Sweet Marsala pairs best with biscotti, cake, apple pie, dark chocolate, trail mix, tiramisu, and Zabaglione.  Meanwhile, dry Marsala pairs best with almonds, anchovies, goat cheese, nuts, olives, asparagus, sardines, and smoked meat.

Marsala is a fortified wine made in Sicily and features flavours of vanilla, caramel, smoke, toffee, figs, and apricot. Similar to sherry, Marsala ranges from dry to sweet. In Sicily, many homeowners cook with Marsala using sweeter styles to add brown sugar and nutty flavours to desserts and dry styles to add nutty and savoury flavours to sauces.

Styles of Marsala:

  • Fine (aged for min 1 year and meant for cooking)
  • Superior or Superiore (aged for min 2 years)
  • Superior Reserve or Superiore Riserva (aged for at least 4 years) Also known as Giaribaldi Dolce (GD), London Pride (LP) or Superior Old Marsala (SOM)
  • Virgin or Vergine (aged for at least five years and always dry)
  • Virgin Solera or Vergine Solera (aged for at least five years and consists of multiple vintages and always dry)
  • Stravecciho (aged for at least ten years and features dense flavours)

As barrel ageing goes up, so does the cost and the flavour profile.  More ageing also allows for more interesting food pairings.  The Virgin styles of Marsala should be pointed out as they feature interesting flavours of morello cherry, dried fruit, honey, apple and walnut.

Marsala Colours

Marsala comes in three different colours: gold, ruby, and amber. Amber and gold are made with white grapes (Catarratto Bianco, Dasmaschino, Grillo, Inzolia), while ruby is made with two red grapes called Pignatello or Nerello Mascalese.  The colour of Marsala alters the flavour profile of the fortified wine.

  • Amber or Ambra Marsala is sweeter than the other colours and features dried fruit and a nutty almond flavour.
  • Gold or Oro Marsala has a rich golden hue and delivers lush flavours of raisin, vanilla, hazelnuts and licorice.
  • Rubino Marsala or Ruby is fruit-forward and has a tannic edge making it more suitable for protein-based dishes such as smoked meats, seafood stew or goat cheese.

Sweetness Levels

  • Dry Marsala (or secco) is often served as an Aperitif between the first and second course of a meal.
  • Off-Dry Marsala is served with food and is also known as Semisecco or SemiSweet
  • Sweet Marsala (Dolce) is a Dessert Wine and pairs best weith sweeter foods.
  • Cremevo (Cremevo Zabaione Vino Aromatizzato), or Marsala Speciali is a flavoured wine made with 80% Marsala and various other ingredients like coffee and eggs

Marsala wine is strong and has an alcohol level between 18% and 20%. Pour two or three-ounce pouring as a little Marsala goes a long way!  Don’t be too stingy either, as this fortified wine only lasts a couple months after opening.

You also want to serve Marsala slightly chilled at cellar temperature but not refrigerator cold as the coldness will mute its nutty and rich flavours.

Finally, always ensure your Marsala is made in Sicily. There are many knockoffs out there from other regions that will not do this fortified wine any justice. Should you not be able to find Marsala, Madeira is an acceptable substitute.

Best Food with Marsala

Marsala, SweetApple Pie
Marsala, SweetZabaglione
Marsala, SweetPecan Pie
Marsala, SweetTiramisu
Marsala, SweetHeavy Chocolate Cake
Marsala, Off-DrySeafood Stew
Marsala, DryBrussel Sprouts
Marsala, Off-DrySmoked Salmon
Marsala, SweetKhao Niaow Ma Muang
Marsala, Off-DryVeal Marsala
Marsala, DryAlmonds
Marsala MistellaMr. Goodbar
Marsala, SweetFiadone
Marsala, DryChicken Marsala
Marsala, Off-DryAnchovies
Marsala, Off-DryPecorino Cheese
Marsala, SweetGorgonzola Cheese
Marsala, DryAsparagus
Marsala, Off-DryGoat Cheese
Marsala, Off-DryConsommé
Marsala, DrySardines
Marsala, Off-DryBacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts
Marsala, Off-DryTrout Smoked
Marsala, SweetCustard Desserts
Marsala, SweetCake
Marsala, SweetBiscotti
Marsala, SweetFigs
Marsala, SweetChocolate
Marsala, SweetRicotta Cheese
Marsala, SweetCupcakes

Sweet Marsala & Tiramisu Pairing

Tiramisu features layers of biscuits soaked in coffee, covered with a mascarpone-based cream, and sprinkled with unsweetened cocoa powder.  Often, recipes for Tiramisu call for Marsala to be used in the cream layers, so you know you’re in for a good pairing as the wine will mirror many of the flavours found in your Tiramisu.

With notes of dried fruit, walnut, brown sugar and honey, sweet Marsala adds additional nutty and lush flavours to this classic Italian dessert.  While bold in flavour, the sweet Marsala should not overwhelm the dessert unless you go for a Stravecciho, which has been aged for ten years.  My suggestion is to stay away from Fino, and stick to a Superior or Superior Reserve for the perfect sweet spot.

Sweet Marsala and Apple Pie

Marsala pairs well with apple pie as nuts and apple are a legendary combination.  Thus, when you add the nutty flavours of sweet Marsala to a slice of apple pie, this delicious fortified wine imparts a nutty and caramel sweetness to each bite of apple pie.  Sweet Marsala also complements the apple pie in that it shares flavours of apple, apricot, caramel, raisin and toffee, which are natural pairings with apple.

If the highlight of your Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner is warm apple pie, you’ll look further to it even more with a glass of Marsala by your side.

Off-Dry Marsala and Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts are often brushed with a mixture of brown sugar and ketchup, which mesh perfectly with the brown sugar and toffee flavours of an Off-Dry Marsala.  Meanwhile, the smoky flavours of bacon complement the smoky flavours in Marsala.  Finally, the almond and walnut flavours waltz nicely with the water chestnut flavours.

Off-Dry means that the Marsala is only slight sweet, so it comes across more as being nutty and savoury, but with a kiss of sweetness to keep you refreshed.  You could go with a dry Marsala as well, but I find it too briny and oxidative to match the sweet and savoury flavours of this appetizer.

Off-Dry Marsala & Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala features a savoury mushroom, onion, herb, garlic, cream, and wine sauce drizzled over chicken. Because the dish created with Marsala, it’s only natural that the best partner would be a glass of off-dry Marsala.

If you’re using Fine Marsala for the cooking process, I would recommend upgrading to a Superiore Marsala or higher.  Fine Marsala should only be used for cooking, while Superior will deliver much more flavour and intrigue to your meal.

For similar reasons, an off-dry Marsala makes a wonderful pairing with Veal Marsala.

Dry Marsala & Olives

While Sweet Marsala is perfect for ending a meal, dry Marsala is perfect for kicking one off.  Dry Marsala can be enjoyed as an aperitif, or enjoyed with olives, smoked meats or antipasto.

Dry Marsala has a briny, oxidative flavour that mingles nicely with the dry, salty and bitter flavours of the Olives.  The bone dry weight of Marsala holds up to many intense and strong flavoured foods where most wines fail. This also includes asparagus, anchovies, sardines, capers and brussels sprouts.