If you’ve decided to make the iconic dish of chicken marsala, you’ve likely discovered that the recipe calls for marsala wine. This fortified wine from Italy is a mandatory ingredient for making this dish authentically.
But how long does it last? That’s the question most people want to know.
Because most likely, you stop by the supermarket and grab a bottle to make chicken marsala for a special meal. And then that bottle sits for a bit and you wonder if you can still use it. Can you even drink it?
There’s a lot you should know about marsala wine. And once you know, you’ll be able to put it to good use both in cooking applications and by sipping it from one of your favorite glasses.
How Long Does Marsala Wine Last?
Marsala wine is fortified which means it will last indefinitely when not opened. Once opened though, the best flavors are 4 to 6 months after that. It will not spoil, but it will not have the same fragrance or flavor it once had.
So, you have time to use that marsala wine! If your bottle is beyond 6 months past being opened, you may want to cook with it rather than try to sip it though.
What is Marsala Wine?
This fortified wine is made near the town of the same name which is on the island of Sicily. They use local white grape varietals to make Marsala. Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia, and Damaschino are the grapes they pick for this process, however, it can also feature red grapes in the mix.
And as is the case with any fortified wine out there, marsala wine is the same in that it uses a distilled spirit. For marsala specifically, that spirit is typically brandy.
Marsala is mainly used as a dry and semi-dry wine for cooking. Premium, high-quality versions of marsala make for excellent sweet wines that you can serve as an aperitif to prime your appetite.
You can also enjoy it after your indulgent meal, perhaps after having chicken marsala!
Interestingly, this wine you may have hanging out in your kitchen cabinets is classified based on its color and how long it has been aged. The same goes for the price too.
There’s a range of marsala styles and as such, the flavors can be quite unique. Some are more prone to nutty notes and brown sugar flavors while others feature the taste of honey, licorice, and dried fruits.
Since it is a fortified wine, marsala gives you more alcohol than your regular glass of wine.
Perhaps you should pour yourself a glass after a rough day to calm your nerves instead for it usually has about 15% to 20% ABV.
By comparison, most other wines have roughly 12% alcohol. When served for drinking, marsala is often served in much smaller portions because of the alcohol content.
But buyer beware…if you bought marsala wine at your supermarket, you may want to dust off the label and take a look.
The Italian government’s DOC has regulations in place for calling wines and wine products “Marsala” and states that they cannot do so unless they are produced in that specific Marsala region.
If it came from anywhere other than Sicily, it’s not the real deal.
When marsala wine is made, the fermentation process starts once the grapes have all been harvested and crushed.
Winemakers will choose between making it sweet or dry and thus, the addition of brandy will be added, disrupting the fermentation.
Should they fortify that wine before the fermentation process finishes, there will be more sugar and more of a sweet wine. Adding it after fermentation results in lower sugar content, and a drier wine.
How long does marsala cooking wine last after opening?
Because it is fortified, marsala wine keeps quite well after you open the bottle. It will be at its best for 4 to 6 months once you open it up, but it’s not going to turn into a rotten mess if you leave it for longer. It may change in flavor and aroma though.
It won’t do you any good to put it in the refrigerator either. It should be stored in a cool and dry place, like your pantry or kitchen cabinets in a similar way as you keep olive oil and vinegar.
While it won’t necessarily go “bad” per se, you may not want to cook with or drink your marsala wine in certain cases.
If the odor nearly bowls you over, it looks strange, or the flavor makes you gag, it’s best to throw it away and get a new bottle.
But if you have a bottle of Marsala wine in your cabinet that you haven’t yet opened, even if it has been a while, it should still be fine.
Can you drink marsala wine?
Yes, and maybe that’s the best news of all. There are different types of marsala wine that vary in sweetness. They are classified by color and age.
Here are some of the types of marsala wine you’ll find:
- Secco – With less than 40g of sugar in every liter, Secco wins as the driest marsala.
- Semi-Secco – It’s not quite as dry as Secco. It has about 50g of sugar.
- Dolce – Now, this one is sweet. It has over 100g of sugar.
Now, let’s move on to the color, something else that matters with marsala wine. You’ll see different colors, and you should know what they mean:
- Amber – Marsala which is amber is made from white grapes. It will have a flavor of dried fruit and nuts.
- Ruby – Ruby red marsala gets its color from different red grape varietals. These can be Perricone, Pignatello, and Nerello Mascalese. You’ll find it welcoming with a fruity fragrance and a flavor to match. It also boasts a higher tannin content thanks to the red grapes.
- Gold – Made with white grapes, you’ll love this richly-golden marsala that will give you delicious flavors like licorice, vanilla, and hazelnut.
The last way that Marsala wine is classified is by age. The younger wines are usually used for cooking, however, those older bottles are really the best ones to enjoy sipping. Try them before or after your meal to discover the flavors.
Fine marsala wine is aged for at least one year. If you see “Superiore” on the bottle, it has been aged for a minimum of 2 years, however, it will not be designated for anything aged over 3 years.
Then there’s “Superiore Riserva” which is aged 4 to 6 years; Soleras or Vergine, aged for 5 to 7 years; and finally, Stravecchio, which ages for a minimum of 10 years and has no added sugar.
Best ways to use marsala wine
In cooking, most people are familiar with chicken marsala. You may also see veal marsala on menus too. Making these dishes with Marsala wine will turn out quite an impressive meal.
But there are other ways to incorporate it into your cooking if you get creative. Think pork chops or penne with mushrooms marsala, for example.
Do you use dry or sweet marsala when cooking? That depends on what you’re making. Dry marsala is ideal for making savory meals.
In this way, it can add a nutty flavor and help caramelize things like beef tenderloin, veal, turkey medallions, or humble and earthy mushrooms.
If you are crafting desserts, sweet marsala will be a better option. It’s also helpful for viscous sauces, like the one you know and love from chicken marsala.
You can substitute dry marsala for sweet marsala in most cases, but it so seldom works out well the other way around.
For versatility, dry marsala is best to have in your kitchen when cooking. And when simply cooking with marsala you should pick something a bit entry-level.
The stuff that costs about $10 is just fine for this so grab something with “Fine” or “Superiore” on the bottle with a Gold or Amber color. Not many recipes request Ruby, so Gold and Amber are the best.
What if you don’t have Marsala wine and there’s no time to order it or run to the store? You can use Madeira as it tastes a bit similar. And if that’s not in your liquor cabinet, you can grab brandy, white wine, brown sugar, and salt.
You’ll put one part of the brandy with 2 parts of the white wine combined with the brown sugar and just a hint of salt, and that should help recreate the taste.
However, you’re likely more curious about drinking it, aren’t you?
After all, cooking with Marsala wine is easy. You simply pour it in. How do you taste marsala wine the way it’s meant to be enjoyed though?
The next time you invite friends or family over, you may want to surprise them with marsala in your culinary creations, and in their glasses. Here’s how!
How to drink marsala wine
Like any other wine, there’s a key to enjoying marsala wine for its unique flavor experience.
The general wine temperature suggestions for serving marsala will help you maximize your enjoyment of it. For dry marsala varieties, it will taste best when chilled at 55 to 60F.
This will allow it to express its crisp and fresh flavor. Sweet marsala is much better when served at room temperature.
You can serve it slightly cooler than that, but don’t serve it chilled.
– Proper marsala pairings
If you want to serve your marsala wine with something sweet, Secco and Semi-Secco are the perfect choices.
They are delicious with fresh fruits and pastries. However, they also make a versatile pairing for savory items like parmesan cheese, blue cheese, nuts, and olives.
For something that is truly dessert-worthy with the pairings, you will love Dolce Marsala. Anything with chocolate is an astounding match for the palate.
And naturally, Italian tiramisu is one of the most exceptional items you can pair this sweet marsala wine with for splendid harmony.
Yes, the glass you drink marsala out of, or any wine for that matter, makes a big difference in taste. The shape of the glass will affect how wine vapor rises up. Therefore, the shape impacts your tasting experience.
That said, a small port glass or a brandy snifter is the right vessel for your sweeter marsala wines.
Anything that has a narrow mouth will minimize that vapor evaporation and keep those aromas concentrated so you’ll get the maximum enjoyment out of your marsala.
Dry marsala wines can be poured into the standard white wine glass. Even a sparkling wine glass will work.
It needs to allow you enough room in the glass to swirl. You should swirl dry marsala wines in your glass so that they can open up, breathe, and release that wonderful aroma as you raise it to your lips to take that first sip.
For drier Marsala wines, standard white wine or sparkling wine glasses will do.
Just make sure that whatever you serve it in, you allow yourself enough glass space to swirl. Doing so will allow the wine to breathe and release its fragrance before you take your first sip.
Marsala wine lasts for a long time when the bottle is unopened. Once it is opened, it needs to be kept in a cabinet, not in the refrigerator. It will be fine for up to 6 months, though after that, it will lose the special flavors and aromas it once had.
If you buy a marsala wine for cooking, you should stick to the dry variety for more versatility. Even still, give it a sniff and a taste before cooking with it.
While it won’t make you sick to ingest marsala wine past its prime, it won’t win you any flavor contests with your meals.
When trying marsala wine as a drink, buy a good quality and aim to use it up before it loses its luster.
Serving it before or after a meal, especially an Italian feast, will make things all the more authentic!