Marsala Wine: How Long Does it Last (Opened/Unopened)

how long does marsala wine last

When I was a young kid, I spent almost every weekend with my grandmother. Grammy always gave me a choice of what we’d have for Friday dinner. 

We could either go for takeout, or she’d offer to make one of my favorite meals. One meal that I often requested was Chicken Marsala.

I’d sit with her in the kitchen, watching and offering to help. At a young age, she’d help me do the little things like shake the salt and pepper or wash the mushrooms. As I got older, I watched with even more curiosity. 

After college, I started cooking for myself when I moved into my first apartment. One of the first recipes I requested for Grammy to share was her Chicken Marsala. 

Fast forward to my thirties, where I now cook most days of the week. Chicken Marsala is the dish I have in my regular rotation. I make it almost monthly! 

That said, I always have a bottle of Marsala wine on hand. I use about ⅓ of the bottle each time I make Chicken Marsala. 

Because of that, I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching the longevity of Marsala Wine, both opened and unopened bottles. Today, I’m happy to share a little (actually, a lot!) of what I know about Marsala wine, how to store it, and how long it lasts.

What is Marsala Wine?

Marsala wine is a fortified wine from Sicily, Italy. It dates back to the late 18th century. Marsala wine is renowned for its rich flavor profile and versatility in cooking, particularly in Chicken Marsala. 

The city of Marsala, its namesake, played a pivotal role in its production and export. Today, Marsala continues to be a cornerstone of Sicilian wines.

how long does marsala wine last- Marsala wine

What does Marsala Wine Taste Like?

Depending on the type, Marsala offers a range of flavors. Dry Marsala is often nutty and toasty, while Sweet Marsala showcases dried fruit, vanilla, and caramel notes. 

Red Marsala has fruity hints, while white Marsala is typically lighter-bodied. 

What is Marsala Wine Used for? 

In addition to the iconic Chicken Marsala, this wine shines in sauces, reductions, glazes, or even desserts. 

Other typical dishes include veal marsala, risotto with Marsala, and pork with a marsala sauce. It is also used in sweet treats like Zabaglione, Panna Cotta, and Poached Pears in Marsala. 

What Quality Should I Look For?

As a general rule of thumb, look for the “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” (DOC) label for higher-quality Marsala produced within the Marsala region. 

How Long Does Marsala Wine Last?

Ah, the reason we are here today! Like a fine Marsala, this answer has many layers. Understanding the type of Marsala, its storage conditions, and whether the bottle remains unopened all play a significant role in its longevity. Let’s get started!

What is a Fortified Wine?

There are many different styles and product methods in the world of wine. Fortified wine adds a distilled spirit, most commonly brandy, during or after fermentation. 

This process boosts the alcohol content; fortified wines typically reach 15-22% ABV. This extra alcohol content is a natural preservative and contributes to a longer shelf life.

What else Should I Know About Marsala Production?

Forget fancy terms for a second! Unlike regular wine where the grapes just do their fermenting thing, Marsala gets a special boost from added brandy. 

This halts the fermentation process early, keeping some of the grape sugars around for sweetness and giving the whole thing a kick – that’s why Marsala has a higher alcohol content than your average vino.

Some Marsala gets aged in oak barrels or with the “solera system,” which can add to the flavor profile of toasty, vanilla vibes. 

For certain types, grape must (basically super concentrated grape juice) that’s been boiled down (think thick and syrupy) gets mixed in, adding more sweetness and those rich caramel notes. The whole process is pretty fascinating, and all these steps contribute to the wide range of Marsala styles you can find on the shelf.

how long does marsala wine last-Marsala wine bottle

Opened vs. Unopened Marsala:

Here’s where things get interesting.

  • Unopened Marsala Wine: An unopened bottle of Marsala has a remarkably long shelf life. When stored properly in a cool, dark place (think a pantry or a cabinet away from direct sunlight), unopened Marsala can last for several years. 

High-quality Marsalas, like those labeled “Superiore Riserva” (aged for at least four years), can potentially hold their own for a decade or even longer.

  • Opened Marsala Wine: Once you uncork that bottle of Marsala, the clock starts ticking a bit faster. The exposure to air triggers a series of chemical reactions that can degrade the wine’s flavors and aromas. 

However, the high alcohol content still provides a significant advantage. A well-sealed and refrigerated opened bottle of Marsala can last for 4-6 months, retaining a large extent of its original taste profile.

Storage Conditions for Optimal Longevity:

  • Cool and Dark:  Both opened and unopened Marsala bottles thrive in a cool, dark environment. Aim for a temperature range between 50-55°F (10-13°C). I always keep the bottle away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
  • Proper Sealing:  Once opened, make sure the bottle has an appropriate seal to minimize any air exposure. I typically use a wine stopper specifically designed to reduce oxidation.

Not all Marsala is created equal! 

The sweetness level can affect how long it stays good. Dry Marsala, sometimes called “Fine” or “Vergine,” tends to last for a longer period than the sweeter ones. Sweeter Marsalas, like “dolce” or “semisecco,” might not hold up quite as long because of all that extra sugar.

Is Marsala a White Wine or Red Wine?

Marsala wine can actually be both red and white! Most Marsala wines are made from white grapes. 

Local Sicilian varietals like Inzolia, Catarratto, and Grillo are commonly used. Red Marsala (Rubino) uses red grapes and offers fruity notes. White Marsala (Oro or Ambra) is the more common type made from white grapes. 

What Brand Marsala Should I Buy?

I have a short answer and a long answer for this. 

The short answer is to buy whatever is in your budget. However, there is a big difference between cooking and drinking marsalas. 

In my opinion, the drinking marsalas offer so much flavor and complexity compared to the cooking wines found in the grocery store. My go-to Marsala from the liquor store is the Taylor brand. It’s a great budget-friendly option that’s great for cooking.

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Is Marsala Wine the Same as Madeira Wine or Sherry Wine?

Nope, Marsala isn’t exactly the same as Madeira or Sherry, but they’re all part of the fortified wine crew. Think of it like this:

  • Marsala: Marsala has a rich and complex flavor profile. It can be dry (“Fine” or “Vergine”) with nutty and toasty notes or sweet (“dolce” or “semisecco”) offering hints of dried fruit and caramel. 
  • Madeira: This Portuguese fortified wine is famous for its unique aging method. Traditionally, Madeira is subjected to a heating process known as “estufagem,” which intensifies its flavors and creates a characteristic toasty or caramelized character. Madeira comes in a range of styles, from dry to very sweet.
  • Sherry: Originating in Spain, Sherry comes in a diverse spectrum of styles, ranging from dry and bone-dry (“Fino” or “Manzanilla”) to medium-dry (“Amontillado”) and sweet (“Oloroso”). Sherry undergoes a unique aging process, contributing to its distinctive nutty and slightly salty flavor profile.

Marsala wine barrel

Does Marsala Wine Go Bad?

It’s not exactly like milk going sour, but hear me out. An opened bottle can lose its pizazz over time. The yummy nutty, caramel, or fruity flavors you expect might get a bit muted and dull because of exposure to air.

Signs of a Bad Marsala:

If you’re unsure about your opened Marsala’s quality,  a quick sniff and taste can provide some clues. Look out for:

  • Vinegar-like aroma: This indicates excessive oxidation and signifies a bad bottle.
  • Flat and dull taste: Think of that excellent Marsala flavor you love – nutty, caramel-y, maybe some fruit notes. If those flavors seem kind of muted or just plain blah, that might be a sign it’s time to say goodbye to the bottle.

Maximizing the Shelf Life of Opened Marsala:

There are a couple of things you can do to extend the life of your opened Marsala:

  • Refrigeration: Store opened bottles in the refrigerator after opening. The cooler temperature slows down the oxidation process. Trust me, high temperatures are no good for bottled wine. 
  • Vacuum Pump and Preservers: Consider investing in a vacuum pump or argon gas wine preservers. These gadgets remove air from the bottle and further slow down oxidation.

The Best Way to Enjoy Marsala:

​Here on the Mortadella Head blog, we’ve got a couple of ideas for you! 

I hope I’ve covered everything you need to know about Marsala wine and what you can use it for.

Got more questions or need another recipe idea? Drop me a comment below and I’d be happy to get back to you.

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