Lookin' Good at 58

Thursday, February 26, 2009


To continue from last week on Madeira and on fortified wines that were pretty popular in the past but not so much now , we are going to talk a bit about Marsala.

Marsala comes from the island of Sicily and it's name derives from the port of the same name located at the northwest tip of the island. The port was initially called Marsah-el-Allah under Arab rule , later Marsala.

Marsala began being shipped all over as far back as 1773 by a chap named John Woodhouse who is credited with starting to produce this fortified wine.

It can come in dry ( secco ) , semi-sweet ( semi-secco ) , or sweet ( dolce ) , and can be classified by colour as well from gold ( oro ) , amber ( ambra ) , and red ( rubino ). How is that for an Italian lesson?

To fortify the wine some neutral spirit is added and if a sweetened variety is appropriate some local grape concentrate is included for the finished product.

There are four categories of Marsala that you will find. Beginning from the lowest category to the highest is the Marsala Fine , Marsala Superiore , Marsala Vergine , and Marsala Solera.

Marsala Fine is aged for just a year and not necessarily in wood and has at least 17% alcohol by volume. This is a very cheap tasting Marsala by all accounts that I have read.

Marsala Superiore is aged for at least two years in wood and if it is a riserva it's aged four years. This must have an alcohol of at least 18%.

The Marsala Vergine variety is aged for at least 5 years in wood or 10 if a riserva. No grape concentrate is allowed therefore comes in the secco version only with the minimum alcohol being 18%.

Last but not least and of the highest quality is the Superiore aged the same way and secco version only. The same percentage of alcohol is required.

The best grape to make Marsala is the original grape variety called Grillo. There are other grape varieties as well native to Sicily but for ease of remembering just think of Grillo. Like grilling on the BBQ.

There are some flavoured Marsala as well from chocolate , orange , and banana. There is even a Marsala that contains 80% Marsala wine , eggs , and a minimum of 200 grams of residual sugar per liter. It is really sweet as you could probably imagine!

Some food matches for the dry version of Marsala would be an antipasto with olive oil or an aperitif with nuts. For the sweet version try a sticky toffee pudding or a cake with some chocolate and almonds.

Unfortunately Marsala is not normally found on many wine lists. Usually the kitchen is ordering a couple of bottles to use with their sauces in the kitchen. There must be a tug of war between Madeira and Marsala in some kitchens to gain the upper hand.

A style between Madeira and sherry , marsala can find a niche in the kitchen and hopefully one day a real good marsala will regain it's popularity it once had in the mid 19th century. What do they say , " what goes around comes around."


Manuel said...

marsala eh.....it's too much eh? I mean you taste it, put it down....squint a little and then you try it again.....

Waiter Extraordinaire said...

Yea like what is it. It probably tasted better back in the 1800s. How about Malaga next week and that will cover the 3 Ms.