Ingredients in the Raw: Marsala Wine

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marsala wine, home chef, pantone

Marsala hit Prom Queen-level popularity in ‘15, when Pantone named it “Color of the Year,” but it’s too classic to be called a trend. Marsala wine has been an Italian kitchen staple since way before your grandparents were walking twelve miles to school, uphill both ways. Read on to learn why Marsala has SO much more to offer than a pretty hue.


Show N’ Tell (Or Don’t)

Marsala wine is named for its town of origin in Western Sicily (the little Island getting kicked by the pointy toe of Italy’s boot). British traders brought the wine back to England with them around the late 18th century.

More than a century later, Marsala was an ideal choice for Prohibition-era Americans because the traditional Marsala bottle resembled American medicine bottles, making Marsala easier to smuggle than more immediately recognizable alcohols.

Flavor Profile

If you’re a wine connoisseur, then you might say Marsala wine is composed of a bouquet of tamarind, tobacco, vanilla, apricot, and licorice notes.

If you’re a fellow member of the $8 wine club (respect), then you can just say that Marsala ranges from dry to sweet. Pale gold-colored Oro Marsala sits at the dry end of the spectrum and is used for savory dishes such as beef tenderloin. Deep reddish Rubino Marsala holds it down for the sweet wines and reduces down to a delicious sauce for desserts or sweet entrees like Chicken Marsala.

What to Look For

If you want Marsala mainly for cooking, then stick with Fine Marsala. “Fine” does not refer to the color (as with “Oro” and “Rubino”), but to the age–these wines are just a year old. While their lack of maturity makes these wines too low-brow for the at-home sommelier, young Marsalas work great for cooking, as their flavors intensify during the reduction process.

Reduce It?

I know, I know, it sounds fancy. I promise, reductions are a snap. Simply simmer the wine over the stove, until the mixture becomes thicker and more flavorful. Voilà! Reduction.

You’ll usually be incorporating Marsala into a sauce. For example, in Chicken Marsala, you add olive oil, mushrooms, and garlic to the meat drippings from the chicken after the chicken has been removed from the pan. Then use Marsala to deglaze the pan, stir in some butter, and mix everything together into saucy goodness.

Savin’ It for a Rainy Day

We use Marsala primarily as a cooking spice, but it is still very much a wine, so you can store it in a cool dry place like the pantry–no refrigeration required. An opened bottle of Marsala will hold its flavors for several months before it starts to get stale.

Build the Pantone Plate of the Year

Okay, so that’s not actually a Pantone award…but it should be! Marsala sauce is far too tasty to settle for painting your bookshelf purplish-red and saying you gave the trend a try. Experience Marsala the way it was meant to be experienced on this week’s menu, like our Chicken Marsala, which features this ruby treasure.