Marsala & Sherry

In this holiday season, people tend to cook more.  They especially tend to cook with things that they’ve never cooked with before like Sherry and Marsala.  Here is a little breakdown for when the question is raised…and it will be raised…about Marsala & Sherry.

Marsala is a fortified wine from Sicily. It is a DOC that is located on the western point of Sicily, just west and south of Palermo. It is normally sipped before or after a meal (depending on whether it is dry or sweet).  It can also be used IN the cooking of sauces.

Marsala has flavors growing from, sweet to dry, of apricot, vanilla tamarind, brown sugar and tobacco.

Marsala comes in 3 colors: Gold (dry), Amber (semi-sweet) or Ruby (Sweet).

There are 5 main quality levels:

  • Fine- aged 1 year
  • Superior- 2 years
  • Superior Reserve- 3 years
  • Virgin or Solera- 5 years
  • Virgin Stavecchio/ Reserve- 10+ years


You will probably see the first 2 on our shelves.  Anything aged over 3 years would be a waste of money to cook with.

As for cooking with Marsala: Dry Marsala is used for more savory dishes with mushrooms and spices. It adds a nutty flavor and caramelization to beef tenderloin.

Sweet Marsala is used for desserts and lighter proteins like pork and chicken.  You can substitute Dry Marsala for Sweet but not usually the other way around.

In the event that Marsala is out of stock, you can substitute Madeira.  If that can’t be found, you can simmer 1 part brandy with 2 parts white wine, brown sugar and a touch of salt.


Sherry is one of the oldest, most traditional and yet least- understood wines in the world.  There are styles of sherry that are bone-dry but also range up to cloyingly sweet.  Made in the Jerez Triangle in southeastern Spain. The grapes are grown in a super harsh environment where is blazing hot in the summer and frigid cold in the winter.  The soils are rich in chalk and minerals that is called Albariza and also in soil with a high clay content called Barros.

The styles of sherry depend on how they are vinified, where they are made, the development of a yeast blanket called ‘flor’, and aging.

The Alcohol level of sherries ranges between 15% and 20% depending on the sweetness.


Fino- the driest and most saline style of Sherry.  Finos are made from Palomino grapes that are highly acidic from the Albariza soils.  These are tank fermented and their development depends on the formation of the yeast blanket ‘flor’ to keep the wine from oxidation.  Usually, 15-16% alcohol, best served chilled.  Not good for cooking.  Great with salty snacks like peanuts, potato chips, and cured olives.

Manzanilla- This style is made solely in the coastal town of Sanlucar de Barrameda.  They are as dry as a fino and age under flor, but because they are near the ocean, they are lighter and more saline.  Great with raw seafood.

Amontillado- If you are an Edgar Allan Poe fan, you will remember a fun story about a man being lured into his tomb by the offer of some Amontillado, because it is that delicious..muhahaha…well, in my opinion, it is.

Amontillado is what happens when the flor fails.  Because of the contact with air inside of the barrels, this wine has a nutty, rich umami (think mushrooms) flavors that are deliciously complex and would haunt your dreams and want to follow the promise of this sip into certain death.  Also good with pork, rabbit or pheasant.

Oloroso- If Amontillado is an accident when the flor fails, Oloroso is intentionally made to oxidize (sweeten). The alcohol level is around 18-19%.  These wines are rich and can withstand decades in a barrel.

Palo Cortado- This is the amazing accident sherry.  It starts under flor, which fails, but somehow gains a rich complexity that is rarely duplicated twice.  This sort of sherry is usually enjoyed by itself.

Cream/ Pedro Ximenez:

These are the sweet sherries that your grandma enjoys.  The grape is Pedro Ximenez (pay-dro Chee-men-ez) and these are aged to concentrate the sugars to a dark brown and to the viscosity of motor oil.  Sounds weird but they are luxury in a glass.  Mmmmmm drool…

I hope this is helpful.  Remember, January comes closer with each day…keep your eye on the prize!

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