a reputable producer. Cheap Marsala can be overly sweet and lacking in depth and complexity.
- Store properly: Once opened, Marsala wine should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within a few weeks. The wine can oxidize quickly and lose its flavor if left at room temperature for too long.
- Don’t overdo it: Marsala is a potent ingredient, so a little bit can go a long way. Be sure to use it sparingly and taste it frequently as you cook to avoid overpowering your dish.
- Experiment: While there are traditional uses for Marsala in cooking and pairing with food, don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes and flavor combinations. Marsala wine’s versatility means it can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
- Enjoy it on its own: Marsala is not just for cooking and pairing with food – it can also be enjoyed on its own as an aperitif or after-dinner drink. Try serving a glass of sweet Marsala with a cheese plate or a glass of dry Marsala with some roasted nuts for a simple yet sophisticated pairing.
If you wish to learn more about different aspects of the wine world or the best wine clubs to join in diversifying your wine experience, check out our blog!
What can substitute Marsala wine?
If you don’t have Marsala wine on hand, you can substitute it with a combination of dry white wine or sherry and a bit of brown sugar or grape juice. This will provide a similar flavor profile to enhance your dish.
Is Marsala wine for drinking or cooking?
Marsala wine can be used for both drinking and cooking. It is commonly used in Italian cuisine for flavoring sauces, marinades, and desserts. Additionally, Marsala wine can be enjoyed on its own as a dessert wine or used in various cocktail recipes.
What is the best wine to use for chicken marsala?
The best wine to use for chicken Marsala is Marsala wine itself. Chicken Marsala is a classic Italian dish that derives its distinct flavor from the use of Marsala wine. The wine adds richness, depth, and sweetness to the sauce, complementing the flavors of the chicken and other ingredients.