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What Is Marsala Wine
Marsala Wine derives it's name from the city of Marsala on the sun drenched island of Sicily where the wine is traditionally made. With an alcohol content of 17-20%, Marsala is the most popular of Italy's fortified wine.
Marsala is made in the perpetuum system which is similar to the solera system used in making sherry. A succession of containers are filled starting from the youngest which is a fresh batch to the oldest usually in aging intervals of one year. After that period of time the oldest vessel is partially drained and refilled with the next oldest and so on down the line until the newest is filled with another fresh batch. This process is repeated and in theory when a bottle from the oldest batch is filled it may contain remnants from wine that has been aged from 50 to 100 years.
Classifying Marsala Wine
Marsala Wine is classified in three categories. Their color, sweetness, and the length of their aging.
- Oro has a golden color.
- Ambra has an amber color.
- Rubino has a ruby color.
- Secco (dry) - maximum 40 grams of sugar per liter
- Semisecco (semi-sweet) - 41-100 grams per liter
- Dolce (sweet) - over 100 grams per liter
- Fine - aged a minimum of one year. This is the wine that is typically used in cooking
- Superiore - Aged a minimum of two years
- Superiore Riserva - aged at least four years
- Vergine - aged a minimum of five years.
- Vergine Soleras - a blend of vintages aged at least five years.
- Stravecchio - aged a minimum of 10 years.
Cooking With Marsala Wine
When it comes to recipes that call for Marsala there isn't any substitution. Marsala has it's own delicious distinct flavor that if substituted for with a sherry or port just isn't a Marsala dish anymore and will taste completely different. You could make your favorite Chicken Marsala or Veal Marsala recipe with Cabernet or even Sherry, but it would no longer be a Chicken or Veal Marsala. It would be like substituting peanut butter chips in your chocolate chip cookie recipe. Probably very tasty but definitely no longer a chocolate chip cookie.
Once you've made the decision to cook with Marsala wine, the next step is choosing a sweet or dry variety. In actuality sweet or dry is a personal preference. Both will give your dish that lovely flavor and will you actually taste the subtle differences? The only way to know for sure is to experiment. Try them both at different times and see which your palette prefers.
Since Marsala is a fortified wine it does not need to be refrigerated and it will not turn or "go bad" and become dangerous to drink. However the flavor of Marsala will fade over time and will fade even more rapidly if not stored correctly. Opened and sealed Marsala should be stored in a cool dark place and used or consumed within four months or you risk losing all that delicious flavor.