Marsala is a fortified Sicilian wine that can be made in various shaker-friendly forms. It’s a great alternative to vermouth and so much more.
Marsala is a fortified Sicilian wine that can be used to make various dishes. However, it could be a more popular choice in cooking. Marsala comes in a variety of styles, from bone-dry to lusciously sugary. Bartenders use it to add layers to cocktails.
What is Marsala?
Marsala has been produced in the town of its name in Sicily for centuries from a mixture of grapes, usually Grillo Inzolia Catarratto. The wine is aged using Perpetuum, which is similar to the Solera System for Sherry.
Marsala can be used in a variety of dishes. The drier styles can add depth and complexity to savory dishes with herbs, while the luscious ones are perfect for desserts such as zabaglione – an airy custard made from sugar, egg yolks, and Marsala. It’s finally given its due as the secret weapon of the back bar.
Jessica “Rabbit King,” owner of Brother Wolf and Osteria Stella in Knoxville, Tennessee, says Marsala is not a fortified wine. Marsala’s nutty undertones and cooked fruit flavors could quickly propel it to the top of the cocktail world.
Dry to Sweet
Hank Bowers, beverage manager of Versus, Washington, D.C., who owns Ciel Social Club, Heist, Casta’s Rum Bar, and Morris American Bar, says the sugar content in the Marsala bottle determines its character. He says that the rich almond flavor is present in a dryer Marsala. It’s an excellent way to add acidity to a cocktail. Sweeter Marsalas are rich in caramel, butterscotch, toffee, and other flavors in dessert wines. More adorable styles are great for pairing with equally lovely ingredients or to counteract the bitterness of digestion. Bowers uses Marsala to make Bourbon and Rum cocktails. He swaps all or half of the vermouth out in other drinks. For example, in his El Presidente with aged rum variation, he uses dry Marsala in a 2:1 proportion.
How to Mix Cocktails with Marsala
Roberto Magnisi thinks Marsala should be treated as vermouth when mixed with spirits. The Marsala Manhattan is a perfect example of this. In addition to smooth Irish whiskey, his favorite recipe includes Angostura Bitters. Marsala is best expressed in citrus-based drinks like a Marsala Sour. He describes it as “consistent” and having a “perfect texture.” However, his favorite way to use it is as a replacement for vodka in Bloody Marys.
Cantine Florio was founded in 1833. Today, the winery produces a variety of Marsala DOC varietals, such as Vergine, fortified with grape-based brandy and not must, dry, semi-dry, and sweet. He notes that each wine has a unique character depending on its aging, the interaction between the sea and the cellar in different parts, and the wood used to make the barrels.
Magnesium continues to state that Marsala is a great way to innovate the category. The increased alcohol content gives it a liquor-like body and intensity while retaining wine’s aromas. You should avoid the low-grade “Marsala Cooking Wine” found in the vinegar aisle at your local grocery store, regardless of style or brand. Get some real stuff and start cooking that chicken dish with a poultry base. While it simmers, mix up a Marsala Tini.
Marsala Cocktail Recipes
Recipe provided by Jessica “Rabbit King,” owner and operator of Brother Wolf + Osteria Stella in Knoxville, Tennessee
She says that Marsala, like vermouth, is available in sweet or dry versions, which makes it a natural substitute for vermouth when making mixed drinks, such as the Negroni. The rich, buttery taste of vanilla and brown sugar in a high-quality Marsala complements the bitterness of an Italian red bitter Aperitivo.
1 oz. Malfy Rosa Gin
1 oz. 2018 Florio VecchioFlorio Marsala
1 oz. Etna Bitter
Use grapefruit peel as a garnish
Mix the first three ingredients in a mixing cup. Add ice and stir until diluted and perfectly cooled. Pour into a chilled rock glass or on ice, and add a grapefruit slice.
Recipe by Hank Bowers, beverage director, Versus, Washington, D.C.
He says that he has seen Marsala added to cocktails in the same way as other fortified wines. “Marsala brings caramel, nuttiness and slight acidity to a cocktail.” His version of El Presidente replaces half of the sweet vermouth in the classic with dry Marsala and cuts grenadine with blood orange juice.
1 1/2 oz. Plantation 3-Star Rum
1/2 oz. Florio Dry Marsala
1/4 oz. Carpano Bianco
1/2 oz. Blood orange grenadine: equal parts of blood orange juice and grenadine.
1/4 oz. orange liqueur
Bloody Mary Marsala
Recipe from Cantine Florio
The smooth and nutty Marsala compliments the bright, acidic tomato juice for a fresh take on an old favorite, says Cantine Florio’s brand ambassador Federico Cassini.
1 1/2 oz. VecchioFlorio Dry Marsala Superi ore
1/2 oz. Lemon juice
Four oz. tomato juice
Three dashes of Tabasco sauce
Ten dashes of Worcestershire sauce
For garnish, lemon wedges, and celery stalks
Mix the first five ingredients in a tall, ice-filled glass. Stir well and garnish with a lemon wedge and celery stem.