Marsala Wines

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007 at 12:00 am

Marsala wines are fortified wines that came from the Italian island of Sicily. The name for this type of fortified wine was derived from the name of the Sicilian coastal town that goes by the same name. Marsala wines are usually made from the local white grape varieties such as the Inzolia, Catarratto and Grillo. Marsala wines are then fermented to dryness with such methods as those being used in making sherry, and then fortified with ethyl alcohol to boost its alcohol content. The sweet styles of some Marsala wines are the result of adding boiled down must or mistela, which is grape juice that has been blended with spirit.

Fortified Marsala wine is made by using a process called in perpetuum which is a bit similar to the solera system that is being used in Spain to produce sherry wines. Marsala wines are characterized by their amber color and an aroma that provides hints of its strong alcohol flavor. They are usually classified by two ways- one by their color and two, for the duration of their maturation in terms of years.

As to their color classification, Marsala wines may either be ambra or amber, oro or gold, rubino or ruby. They can also be either sweet, medium (semisecco), or dry (semisecco). As to their classification in terms of maturity, they can either be, Fine, Superiore, Superiore Reserva, Vergine e/o Soleras or Vergine e/o Soleras Stravecchio e Vergine e/o Soleras Riserva.

Fine Marsala wines go through minimal aging and can last only as long as less than a year.  Marsala wines that are classified as Superiore are those that have been aged at least two years before being bottled. Superiore Reserva Marsala wines are aged longer than the Superiore and should last at least four years. Marsala wines considered for the Vergine e/o Soleras classification should be aged for about five years before they are bottled. Probably the longest aged Marsala wines belong to the Vergine e/o Soleras Stravecchio e Vergine e/o Soleras Riserva, which are Marsala wines that have been aged for at least ten years.

Marsala wines are traditional served as an aperitif during the first and second course of the meal. It can also be served as an excellent dessert wine served chilled with a variety of spicy cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Roquefort. Not only are Marsala wines known as great fortified wines for drinking, they are also used as an excellent ingredient to some very tasty dishes. Marsala wines make also great cooking wines used especially in many Italian restaurants in the US.

An example is the use of the Marsala sauce. This sauce is made by reducing Marsala wine by heat almost to a syrup added with onions and shallots. Mushrooms and other herbs are then added. Another recipe that is known for using Marsala wine is the Chicken Marsala. It is done by coating pounded chicken breast with flour and then seasoned with a mixture of Marsala wine, butter, olive oil, mushrooms, and other spices. Some risotto recipes also make use of Marsala wine as an ingredient as well as in a number of Italian desserts such as tiramisu and zabaglione.