Marsala is a liqueur wine with a Controlled Denomination of Origin, born in the homonymous municipality and produced in the province of Trapani; to be precise, this typical Sicilian product was the FIRST Italian wine to gain this legislative recognition (DOC - from 1969).
There are different types of Marsala, obtained with different blends and equally discrepant methods. The heterogeneity of the production processes provides for its differentiation into Marsala Vergine and Marsala Conciato, which are in turn separated into various subtypes.
Marsala is made from both white berries (vines: Grillo, Catarratto, Ansonica, Damaschino) and red berries (vines: Perricone, Calabrese, Nerello Mascarese).
The different Marsalas are then produced in clear, composed of single grapes or blends of various white berries, and in dark, composed of blends of red grapes and white grapes (maximum 30%).
The viticulture for Marsala is granted in "vertical" (for example in espalier) and the sapling system is recommended; on the other hand, the "horizontal" system is prohibited. With the sapling method, the plants are kept low (20-100cm) by pruning; this system prepares itself in an excellent manner for the production of Marsala, since it allows (reducing the vegetative portion) to concentrate the energy (and above all the water) of the plant for a fruitful purpose. In this way it is NOT "almost" never necessary to use irrigation (granted only in the case of aid) and it is possible to return comfortably within the production limits imposed by current legislation: 10 t / ha for white vines and 9 t / ha for the black ones. In exceptional years, the redundant grapes (properly sorted) CANNOT exceed the aforementioned limits by 20%.
The sugar and alcohol content of Marsala are typically given by the nature of the grapes, which are produced in an extremely arid climate and, for the Conciato * types, by the addition of other ingredients that we will see in the next paragraph.
In Short: Types of Marsala, Differences and Important Details
Referring to the production specification of the denomination of controlled origin of Marsala wine, the types available on the market are: Fine, Superiore, Superiore Riserva, Vergine or Soleras, Vergine Riserva or Soleras Riserva and Vergine Stravecchio or Soleras Stravecchio.
The Marsala colors are Gold (white), Amber (white) and Ruby (red).
For the production of the various types of Marsala the additions of:
- Must properly or partially fermented
- Siphon (cooked must or mistelle, with the addition of ethyl alcohol of viticultural origin or brandy)
In Marsala Fine and Superiore, both in Gold and Ruby, the use of cooked must is prohibited; in Amber (Fine and Superior), although granted, this must not exceed 1%.
In the case of Marsala Vergine, however, the use of cooked must, concentrated must or siphon is prohibited.
The alcohol content of the various Marsala is between 17.5 and 18.0% Vol., Depending on the type; they are variable: "the minimum non-reducing extract", "the gradation in natural sugars", "the minimum total acidity", "the volatile acidity" and the "degree of aging". According to the sugar degree, the Marsala are divided into: Secco (100g / l).
The presence of oxy-methyl-furfural deriving from the aging processes is allowed, which (after the first 4 months) take place exclusively in fine wood barrels (better oak or cherry).
The maturation of Marsala is a very important discriminant and is applied above all to the Virgo type (at least 5 years), while for the Conciato it is lower (it never exceeds 4 years).
Fundamental aspects in the analysis of Marsala wine
The tasting temperature of the Marsala is often the subject of discussion; probably the optimum point is around 15 ° C, so that the acid component is not excessively highlighted and the sugary component does not become too important.
Nutritional values (per 100 g of edible portion)
However, this is an extremely variable parameter, also based on the level of aging.
The visual examination of Marsala, due to the different production techniques, can highlight a wide range of colors and transparencies; in particular, the use of the siphon causes a certain browning of the wine, as well as aging and the consequent oxidation.
From an olfactory point of view, Marsala has complex, rich and intense aromas. It is not an immediate wine, therefore it makes use of numerous gastronomic combinations and is also suitable for consumption on its own; in particular, in the tasting of the ripe Virgin it is also indicated the use of distillate glasses.
To the taste, Marsala has the typical pseudo-caloric scent caused by the noticeable alcohol content; it is therefore appropriate that the wine also boasts a good acid, sweet and astringent component, and that the taster does not allow himself to be too distracted by the first characteristic described.
Marsala is a fortified wine rich in alcohol and simple sugars. The limit to its consumption must be assessed in the cumulation to other ethyl drinks but, overall, it must never exceed 1 or 2 alcoholic units per day. The use of Marsala is not recommended for subjects: young, overweight, dyslipidemic, hypertensive and diabetic.
Birth of Marsala - the Intervention of the English
Marsala, despite being a typically Sicilian wine, owes its complexity to the methodological refinement of the English people.
Since ancient times, Marsala was the subject of trade and diffusion by sea by the Phoenicians; however, only from the second half of the XVIII AD, with the intervention of British textile traders, there was a real qualitative and commercial turning point for the Trapani wine.
In particular, John Woodhouse, also known as Old John (1730-1813), was responsible for revisiting the Marsala production cycle, as well as the subsequent international distribution.
He began making wine from an old tuna trap used as a warehouse; already from the beginning of the XIX century AD, with the "Continental Block" of Napoleon and the consequent reinforcement of the English troops on the Sicilian island, Woodhouse started a sales business with the compatriots. However, the product was hardly storable, which is why the merchant studied the system to increase its stability over time by adding ethyl alcohol. The first experiment was carried out in 1776 through the addition of Rhum; the cargo was destined for the mother country and the outcome was satisfactory. However, the comparison with similar Portuguese and Spanish wines was not yet in favor of Marsala.
Only with the commercial affirmation of the Woodhouses and the consequent emulation by many other British entrepreneurs, the Marsala began its take-off; only in 1833 was the first Italian foundation of a specialized winery, that of Vincenzo Florio.
Subsequently two different phases were then distinguished in the production cycle, namely the addition of Rhum or Brandy, and tanning (with the use of cooked must and siphon).
- Production Regulations of the Denomination of Controlled Origin of Marsala wine: //www.vitevino.it/
- Comparing Marsala: //www.diwinetaste.com
- An English wine in the heart of the Mediterranean - Origins and Characteristics of Marsala: //ler.letras.up.pt/uploads/ficheiros/9754.pdf