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Marsala Wine


Marsala wine is a fortified wine from Sicily. It is a wine used for cooking, it creates a rich caramelized sauce. There are two styles of Marsala dry and sweet. Marsala is a great cooking wine, but it also is fine enough for sipping, like Sherry or Madeira. It has similar tastes to Madeira wine.

The common flavours are brown sugar, vanilla, tamarind and stewed apricot. Marsala wine ranges from a nearly dry style to sappy sweet. It is served cool around 55° F. A high-end Marsala offers a range of nuanced flavours including morello cherry, apple, dried fruits, tobacco, licorice, honey and walnut.


Marsala wine pairs wonderfully with some hard-to-match foods such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts and chocolate.

What Makes Marsala Unique

Marsala wine has a unique taste for two reasons: the use of only Sicilian indigenous grapes and a complex winemaking process. Making Marsala wine is complex:

  • Marsala is fortified with brandy or neutral grape spirit usually made with regional grapes.
  • A cooked grape must called ‘Mosto Cotto’ gives Amber Marsala its deep brown color.
  • A sweetened fortified wine called ‘Mistella’ is often blended, made from Grillo grapes.
  • High-end Marsala wines employ a special aging system called Soleras.

The Common Styles of Marsala Wine

Marsala wine is split up into different styles based on the type of grapes used (white or mostly red) and the winemaking method. You’ll discover that most Marsala made for cooking is Fino or Fine Marsala which is actually the lowest quality level of the wine.

Marsala Wine and Cooking

Here are a couple of things to know about Marsala wine in cooking:

Dry Marsala

Is typically used for savory entrées where it adds a nutty flavor and caramelization to beef tenderloin, mushrooms, turkey and veal.

Sweet Marsala

Is typically used to make very sweet and viscous sauces. You’ll commonly find it used in desserts such as zabaglioneand main dishes with chicken or pork loin.

You can substitute Dry Marsala for Sweet Marsala ingredients, but generally not the other way around. Keep a dry Marsala on hand if you’d like more versatility.


Typically, the entry-level quality Marsala wines are best for cooking –a $10 bottle will last you quite a while. Use a ‘Fine’ or ‘Superiore’ Marsala in either the Gold (oro) or Amber (ambra) styles. Some recipes call for Ruby (rubino) Marsala, but this is rare.


The best substitute for Marsala wine is Madeira because of the similar taste profile. If you can’t find Madeira either, you might try simmering 1 part brandy with 2 parts white wine, brown sugar and a touch of salt.


Marsala wine will stay fresh open for about a month. If you’d like to keep it longer, put it in a cool dark place and remove the oxygen before putting on the lid by using a can of wine preserver.