How Long Does Marsala Wine Last?

January 18, 2024
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Explore Marsala wines, Sicily's renowned fortified wine. This in-depth guide provides insights into its rich history and flavour profile, crafted from local grapes and aged in oak barrels, reflecting Sicily's winemaking traditions.

Learn about preserving Marsala wine, focusing on optimal storage conditions to maintain its quality. Understand how to detect spoilage through changes in aroma, taste, or appearance.

Marsala's culinary uses are also highlighted in the guide, showcasing its ability to enhance both sweet and savoury dishes. Tips are provided for cooking enthusiasts of all levels.

The guide concludes with advice on enjoying Marsala wine, including serving temperatures and pairing ideas. Discover the joys of storing, tasting, and cooking with this Sicilian classic.

What Is Marsala Wine?

Marsala wine, originating from its namesake town on the west coast of Sicily, is one of the most renowned fortified wines, with a rich history and a distinct flavour profile. The Italian government's Denominazione di Origine Controllata ("DOC") regulates the use of the term "Marsala" for wine produced in the Marsala region. It's worth noting that some wines denoted as Marsala (especially the cheaper versions available at local grocery stores) are not real Marsala wines. If you want to be sure, look for bottles of marsala wine with the distinct DOCG banderole around the neck.

Marsala wine is made from various native grapes and is known for its unique production process and resultant taste characteristics.

The uniqueness of Marsala wine stems from two key aspects: the exclusive use of indigenous Sicilian grapes and a complex winemaking process. This process includes fortification with brandy or a neutral grape spirit, often derived from regional grapes, and the addition of 'Mosto Cotto', a cooked grape must that imparts a caramel flavor to the wine. Some high-end Marsala wines also incorporate a sweetened fortified wine called 'Mistella', made from Grillo grapes, and are aged using a special system called Soleras​.

Marsala wines are classified by colour, sweetness, and age. There are three main colour types: Oro (Gold), Ambra (Amber), and Rubino (Ruby). Oro is made from white grape varieties and has a golden hue with flavours of apricot, vanilla, and brown sugar. Ambra, also from white grapes, gets its darker colour and flavours of dried fruit, honey, and almonds from the addition of "mosto cotto" (translates from Italian as cooked must). Rubino is a newer style, made from red grape varieties like Perricone, Nerello Mascalese, and Nero d'Avola, and has a ruby colour with flavours of cherries, plums, and licorice​.

In terms of sweetness, Marsala wines can be Secco (Dry), with less than 40 grams of sugar per litre; Semi-Secco (Semi-sweet), with 50 to 100 grams of residual sugar per litre; or Dolce (Sweet), with more than 100 grams of sugar per litre. The aging process also plays a significant role in the wine's flavour. Aged Marsala wines, particularly those that have matured for ten years or more, develop a depth and complexity with layers of dried fruits, spices, and sometimes caramel or toffee notes​. You can learn more about the different profiles of Marsala in our Marsala in-depth profile.

Marsala's rich history is intertwined with its production techniques and global spread. In the late 18th century, English entrepreneurs played a significant role in enhancing the production and worldwide distribution of Marsala. Over the years, the wine has seen periods of fluctuating quality, with traditional methods sometimes being modified for faster production. However, many fine producers today strive to return to older, quality-focused practices​​​.

With its blend of spicy, ripe, herbaceous, and sometimes salty flavours, Marsala offers a unique tasting experience that reflects its Mediterranean origins and the influence of the sea breezes on its maturation. Whether enjoyed on its own or used in cooking, Marsala wine remains a testament to the rich winemaking heritage of Sicily.

How to Store Marsala Wine Properly?

Storing Marsala wine properly involves a few simple yet essential steps to ensure it remains delightful.

  1. Keep It Cool: Imagine your Marsala wine loves a chill, consistent environment akin to a calm autumn day. A steady temperature, ideally around 55°F (13°C), is perfect. Avoid places where the temperature might dance up and down, as this can spoil the wine's delicate balance​.
  2. Away from the Sunlight: Light, especially the bright, sunny kind or harsh indoor lighting, isn't Marsala wine's best friend. It prefers the mystery of the dark to maintain its taste and character. So, tucking it away in a dark spot is your best bet​.
  3. Balancing Humidity: The cork in your Marsala wine bottle is like a tiny gatekeeper. Keeping it in an environment that's not too moist and not too dry (think 60-70% humidity) helps the cork stay in perfect shape, effectively sealing the wine's quality inside​​​.
  4. Horizontal Resting: Like lounging on a hammock, Marsala wine bottles prefer to lie on their sides. This position keeps the cork moist and well-sealed, preventing air from getting in and affecting the wine​​​.
  5. Post-Opening Chill: After opening, Marsala wine enjoys a cool retreat in the refrigerator. This helps preserve its inviting flavours for your next pour. Remember to seal it snugly to keep air out, as air is the nemesis of freshness​​​.
  6. Stability is Key: A tranquil, vibration-free zone is ideal for storing your Marsala. This ensures the wine can rest undisturbed, preserving its flavours and qualities​.
  7. Guard Against Air: Once opened, it's crucial to minimize the wine's exposure to air. Tools like a wine stopper or a vacuum pump can be lifesavers, helping to maintain the wine's freshness for a longer time​​​.
  8. Now, which are the best places to store a Marsala wine? Although one of the first locations that comes to mind is a wine cellar, there are other alternatives, such as a wine fridge or a wine rack, if you don´t have the space (or the money) to have your own wine cellar.

Following these guidelines will help you treasure your Marsala wine, keeping it as enjoyable as the day you got it.

How Long Does Marsala Wine Last?

Well, to give you an answer, it is key to take into account different aspects:

  • Style: Fine, Superiore, Vergine
  • Date of Opening: When was the bottle opened?
  • Storage Conditions: Is the bottle refrigerated or sealed after opening?

Unopened Marsala Wine

If you keep your bottle of Marsala wine unopened, then it can last indefinitely until you decide to open it. However, keep in mind that over a period of between 2 and 6 years, your Marsala may begin to lose some of its characteristics.

Opened Marsala Wine

Storing opened marsala wine means that your Marsala will not last forever. How long you can keep it before it starts to lose its characteristics will depend on the style of Marsala and the storage conditions.

  • Fine/Secco Marsala: After opening, it can last up to 6 months if refrigerated and sealed properly​.
  • Superiore/Vecchio Marsala: This variety can last up to 1 year post-opening under the right storage conditions​.
  • Vergine/Soleras Marsala: The most resilient of the styles, it can remain good for up to 3 years after opening, especially if stored in a refrigerator with minimal air exposure​​​.

Factors Affecting Longevity

  • Storage Conditions: Consistent and appropriate storage conditions are key. Keeping Marsala in a cool, dark place, ideally in a wine fridge, helps prolong its life​.
  • Refrigeration: Refrigerating Marsala wine after opening slows down the oxidation process, preserving the quality and taste​​​.
  • Sealing: Using a wine stopper or vacuum pump to reseal an opened bottle of Marsala can extend its shelf life by minimizing air exposure​​​.

Marsala's ability to last, especially when properly cared for, makes it a practical and enjoyable choice for both immediate consumption and longer

Does Marsala Wine Go Bad?

If you ever made yourself this question, then the short answer is yes, Marsala wine can go bad. Bellow, we will give you a few tips to understand if a particular Marsala wine has gone bad or not.

How do you know when Marsala Wine has gone bad?

When it comes to assessing the quality of your Marsala wine, there are some straightforward and sensible indicators to consider:

  1. Aroma Examination: Trust your sense of smell. If the wine gives off an unpleasant or sour odour reminiscent of vinegar, it's a clear warning sign. Marsala wine should have a rich and inviting aroma, so any off-putting scent should raise concerns.
  2. Visual Inspection: Take a close look at your wine. If it looks different from its usual state, especially if it appears cloudy or contains visible particles, that's a reason for caution. Additionally, Marsala wine typically boasts a distinct richness in colour. It may have passed its prime if it appears unusually dark or exhibits peculiar hues.
  3. Taste Assessment: If you're feeling adventurous, take a small sip. If the wine lacks the sweet, nutty flavour profile typical of Marsala and instead tastes bitter or unusual, it's likely not in good condition.
  4. Presence of Mold or Sediment: This one is straightforward. If you spot mold or excessive sediment in the bottle, it's time to bid farewell to that Marsala.

These practical guidelines should help you avoid a disappointing wine experience. Remember that while Marsala wine is robust, it can still deteriorate. If you notice any of these signs, it's best to exercise caution and refrain from using it.

How Can I Use Marsala Wines When Cooking?

Marsala wine, a fortified wine from Sicily, Italy, is renowned for one of its most common uses: as a cooking wine. Marsala bottles come in three main sweetness levels: Secco (Dry), Semi-Secco (Semi-sweet), and Dolce (Sweet), with each type offering distinct flavours suitable for various dishes​​​.

Usage in Cooking

  • Savoury Dishes: A dry Marsala wine is the best option for savoury entrées, where it imparts a nutty flavour and aids in caramelization. It's particularly effective in dishes with beef tenderloin, mushrooms, turkey, veal or even in chicken marsala. Dry Marsala is often recommended for most savoury dishes due to its ability to enhance flavours without overpowering them.
  • Desserts: Sweet Marsala is ideal for creating sweet and viscous sauces, commonly found in desserts like zabaglione, a classic Italian dessert made with egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. This type of Marsala adds a sweet, nutty flavour, making it a perfect complement to desserts. It can also be used in baking, to infuse cakes with its rich flavours, or to make dessert sauces like toffee or caramel​.
  • Wine Pairings: Marsala wine pairs well with a variety of foods. A dry Marsala makes an excellent aperitif with appetizers such as smoked meats and olives, while a sweet Marsala is a great match for chocolate-based pastries and cheese like Roquefort​.

Selecting Marsala for Cooking

  • When choosing Marsala for cooking, it's usually best to opt for an entry-level quality, like a 'Fine' or 'Superiore' Marsala. These are aged for 1 to 3 years and are available in gold (oro) or amber (ambra) styles. For more versatility in cooking, dry Marsala is generally recommended​.
  • If Marsala wine is unavailable, Madeira wine can serve as a suitable substitute due to its similar taste profile. Alternatively, a combination of brandy, white wine, brown sugar, and a touch of salt can mimic Marsala's flavour.

Cooking Tips

Never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink. The flavour of the wine is essential in the dish, and low-quality wine can negatively affect the taste​.

Marsala wine's unique taste comes from indigenous Sicilian grapes and a complex winemaking process involving fortification with brandy and a blend of sweetened fortified wine​.

In conclusion, Marsala wine's distinct flavour profiles, ranging from nutty and caramelized in dry varieties to sweet and rich in sweet varieties, make it an invaluable ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes. Its ability to add depth and complexity to a wide range of recipes highlights its indispensability in the culinary world.

Tasting and enjoying Marsala wine, a versatile and historic fortified wine from Sicily, Italy, can be a delightful experience. Here are some basic tips to enhance your enjoyment of Marsala wines:

Understanding Marsala Types and Styles

Marsala wines come in various types based on colour, sweetness, and age, each offering unique flavours. These are the terms that will appear on your Marsala wine label that will give you a hint about the style of a particular Marsala:

  • Colour Variations: Oro (Gold), Ambra (Amber), and Rubino (Ruby), with Oro being golden, Ambra having a darker hue due to cooked grape must, and Rubino being made primarily from red grapes​​​.
  • Sweetness Levels: Secco (Dry), Semi-secco (Semi-sweet), and Dolce (Sweet). Dry Marsala is usually enjoyed as an aperitif, semi-sweet Marsala pairs well with main courses or desserts, and sweet Marsala is typically served as a dessert wine​​​.
  • Age Categories: Fine (aged at least one year), Superiore (two to three years), Superiore Riserva (four to six years), Vergine or Soleras (five to seven years), and Stravecchio (ten or more years)​​​​​​.

Understanding the concept

Tasting Notes

Marsala wines offer a broad spectrum of flavours and aromas influenced by their style:

  • Fine Marsala: Exhibits vibrant and fresh characters with notes like fresh apple, pear, citrus, dried fruits, caramel, and honey​.
  • Superiore and Riserva: These older Marsalas have deeper flavour profiles, including vanilla, toasted nuts, dried fruits, tobacco, and dark chocolate​.

Proper Serving

  • Glassware: The shape of the glass can influence the taste and smell of the wine. Sweet Marsalas are best served in smaller port glasses, while dry varieties are better in standard white or sparkling wine glasses​.
  • Serving Temperature: Serve dry Marsala, slightly chilled (around 15°C), and sweet Marsala at room temperature to enhance their flavours.

Enjoyment Beyond Cooking

While Marsala is often used in cooking, it's also a delightful wine to sip. The complexity and rich history of Marsala make it an interesting subject for wine enthusiasts. Whether used as a cooking ingredient or enjoyed as a dessert wine, its versatility and rich flavour profile make Marsala a unique and enjoyable wine​.

Exploring Marsala wines can be a journey into a rich world of flavours, aromas, and history, offering a unique taste of Italy with every sip.

Final Thougths

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, this in-depth guide on the longevity of Marsala wine highlights its distinctive Sicilian heritage and quality preservation. We've emphasized the importance of correct storage, including maintaining the ideal temperature, protecting from light, and controlling humidity to extend its lifespan.

Understanding the signs of spoilage is key to enjoying Marsala at its best. Its culinary versatility, enhancing sweet and savoury dishes, adds appeal to its appeal. Our tips on tasting and enjoyment, from serving temperatures to pairing suggestions, enrich the experience of this exquisite wine.

As we wrap up, it's clear that with proper care and knowledge, Marsala wine can be a lasting and versatile addition to your collection, offering a unique journey into Sicilian flavours and culinary delights.