Marsala wine has been popular as a dessert wine or aperitif for almost two and one half centuries. As a fortified wine, brandy was first added to the Sicilian wine so that it would be able to weather the long sea voyage through the Mediterranean, around the Iberian Peninsula and on to the port of Liverpool in England. Although wine from the area of Marsala had been enjoyed since the time of the Phoenicians, its transformation into the present wine came about as an accident…
It was a dark and stormy night, when in the early 1770s, a storm forced the ship of John Woodhouse to land in the port at Marsala. Rather than continue on his voyage, he decided to load his brig with the local wine. During the voyage back to England, he added small quantities of alcohol to preserve the wine. This was the regular practice with Port and Sherry. The wine arrived and was sold for a huge profit. He later set up his own winery in Marsala to produce the precious wine. The British Royal Navy became a big client and the wine was found among the cellars of the royal family in England. Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson described the wine as “worthy of any gentleman’s table.”
In 1833, the first Italian Marsala producer, Vincenzo Florio, entered the business and built an impressive winery, whose historic cellars may still be visited today.
When Garibaldi’s troops landed in Sicily to unify the country, two Royal Navy warships were stationed in the port of Marsala. Some say that the ships were there to protect his passage, others say that the ships were there to make sure that nothing happened to the wineries. When Garibaldi marched into Palermo he was offered Marsala wine, which still to this day is known as Marsala G.D. (Garibaldi dolce).
Today, Marsala wine is classified depending upon its color, sweetness and age, with variants that range from sweet to very dry. The driest and most prized Marsala is classified as vergine. It pairs very well with sharp cheeses and nuts and it is excellent for use in cooking. There is no mistaking the character of true Marsala wine.