It maybe the sun, the people the passion or the sea, but I love Sicily and everything Sicilian - I wasn’t born there - and it maybe for the same reasons that Sicily produces great wine. Sicilian wine is not about the cheap Nero d’Avola or Grillo that supermarkets and shops are full of, growing grapes in a region with 360 days of sun, is pretty simple, anyone can do it, but making great wine is much more complicated.
I recently visited Marsala, a beautiful city located along the coast on the western most part of Sicily, a city with plenty of history and famous for giving the name to the Marsala wine, a fortified wine produced with grapes grown in the area. During my short stay, I ate seafood, I could eat seafood and fish all day everyday, and tasted plenty of wine, but the real revelation, the hidden gem, was the Marsala wine in its several versions.
Until my visit, I always considered Marsala to be just a cooking wine like many others, never considered it to be a proper wine, but after this visit, not only I changed my mind but I actually fell in love with the wine, good Marsala wines are capable of pairing not only cheeses and desserts or being used for cooking, but also meat and fish: considering Marsala just a cooking wine is an understatement and offence to the wine.
The Marsala wine is a fortified wine, an appellation - and was one of the first wines to be granted the DOC status, the first in Sicily - made of different wines depending on the grapes used and the ageing, but also the wine making process and residual sugars.
The first differentiation is between Marsala wine made with white grape varieties, such as grillo
the mains, called Marsala Oro and Ambra, and Marsala made with red grape varieties including nero d’avola
, nerello mascalese
and pignatello, called Marsala Rubino.
Marsala wines are then divided based on the ageing, and the different labels are:
• Marsala Fine
: aged for one year of which 8 months in barrels. Alchool content above 17° and it is available in all types, Oro, Ambra and Rubino.
• Marsala Superiore
: aged for 2 years in barrels and the alcohol content is equal or above 18°
• Marsala Superiore Riserva
: aged for 4 years in barrels and minimum alcohol content of 18°
• Marsala Vergine, “Soleras”
: aged for 5 years in barrels and minimum alcohol content of 18°
• Marsala Vergine, “Soleras” stravecchio o Riserva
: this is the best and rarest Marsala and it is aged for 10 years or more.
The word “soleras” in the label of the Marsala Vergine only indicates the method followed to produce the wine. Soleras is a method originally imported from Spain where it was used in the sherry production that consists in creating a vertical line of barrels. The Solera method consists in filling the top row of barrels, and each year partially empty them into the barrels below whilst topping them up with new vintage wine.
The last classification for Marsala is based on the residual sugars, it divides the wines into dry, semi dry and sweet.
Marsala can be considered a timeless, perpetual fortified wine made over several vintages. The vintage indicated in a bottle of Marsala only refers to the vintage of the first wine used.
During my stay I tasted dozens of Marsala wines, some good, some bad and some very good, paired with food or used as a cocktail ingredient, and every time I was left surprised. Not only Marsala can and should be considered like a proper wine even from wine buffs, but a good Marsala has many layers and can take the food to an entirely new dimension. Check out our fortified wine page to discover all Marsala
wines we import.