What is Marsala Wine

Marsala Wine

Marsala wine is a type of wine similar to port or sherry. It is said the a English gentleman by the name of John Woodhouse, who, upon a trading trip in 1773, found himself in Marsala, Sicily and “discovered” the people of the region making the thick wine. The reality is less of a British discovery (who love to take credit for everything discovered in the 18th century), and more of a shared wine making process with folks in Spain and Portugal via the trade routes of the Mediterranean. I have no proof for this, but I’d rather the Sicilians get credit for Marsala than a British trader.

Woodhouse did recognize the commercial possibilities of the wine, and set up the wine making process and made a fair amount of money importing it into Great Britain.

For a long while, Marsala was seen in equal light as Sherry and Madeira but something happened along the way (namely shoddy winemaking), and by the mid 20th century the wine was seen more as a cooking wine than a drinking one.

In 1986, the Italian laws for Marsala production were revised to incorporate stricter regulations similar to those that the Portuguese government instituted for Port and predictably the quality improved and people are drinking the wine as a dessert or aperitif wine.

Marsala is made the following way:

First, a keg is put down. Subsequent years with similar tastes are placed in kegs above the first. When liquid is drawn out of the bottom keg, it is refreshed with liquid from the next keg up, and so on. In this manner, the taste remains the same throughout the cycle, and every bottle you get has (potentially) some liquid from the very first vintage.

I’m presuming the brand you see in the picture above is the mass-produced version of Marsala, and better Marsalas can be had from smaller wineries (and for larger wads of cash).

Today’s Marsala is made in three different forms:

  • oro (golden)
  • ambra (amber)
  • rubino (ruby)

All forms come in both sweet and dry types, and various categories determined by age. “Fine” Marsala is aged for a minimum of one year. “Superiore” is aged for a minimum of two years. “Superiore Riserva” (often simply “Riserva”) is a vintage wine aged in wood for four years.
“Vergine” is aged in wood for a minimum of five years although some firms age it in small oak casks for as long as seven years.

I’m not overwhelmed (or even whelmed) by the Florio moniker, and I am looking to find a better Winery from which to set my wine baseline. I will most assuredly report my findings.

Technorati Tags: Drink, Wine, Sicilian Wines


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