Marsala is a fortified wine that is made in Sicily and features flavours of vanilla, brown sugar, tobacco and apricot. Much like sherry, Marsala can range from a dry style to a sweet style. In Sicily, many homeowners cook with it using sweeter styles for desserts (like Zabaglione), and dry styles to add nutty flavours to sauces. Marsala is also meant to be sipped and is perfect with chocolate-based desserts, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, apple pie, asparagus, olives, sardines, trail mix, and Brussel sprouts.
Marsala is a confusing wine as it comes in various styles, shades of colour and levels of sweetness. We’ll do our best to help sort it out for you below.
Marsala comes in 6 different styles:
- Fine (aged for min 1 year)
- Superior or Superiore (aged for min 2 years)
- Superior Reserve or Superiore Riserva (aged for at least 4 years) May also be called Giaribaldi Dolce (GD), London Pride (LP) or Superior Old Marsala (SOM)
- Virgin or Vergine (aged for at least 5 years and always dry)
- Virgin Solera or Vergine Solera(aged for at least 5 years and consists of multiple vintages and always dry)
- Stravecciho (aged for at least 10 years and features lusciously concentrated flavours from being aged in wood for so long)
We’d recommend the Fine Marsala for cooking, and the other tiers for food pairing. As aging goes up, so does the cost and the flavour profile. In Virgin styles, you’ll note more prominent flavours of morello cherry, dried fruit, honey, licorice, apple and walnut. Thus, higher-end Marsala will be better suited for food pairings.
Marsala also comes in three different colours, which are gold, ruby and amber. Amber and gold are made with white grapes, while ruby is made with red grapes such as Pignatello or Nerello Mascalese.
- Amber or Ambra Marsala tends to be sweeter, and features dried fruit and a nutty almond flavour.
- Gold or Oro Marsala has a rich gold colour and here you’ll find flavours of raisin, vanilla, hazelnuts and licorice.
- Rubino Marsala or Ruby is more fruit-driven and has a tannic bite which makes it more suitable for protein-based dishes vs desserts.
- Dry Marsala is typically served as an Aperitif and may also be called secco
- Off-Dry Marsala is served with food and is also known as Semisecco or SemiSweet
- Sweet Marsala is a Dessert Wine and known as Dolce
- Cremevo (Cremevo Zabaione Vino Aromatizzato), or Marsala Speciali is a flavoured wine made with 80% Marsala and various other ingredients like coffee and eggs
Before we get to our pairings, keep in mind that Marsala wine is strong. Sitting between 18% and 20% alcohol, be sure to only pour two or three-ounce pourings. A little Marsala goes a long way! You also want to serve it slightly chilled. Not refrigerator cold where it will mute its luscious flavours, but rather cellar temperature which will bring out its best.
Sweet Marsala and Chocolate Desserts
For sweet Marsala, there is no better pairing than chocolate desserts like chocolate cake. With notes of dried fruit, walnut and brown sugar this sipping dessert wine elevates the chocolate dessert to new heights. Stay away from fino, and stick to a Superior or Superior Reserve to appreciate this pairing.
Sweet Marsala and Apple Pie
Nuts and Apple are a great mix, and Marsala imparts a nutty and caramel sweetness to each bite of apple pie. If you can’t imagine this heavenly pairing, then I feel as if this is something you have to try immediately!
Off-Dry Marsala and Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts
The smoky flavours of bacon complement the tobacco and brown sugar flavours in Marsala. Meanwhile, the slight sweetness of and off-dry Marsala will mingle well with any sweet sauces (such as Ketchup) that your Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts may have brushed and then baked on.
Off-Dry Marsala & Chicken Marsala
Chicken Marsala features chicken in a savoury mushroom wine sauce. Since it is made with Marsala, it only makes sense that the most complementary pairing would be a glass of dry Marsala. Should you cook it with Fine Marsala, we’d recommend upgrading your glass to a Superiore Marsala or higher.
Dry Marsala & Olives
While sweet Marsala can properly end a meal, dry Marsala can start a meal off as an aperitif. Dry Marsala has a briny, oxidative flavour that mingles fantastic with the dry and savoury flavours of Olives.
The bone dry structure of Marsala is perfect for any strong flavoured food where most wines would fail. This includes Asparagus, Sardines, and Brussel Sprouts.
On one last note, always ensure your Marsala is made in Sicily. There are many knockoffs out there from other regions that won’t do this marvellous wine justice. Should you not be able to find Marsala wherever you buy liquor, Maderia is an acceptable substitute.
|Type||Beverage||Food||Rating (out of 5)|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Apple Pie||4.5|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Heavy Chocolate Cake||4.5|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Zabaglione||4.5|
|Fortified Wine||Dry Marsala||Almond||4|
|Fortified Wine||Dry Marsala||Sardines||4|
|Fortified Wine||Dry Marsala||Asparagus||4|
|Fortified Wine||Dry Marsala||Brussel Sprouts||4|
|Fortified Wine||Dry Marsala||Chicken Marsala||4|
|Fortified Wine||Off-Dry Marsala||Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts||4|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Cupcakes||3.5|
|Other||Sweet Marsala||Ricotta Cheese||3.5|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Chocolate||3.5|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Custard Desserts||3.5|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Figs||3.5|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Biscotti||3.5|
|Dessert Wine||Sweet Marsala||Cake||3.5|