Marsala: Fortified Wines
This is one of the major fortified wines of the world, although it has fallen slightly out of fashion in recent times. It is made in and around Marsala, in the south of Sicily, and was evolved, in its present form, by John Woodhouse of Liverpool, who began exporting it from Marsala in 1773. Further refinements were introduced in its production by Sir Benhamin Ingham, a little after Woodhouse, and by Whitaker, his descendant. There are several large establishments making this wine in Marsala, as well as the three with the English-sounding names: all of the last today are under the control of Florio, founded in 1833, which belongs to Cinzano.
Marsala is rather a complex wine. It is first made as all wine is made, then small amounts of sweet concentrated sifone (see mistelle) with brandy are added and vino cotto, so called because it is heated concentrate. These are blended and matured in a solera system (the Marsala pipe is 93 gallons or 423 litres), like sherry. All fine Marsala is matured for some time; the type described as vergine must be at least 5 years old. Although all Marsala is full in character, some exceptional wines are actually quite dry, but of course it is the sweet type that is used for the making of zabaglione.
Dry Marsala can be served like dry Madeira or white port, as an aperitif, or with certain first courses such as antipasto. The sweeter wines are for serving with dessert or for enjoying by themselves. Marsala all’uovo is enriched with egg yolk; there are also Marsalas flavoured with almonds, coffee, chocolate, banana, strawberry or mandarin, although these are usually only found in Italian communities.
Marsala is associated with Garibaldi, because he landed at this port before the great march on Rome, and also with Nelson, who ordered 500 pipes of the wine in 1800 for his fleet. The letter of contract with John Woodhouse, showing Nelson’s signature with his left hand, is still in existence.