History of Marsala Wine

A little bit of history regarding "Marsala Wine"

At the centre of an extended area, generally known as “ the belt of the sun”, which goes from Portugal to Greece, grapes fortunately raise in a peculiar sheet of soil which has an ideal hot and dry climate during the day, due to winds blowing from Africa, but fresh at night as near the coast, these factors contribute to give very fine aromas to the our berries.

From ages, since the first inhabitants came to populate these lands, grapes in their courtyard and wine on the table always represented something of very important for them.

Now days Marsala wine should be considered as the result of many events, as for example the intuition of brilliant business men who have been able to let others know of a hidden treasure.

The English have been the first to casually discover this peculiar wine in 1773; John Woodhouse, a trader of soda ashes from Liverpool, was sailing along the Sicilian coast towards Mazara del Vallo but never got there as a storm made him enter the small harbour of Marsala.

Once in town he went to an inn and asked for their best wine. He immediately understood this particular taste could of have been very appreciated during the long afternoon conversations in the luxury lounges of his homeland, so he  bought 50 barrels of it, added a little brandy to avoid alterations along the way, and sent them to Liverpool to test the market.                                                                          

Fortunately what arrived, similar to Porto and Madeira, was so appreciated in England that Mr. Woodhouse was soon able to buy all the local country wine the poor farmers could sell him, then started building his own wine factories and even developing the port of Marsala with the great fortune he made.    

The cellars of Buckingham Palace still restock with Marsala Wine  …..as the great Admiral Nelson said …. “Marsala is fit for any gentleman’s mess”, it never has to miss on board of the British fleet.

Varieties of Marsala

Virgin Marsala is to be obtained exclusively with white berry grapes and only after fermentation is reinforced with alcohol of vine origin, it successfully has to mature according to the ”soleras” method to become:

  • Virgin Marsala (soleras) if matured at least 5 years in oak barrels
  • Reserve Virgin Marsala (soleras) if matured at least 10 years in oak barrels

Marsala conciato ( treated ) when added after fermentation of:

  • Alcohol
  • Cooked must, wich will modify the colour and aroma
  • Mistella or sifone that is a mix of musts obtained from over matured grapes, to increase the percent of sweetness and provide a kind of gentle aroma, alcohol is added to avoid added sugars to restart ulterior fermentation processes

Treated marsala also has to mature to become:

  • Marsala fine, at least one year in oak barrels
  • Marsala superiore, at least 2 years in oak barrels
  • Marsala superiore riserva, at least 4 years in oak barrels

Each of these different varieties are also be subdivided by colour:

  • Gold, if obtained from white berry grapes and no cooked must
  • Ambra, if obtained from white berry grapes and contains more than 1 % cooked must
  • Rubino, if obtained from black berry grapes blended with less than 30% white berry grapes and no cooked must

And by the percentage of sugars contained:

  • Secco (dry) - less than 40 grams per litre
  • Semisecco – with a percent of sugars between 41 and 99 grams per litre
  • Dolce (sweet) – more than 100 grams per