Definition - What does Marsala mean?

Marsala is a fortified dry or sweet wine produced in Marsala, Italy, located in the western section of Sicily. Produced using white grape varieties, Marsala has an alcohol content of 15-20% and is classified by both sweetness and color. The three levels of sweetness are:

  • Sweet, with at least 100 grams of residual sugar per liter
  • Semi sweet, with at least 41 to 100 grams of residual sugar per liter
  • Dry, with a maximum of 41 grams of residual sugar per liter

Color classifications include gold, amber and ruby and are an indication of the quality and aging of the wine.

WineFrog explains Marsala

Marsala has been made in Italy for hundreds of years but only received protection under the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) in 1969. Fortified wines became popular and necessary to preserve wines for transportation on long sea voyages during the 1700’s. The addition of distilled alcohol to wines proved to not only preserve the flavors of the wine, but also to boost the alcohol.

Marsala is made using indigenous grapes from Sicily and a rather complex and involved winemaking process. The first step to making Marsala is to make a base wine, which is then fortified with brandy or a distilled regionally produced wine, at this point the wine is fortified, but it isn't Marsala. The fortified wine becomes Marsala with the addition of Mosto Cotto and Mitella. Mosto Cotto is a cooked must, which gives the Marsala a deep caramel color and the Mitella adds sweetness, flavor and additional alcohol. Depending on the type of Marsala being made, the wine will be aged for anywhere from 6 months to a decade or longer. How long the Marsala is aged determines whether it is labelled as:

  • Fine - aged 1 year
  • Superiore - aged 2 years
  • Superiore Riserva - aged 4+ years

Traditionally served between the courses of a meal as an aperitif, Marsala is popular in cooking, as a dessert wine or as a drink on it’s own. Marsala flavors vary depending the the type you are drinking, but they have signature characteristics of honeyed fruits, vanilla and tobacco, with aged Marsala’s developing nuances of tropical fruit, stone fruit and apple.

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