Every recipe includes a combination of ingredients to turn it into a tasty meal. Some of the most delicious dishes, both savory and sweet, require unusual ingredients such as Marsala wine.
A favorite Italian-American dish, Chicken Marsala with its creamy mushroom sauce, would not be the same without its core ingredient, Marsala wine. Or, how about the Traditional Italian Tiramisu dessert that is absolutely divine when you use Marsala wine as one of its ingredients?
Marsala wine can be found in many dishes and has been used for years as a cooking wine in many kitchens around the world. But, what happens when you can’t find a bottle of Marsala in your local store the next time you want to make your decadent Tiramisu? Or, one of your guests is a teetotaler and you have to substitute this ingredient with something non-alcoholic?
The quest to finding a substitute for Marsala wine while keeping your dish tasting sublime may seem challenging.
But, to save you the angst, we’ve done the research and come up with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic substitutions for Marsala wine.
This way you can still serve your popular dish that calls for Marsala but instead, you’re using a substitute ingredient that gives the same flavor as this distinctive wine.
What is Marsala Wine?
Marsala wine is produced in the Sicilian region of Italy. It’s named after an Italian town called Marsala which sits on the border of this wine-producing region.
This drink is a fortified wine, similar to Sherry or Madeira, that has been used for years as a cooking wine. It can also be enjoyed as a drink, with or without a meal. Both dry and sweet Marsala can be found in liquor stores, supermarkets, and wine clubs worldwide.
A true Marsala that has been produced in Sicily has tantalising flavors such as stewed apricot, brown sugar, hints of vanilla, and tamarind.
Wine connoisseurs also pick up notes of smoky tobacco or oak when sipping this wine. These distinctive flavors are what make recipes such as Chicken Marsala taste so delectable when adding this wine as one of the ingredients.
Some of the best Marsala wines include nuances of licorice, dried fruits, Morella cherry, honey, apple, and walnuts.
This fortified wine is made out of local white grape varietals such as Damaschino, Grillo, Inzolia, and Catarrattto. Red grapes are sometimes added to the blend and all Marsala wines are fortified with brandy or another neutral distilled spirit.
What Makes Marsala Different to Other Wines?
Besides its delicious, distinctive flavors produced by white grapes indigenous to the Sicilian region, Marsala is different to other wines because of the following reasons:
- Top-quality Marsala wine undergoes a unique aging process known as solera. This is a labor-intensive process which requires aging the wine over a long period of time.
- Sweeter Marsala wines are commonly blended with the Grillo grape.
- The amber coloring is a result of the cooked grape must called “Mosto Cotto”.
- Brandy or another distilled spirit made with grapes in the same region is used to fortify Marsala wine.
The production of Marsala is a complex process resulting in a unique wine loved by chefs and wine drinkers around the world.
What You Need to Know About Marsala Wine When Cooking
There are a variety of Marsala wine styles available based on the type of grapes used and the method of winemaking. This wine can range from being dry to semi-sweet to sweet. It also comes in 3 different colors being gold, red, and amber.
When opened, Marsala wine can last for up to a month before losing its most distinctive flavors. However, it must always be stored in a dark, cool place to preserve its original quality.
Dry Marsala gives you more versatility in the kitchen. It’s also best used as an ingredient for savory starters, and dishes that include mushrooms, veal, turkey, and beef tenderloin. This wine imparts a nutty flavor to these dishes while caramelizing the meal.
Sweet Marsala can also be used in the abovementioned dishes as well as for chicken and pork loin. However, it’s ideal for many sweet recipes such as Tiramisu or chocolate mousse that call for this wine to be used as an ingredient. While sweet Marsala can substitute dry Marsala, it’s not a good idea to replace the sweet wine with the drier option in dessert recipes.
Most chefs are happy to use entry-level Marsala wine for cooking purposes. This wine type is often called Fino, Superiore, or Fine Marsala. These come in Gold or Amber color. Some recipes may call for Ruby Marsala but this is not common.
Marsala Wine Substitute
Marsala wine is used in many Italian dishes as well as American dishes such as Chicken Marsala, Veal Marsala, and risottos. It’s a popular addition to creamy sauces used to compliment many meat dishes. This fortified wine is also used in many sweet desserts and cakes.
Because of its unique flavors, you may be wondering how to replace Marsala wine with something else without losing out on the dish’s signature taste. However, there are a range of Marsala wine substitutes available which will work just as well when you suddenly discover this ingredient is not in your kitchen!
Alcoholic Substitutes for Marsala Wine
Use any of these alcoholic substitutions when your recipe calls for Marsala wine.
One of the best alcoholic substitutes for Marsala is Madeira wine. It offers a similar taste profile to Marsala and can be easily sourced in most stores in your local area. Madeira is a fortified wine.
Dry sherry is a fortified wine that can mimic the flavors of sweet Marsala. However, avoid using cooking sherry as it has too many additives which takes away many of the distinct flavors associated with Marsala. Sherry can be sourced in most local stores.
Vermouth is also a type of fortified wine. It’s well-known for its staggering range of aromas and is often used as a base in cocktails. Some chefs suggest adding sweet vermouth to dry sherry to get a closer taste resemblance to Marsala. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez
Both Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez are a Spanish sherry wine variety which can be used to replace Marsala in recipes. Use Pedro Ximenez to substitute sweet Marsala and Amontillado to replace dry Marsala.
Dry White Wine
Dry white wine can be used to substitute dry Marsala in savory dishes. Add a dash of cognac or brandy to the wine before adding it to the recipe to enhance the flavors.
Sweet Riesling and Moscato
These sweeter white wines are a good substitution for Marsala when added to desserts.
Use the following combinations with brandy to substitute Marsala wine in most recipes:
- Brandy and white wine: Simmer 1 part brandy with brown sugar, 2 parts white wine, and a dash of salt.
- Brandy and white grape juice: Combine I teaspoon of brandy and a ⅓ cup of white grape juice. Mix well together before adding to the other ingredients of the recipe.
When using combination ingredients as such as brandy and white grape juice or white wine, sample it before adding to your recipe.
This is an expensive substitution for Marsala wine but it makes a good alternative when you need to finish making that Chicken Marsala dish! Port wine is delicious as a base for many sweet desserts but you can also add dry, semi-dry, or white port to savory dishes when replacing Marsala.
Some chefs recommend using Pinot Noir wine. However, this may only work with some dishes with meats such as chicken and pork. You could add some sugar to the wine to get a sweeter taste resembling Marsala.
Food Pairing: Alcoholic Substitutes for Drinking Marsala Wine
When drinking Marsala wine together with a meal, it pairs very well with dishes that include asparagus, broccoli, and chocolate. If your supply of Marsala wine has run out the next time you have guests for a meal, then replace with the following alcoholic drinks:
Marsala has a long shelf life even when opened so if you’re serious about serving the right wine with certain dishes, it’s always a good idea to keep your cellar well-stocked. This goes for both drinking and cooking Marsala wine.
Non-Alcoholic Marsala Wine Substitutes
When cooking for a crowd of friends or family and your recipe calls for an alcoholic ingredient, it’s essential to find out if there’s a teetotaler in the group. And, when you do discover there’s someone who can’t or won’t have alcohol, you’ll need to find a substitute for Marsala wine when cooking up your meal.
Balsamic Vinegar and Figs, Prunes, or Plums
Balsamic vinegar combined with either figs, prunes, or plums can surprisingly be passed off as Marsala wine! The fruits need to be simmered over a low heat until cooked down before being strained through a fine sieve. Add some balsamic vinegar to the fruit juice before adding as a substitute for Marsala wine to your savory dish.
White Grape Juice
You can simply add white grape juice as a replacement for Marsala wine but the following combination is even better:
- ¼ cup white grape juice
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Combine all these ingredients together well before adding to the recipe.
Red Grape Juice
Red grape juice works just as well as white grape juice and you can add sherry vinegar and vanilla extract for savory meals. Red grape juice, on its own, works well as a substitution for sweet Marsala in desserts and cakes. Another non-alcoholic option is cranberry juice.
Homemade Vegetable or Chicken Stock
A rich homemade vegetable or chicken stock can be used as a substitute for Marsala wine. However, while you’ll get a rich creamy sauce using this stock, you won’t get the exact flavors of the fortified wine. A dash of balsamic vinegar added to the stock may improve the flavors associated with Marsala.
Sage, Rosemary, and Figs
Adding sage and rosemary to well-cooked figs can give you a nice Marsala wine substitute. Before adding to your dish requiring Marsala as an ingredient, puree the figs, sage, and rosemary.
Ensure you don’t overpower the figs with too much herbs as you’ll lose the subtle flavors associated with Marsala. Add the puree by the teaspoon until you’re satisfied with the flavors of the dish.
Balsamic Vinegar and Sugar
Balsamic vinegar can be used to substitute Marsala wine in most savory dishes. However, to counteract the acidity of the vinegar, add some sugar. You can also use honey instead of sugar. You’ll need to experiment to get the right blend.
Another option is look for a balsamic reduction which can be found in some specialty stores. This is a gluten-free product made from balsamic vinegar which has been simmered over a low heat until reduced to a thicker consistency.
When a recipe calls for Marsala wine, you want to use this ingredient as much as possible so you don’t compromise on the dish’s unique flavors imparted by this alcoholic drink.
The beauty of cooking with Marsala wine is that it has a good shelf life if stored correctly. Having an extra bottle in the cellar for cooking purposes will save you looking for substitutes.
But, every chef knows that sometimes a substitute is required when preparing meals. And, being prepared with replacement ingredients often saves the day when cooking for a crowd on the spur of the moment! This includes those times when you decide to whip up a dish that includes Marsala wine.
Every kitchen should have ingredients such as balsamic vinegar, white or red grape juice, herbs, and fruits such as plums, figs, or prunes on hand.
And, if alcohol content isn’t a problem, then keeping a bottle of Port, Madeira, or dry Sherry won’t go amiss for cooking purposes when looking for a Marsala wine substitute.