Marsala is produced in the northwest corner of Sicily using indigenous grape varieties - Grillo being most coveted. After being fortified with distilled spirits and aged like sherry, Marsala becomes ready for consumption.
John Woodhouse was responsible for propelling it to international renown as an English merchant during 1773 when he persuaded victuallers to serve it to admirals at Trafalgar battlefront.
Marsala wine, originally originating in Sicily's Marsala region, is a fortified white wine typically produced using three local grape varieties (Grillo, Cataratto and Inzolia) blended together and fortified using either grape must boiled down with brandy (mosto cotto) or wine juice fermented until fermentation has stopped with brandy - traditionally this process took place under Solera-style barrel aging conditions.
John Woodhouse, a wealthy soda ash trader, created Marsala wine during the 1700s as an anti-shipping beverage to be taken aboard long sea voyages. To help ensure its survival he added brandy for added resilience.
Marsala first rose to fame during the 1800s and its export market helped make it Europe's most significant fortified wine. But due to changing habits and fashions in Europe during the 20th century, Marsala began falling out of favor - thus prompting producers to revive it by returning to traditional production methods.
Marsala wine comes in many styles and hues, from deep golden-hued to light amber hues. Grape varieties used vary according to region; all wines produced under this designation have been fortified with grape spirit to enhance alcohol content and ensure long sea voyages.
Similar to Sherry and Port, fortified wines aged in barrels until their maturity is suitable for export. Prior to Woodhouse arriving in Sicily in the 1700s, growers had long since developed an array of indigenous varieties used to craft vino perpetuo or everlasting wine; this wine style involved fortifying it using mosto cotto and sifone (mistelle), fortifying it further, then aging it for several years in casks.
Marsala became the go-to fortified wine of England during the 1800s and was even served on Her Majesty's ships - even Admiral Nelson used it as a toast after winning Trafalgar!
Methods of production
Marsala is a fortified wine, meaning that distilled grape spirit has been added to increase its alcoholic strength and lengthen shelf life. Like Sherry and Port wines, Marsala often matures over decades in barrel fermentation before being blended together. Growers have access to up to 10 varieties of indigenous Sicilian grapes when producing this wine, along with various techniques of ageing such as barrel fermentation.
Wine has an assortment of hues and is classified according to its sugar content; dry varieties (secco) typically have no more than 40 grams per liter of residual sugar while sweet wines called dolce have as much as 100 g per l. Further classifications depend on how long a wine has been aged from fine, superior reserve and solera stravecchio to virgin or solera stravecchio wines; in their finest examples Marsala wines offer complex aromas and tastes of nuts, dried fruit and licorice flavors in one sip!
Marsala DOC wines are distinguished by the presence of nut and dried fruit aromas. Their sweetness can range from dry (secco) to sweet (dolce). To produce them, white wines are fortified with various amounts of Mosto Cotto grape juice concentrate - giving these wines their signature caramel and burnt sugar flavors.
English traders introduced fortifications into the region during the late 18th century as they searched for ways to protect wine on long sea voyages. It quickly caught on among British sailors and has become associated with naval tradition since Admiral Nelson won at Trafalgar.
Today's Marsala wines come in all styles and hues; younger wines tend to be golden while those aged longer develop an amber or even tawny hue. Some producers even age their Marsala with Solera techniques similar to Sherry for an even richer experience with an aroma full of nuts, dried fruits and caramel flavors.