Marsala

Why You Should Try Marsala Wine for your next Aperitivo

If I say Marsala what do you think of? A town, a colour, a wine? And if you think about Marsala wine, is that a wine you would order for your aperitivo? My husband and I were in Marsala last July and I warn you: what you will find out in this post will possibly change your life  […]

Marsala

Marsala is a charming town on the West side of Sicily just at few kilometres outside Trapani and it is still fairly unknown to mass tourism. Some of you may know Marsala as a dessert wine and while reading this you are thinking: who on earth would choose to drink it!

I grew up with the same idea as you. My mother always had a bottle of Marsala in her kitchen. She never dared to offer it to any of our guests, but she did put it into my birthday cakes. If there was a list of childhood traumas, this would be in it. For this reason I was always surprised of the fame of this wine, at least by name.

The Pantone Color Institute, for example, honoured Marsala wine by naming a distinct warm shade of Bordeaux with a chestnut undertone after it. You might even have chosen it for the colour palette of your living room.

The truth is, I never knew what Marsala wine actually is, let alone how pleasing it could be to the palate until I drove to the town that gives its name to it.

The town

Another bias – if you want – related to Marsala,  was to think that the East Sicilian cost was better than the West coast. That made our trip to Marsala even more surprising. Expect to see vast vineyards stretching to the sea, uncanny watermelon fields and romantic salt ponds enclosing a cute town drenched in history. Then add a marvellous food tradition and lots of hip places where to enjoy wine and you start understanding its potential.

Watermelon field
Watermelon field.
Salt ponds north of Marsala.
Marsala
One of the gates of the historical centre of Marsala.

Although World War II irreversibly damaged several sites, Marsala still shows off a captivating mixture of beautiful baroque buildings and a soft Arab atmosphere. It is priceless to join the locals for their routine evening strolls. Walking up and down the main streets and getting lost in the tinier ones, we reached an unexpected square with a fountain and the beautiful facade of Chiesa del Purgatorio.

Chiesa del Purgatorio, Marsala.

In this perfect corner we sat down on the terrace of Ciacco Putia Gourmet because the place looked promising and the menu mouth watering. We were hungry and curious. The time for ordering Marsala wine for our aperitivo had finally arrived!

APERITIVO WITH MARSALA WINE

Marsala
Me studying the menu at Ciacco Putia Gourmet.

Marsala wine occupied a separate and extensive menu with even an informative picture showing all the different shades of Marsala, from pale yellow to deep bordeaux.

We let the decision of the aperitivo in the hands of the waitress who approached us in the meantime. As Marsala virgins, she advised us to start with a semi-dry Marsala. My husband, however decided otherwise. Since he is not very fond of sweet he went for a dry Marsala. The waitress also encouraged us to pair our wines with soft burrata and anchovies. We both happily agreed.

Those two glasses of Marsala were the first we ever drank, but not the last of the evening. My semi-dry Marsala was indeed much sweeter than the dry one, but still a world away from the flat and syrupy wine of my memories. For the second round I too, ordered a dry Marsala. And that was the exact moment I realised that I did not know a thing about Marsala. Something in that glass reminded me of Cognac. Wood notes, cigar box and dried fruits persisted in my mouth long after each sip.

Marsala
A glass of Marsala wine by Ciacco Putia Gourmet in Marsala.

WHERE TO GET A GOOD MARSALA WINE

And it is with this aftertaste still in the back of my mind that I dare you to try a glass of Marsala for your next aperitivo. If you see a bottle of dry Marsala wine by Cantina Florio or Cantina Pellegrino, order a glass and pair it with a piece of parmigiano or anchovies. If you are more the dessert wine type, go for a semi-dry and almond biscuits like cantucci.

Unfortunately there is a small chance that this would happen to you. To find a good Marsala wine in a bar anywhere outside the town of Marsala is almost impossible. Even within Sicily itself. Following the fate of other similar fortified wines like Port and Sherry, Marsala struggles, already for decades, to find its rightful place in the world market. And the bad reputation of Marsala as cooking wine does not help either.

Looking at the bright side, this could be for you just another wonderful reason to go and visit Marsala. As for me, that was a good enough reason.


WHERE TO STAY

Villa Belfiore: panoramic villa just outside Marsala, with a lush garden and relaxing terraces overlooking vineyards as well as the sea.


©photos Giulia Lattanzio & Derrick de Ruiter 

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