Marsala is a wine produced in the region surrounding the Italian city of Marsala in Sicily. Marsala wine first received Denominazione di origine controllata, or DOC, status in 1969.
While the city's natives sometimes drink "vintage" Marsala, the wine produced for export is universally a fortified wine similar to Port. Originally, Marsala wine was fortified with alcohol to ensure that it would last long ocean voyages, but now it is made that way because of its popularity in foreign markets.
The most creditable version of the introduction of Marsala fortified wine to a wider range of consumers is attributed to the English trader John Woodhouse. In 1773, Woodhouse landed at the port of Marsala and discovered the local wine produced in the region, which was aged in wooden casks and tasted similar to Spanish and Portuguese fortified wines then popular in England. Fortified Marsala wine was, and is, made using a process called in perpetuum, which is similar to the solera system used to produce Sherry in Jerez, Spain.
Woodhouse recognized that the in perpetuum process raised the alcohol level and alcoholic taste of this wine while also preserving these characteristics during long distance sea travel. Woodhouse further believed that fortified Marsala wine would be popular in England. Marsala wine indeed proved so successful that Woodhouse returned to Sicily and, in 1796, began the mass production and commercialization of Marsala wine.
Florio purchased Woodhouse's firm, among others, in the late 19th century and consolidated the Marsala wine industry. Florio and Pellegrino remain the leading producers of Marsala wine today.
Characteristics and types
Marsala is produced using the Grillo, Inzolia, and Catarratto white grape varietals, among others.
Marsala contains about 15-20% alcohol by volume. Different Marsala wines are classified according to their color, sweetness and the duration of their aging. The three levels of sweetness are secco (with a maximum 40 grams of residual sugar per liter), semisecco' (41-100 g/l) and sweet (over 100 g/l). The color and aging classifications are as follows:
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