Shall we cook with Marsala, or drink it? Why not both?
Marsala was named “Color of the Year” by Pantone in 2015. The burgundy-color intrigued me enough to lead me to investigate its history. The abbreviated version from About.com follows:
Marsala wine is Italy's most famous version of fortified wine, hailing from Italy’s sunny southern region, Marsala is an ancient city on the coast of Sicily. Like its other fortified cousins, Port, Sherry and Madeira, Marsala is a higher alcohol fortified wine (usually around 17- 20%) that is available in both sweet or dry variations. While Marsala wine is often recognized more for its use in various cooking and culinary combinations than its sipping status, this has not always been the case.
During the early 1800s, England had a significant military contingent established in Marsala in response to Napolean and the French occupation of Italy. Consequently, as the British discovered the regional wine and wanted to ship it back to the homeland they employed the same strategy that they discovered for making Port in Portugal. This strategy basically consisted of adding a little grape brandy to the local still wine and voila you have a fortified wine that can endure the arduous adventure of ocean shipping without becoming unpalatable gut-rot in the process.
Marsala is crafted from local, indigenous white grapes – like Catarratto, Grillo (the most sought after grape for Marsala production) or the highly aromatic Inzolia grape. The ruby-colored Marsalas hail from any combination of three local red grape varietals. The fermentation of Marsala is halted by the addition of a grape brandy when the residual sugar content reaches the pre-determined levels according to the sweet/dry style the maker is shooting for. Similar to the solera system of blending various vintages of Sherry, Marsala often goes through a perpetuum system, where a series of vintage blending takes place.
Marsala is generally classified according to its , , and
· – made with white grapes.
· – made with white grapes.
· – made with red grapes, like Pignatello or Nerello Mascalese. (The Pantone color is based on this one! BBL)
· – designates a Marsala wine that is aged for a minimum of one year. This is a typical cooking wine classification.
· – refers to a Marsala wine that has spent up to three years in oak, but has a baseline minimum of two years in wood.
· – has a minimum requirement of four years in oak and some producers will give it up to six years. This really starts the Marsala tier that you would look for to use as either an aperitif or dessert foritified wine option.
· – has a minimum aging requirement of five years and may go up to seven years in oak.
· – as the name implies is a Marsala blend of multiple vintages, with a minimum of five years of aging.
· – aged a minimum of 10 years in oak.
The lowest aging classifications typically has the lowest alcohol content. For example, Marsala Fine is typically around 17% abv and the Superiore Riserva designation starts the alcohol content of 18%+ abv.
Like other wine sweet/dry designations, Marsala shares the terms: Dolce (sweet – typically denotes a residual sugar content of 100+ grams of sugar per liter), Semi Secco (semi-sweet/demi-sec – typically between 50-100 grams of sugar per liter) and Secco (dry – has a res. sugar content under the 40 grams per liter cut off). While Marsala is still known and loved as a cooking wine, in recent years the Italian wine designations have improved for this historic wine and as a result Marsala has been gaining quality ground and catching glimpses of its former glory in the form of both an acclaimed aperitif and dessert wine.
Smoked meats, walnuts, almonds, assorted olives and soft goat cheese are good options for a dry (secco) Marsala. Opt for chocolate-based desserts and Roquefort cheese for a sweeter Marsala wine pairing.
Florio, Lombardo, Marco De Bartoli, and Pelligrino
My friends, I'm including a delicious recipe for
Put thawed chicken breasts in a large ziploc bag and pound chicken into thinner portions with a mallet or rolling pin. Next, crush the croutons in another ziploc bag until they are fairly fine. Melt a half cup of butter in a saucepan with the crushed garlic clove. Then, dredge the chicken through the butter and place in the ziploc bag with the crushed croutons to thoroughly coat the chicken. Place the crouton crusted chicken into a shallow baking dish. Melt a little more butter and add a touch of olive oil to saute the mushrooms and add the sherry once the mushrooms get soft. Let it all simmer for another minute or so. Pour the sauteed mushroom mixture over the coated chicken breasts. Add salt and pepper and a dash of paprika if you like, and then bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Top with fresh parsley.
This dish is also EXCELLENT with chardonnay in place of Marsala or sherry if you prefer tangy over sweet sauce.