Italy – Sicily, Marsala Wine

Food Wine Cook Visits Sicily, Italy 

A Street in Marsala, Sicily

Sicily’s wines were some of the most famous wines of the ancient world and admired by both the Greeks and Romans. Now, Sicily has taken the lead in winemaking. Today, in Sicily wine producers are determined to live up to the admiration of the Greeks and Romans and bring the consumer premium quality Sicilian wine.

Did you know that Sicily has more vineyards than any other Italian region, 140000 hectares and of these 23000 hectares are registered DOC plots. A major portion of the DOC is represented by Marsala wine. However, in Sicily, the emphasis has shifted from quantity to quality, so recently wine production has decreased a bit and is slightly less than the Veneto wine region.

Marsala is Sicily’s most well known wine. It is a DOC wine and it is made principally from grillo and cattarratto bianco grapes which are grown on the plains and low hills of Sicily’s Trapano province. Marsala is a fortified wine that was invented by an Englishman. In the 1770′s John Woodhouse was convinced that with the market for warming wines like Port, cream Sherry and Madiera in Britain, it would open the market for a fortified Italian wine, and so he invented Marsala in Sicily. Marsala was successful and several large Marsala wineries were built. They made money and continue to prosper.

Marsala Wine Barrels

However, over the next two centuries the quality of Marsala dropped. People were using it mainly for cooking. My wife’s family came from Campania and Marsala wine was a staple in all kitchens. She told me that her Mom would whip up egg yolks, sugar and Marsala to fortify her and her siblings before they left for school. So much for being “bright eyed and busy tailed”. I enjoyed many meals she cooked with the wine including Veal Marsala. Let’s not leave out my father-in-law enjoying his shot of Marsala with desert. Zabaione, one of the world’s great desserts was created with Marsala. It was always a favorite at my father’s midtown New York restaurant.

Recently, Marsala has made a comeback among connoisseurs who prefer the dry Marsala Vergine and Superiore Riserva

Old Marsala Bottles

 ranked among the finest fortified wines of Europe. Marsala comes in three colors, golden, amber and ruby (rare) and each type is made in three levels of sweetness fairly dry, slightly sweet or very sweet. In each level there is a pecking order based on the aging of the wine. Fine Marsala is aged one year; superiore aged two years, superiore riserva aged four years, vergine aged five years and vergine stravecchio aged ten years.

The other DOC wine made in considerable quantity is the pale, white, very dry Bianco d’ Alcamo which is part of the broader Alcamo appellation. This appellation includes Moscato di Pantelleria a renowned dessert wine.

Pollo Agro Dolce, Chicken Sweet and Sour

 Alcamo wines include Malvasia della Lipari wine, which in an exquisite rare wine. It is from the volcanic island of Lipari and is made from Malvasia grapes.

Here are three informal recipes I love: My first recipe is veal Scaloppine alla Marsala, a dish I have made many, many times. Take 6 to 8 thin slices of veal scaloppine, flour and brown them on both sides in hot oil, be careful. Discard the oil. For 6 to 8 pieces of veal scaloppine add a tablespoon of butter to the pan and bring to a sizzle, add about 1/3 cup of dry Marsala and reduce by half. Add about 1/3 cup of chicken broth and reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. If you wish, you can cook sliced mushrooms with the veal.

Sweet and Sour Chicken – I created this for a special Sicilian friend of mine, don’t ask. Allow two or three chicken tenders per person, flour and brown on both sides in hot oil. If you wish add a little butter and add sliced mushrooms and sliced red and yellow peppers. As the peppers and mushrooms begin to cook add medium, moderately sweet Marsala wine. For 6 to 8 pieces add about 1/3 cup Marsala. Reduce wine by 1/2 its volume and add about 1/3 cup of chicken broth and reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.

1952 Camillo Making Classic Zabaione

Classic Zabaione- This is one of the worlds greatest all time sweets of which chefs have made various versions. For the classic that you may have enjoyed in upscale Italian Restaurants take egg yolks, for each egg yolk use 1 teaspoon of sugar and a half an egg shell of sweet Marsala placing all in a bowl. With a wire whip and elbow grease, place the bowl of zabaione ingredients over a pot with low simmering water, be careful. Whip the ingredients until they form custard. Be careful not to scramble the eggs. Pour into a serving dish. If you wish it can be served over berries or any sweet you like. Betty always loved it over Beignet Soufflé. For more recipes go to Food Wine Italian.

In our next blog we will continue with the wines of Sicily.