A revival is underway for Marsala as a ‘sipping wine’
Italian fortified wine Marsala deserves greater recognition as a versatile sipping and food-pairing wine according to one of the category’s leading producers.
Speaking to the drinks business during a recent visit to Cantine Florio in Sicily, Pantea Sarmadi, trade marketing manager for wine at Disaronno International UK, stressed that now is the time for the Marsala category to be reinvented.
“We’re working hard to try to reinvent the Marsala category via highlighting food pairings and flagging up its potential in cocktails, but a lot still needs to be done,” Sarmadi said.
“Marsala got its reputation as a cooking wine in the second half of the 20th century when low-quality Marsala and flavoured Marsalas were fashionable.
“With our collection of small-batch vintage Marsalas, we’re on a mission to restore Marsala’s reputation as a sipping wine. In order to elevate the perception of the category, we have included a lot of information about the wines on the bottles to help sommeliers and consumers to understand the different Marsalas better and select those that are best suited to them,” she added.
Florio’s 10-strong Storyteller range represents the widest and most complete expression of Marsala currently available on the market.
Classified by sweetness, colour and age, the range is divided into quality tiers, beginning with the white-labelled ‘Classic’ line, followed by the cream ‘Premium’ line, with the rarest ‘Exclusive’ line in black.
“All our vintage bottles display the year the wine was fortified, the time it spent in oak, and the precise location of the barrel in Florio cellars,” Sarmadi told db.
Keen to give Marsala fans an insight into how the wines start out, this year Florio released an unfortified, unfiltered Grillo, which forms the base of its Marsalas.
“We launched Vino Florio to showcase the culture of high-quality Marsala, which starts with the highest quality base wine,” Sarmadi said.
Marsala in mixology
While aiming its wines at the sommelier community and top-end restaurants from The Fat Duck to Hide, Florio is also seeking to attract a younger audience to the Marsala category via a new range created with mixology in mind.
“A few weeks ago, Disaronno UK organised the UK’s first Marsala-only paired lunch for London-based sommeliers to show that Marsala is an excellent all-round food-pairing wine.
“We’ve also just launched a new range of non-vintage Marsalas that are perfect for mixology, called Oltre 4, which spend four years in oak.
“As an eminently versatile wine, Marsala is an outstanding base for cocktails, and this is the best way to attract a younger audience to the category,” Sarmadi told db.
Part of Marsala’s strength, Sarmadi believes, lies in its breadth of styles, and therefore, potential audiences and drinking occasions.
“Marsala’s beauty lies in its diversity. A bone dry Marsala Vergine with little more that 1g/l of residual sugar is perfect for sipping neat like a whisky, while opulent Dolce styles complement a wide range of desserts and cheeses,” she said, though admitted that the battle to win the UK round to Marsala was far from over.
“While many people in the UK wine trade know a bit about Marsala, there’s no denying that within the fortified wine realm, it’s the least known category compared to Sherry, Port and Madeira.”
The secret to success could be to take a double-pronged approach.
“Some of our Marsalas need a fine wine approach and will find their way into prestige retailers and wine-focused restaurants, while Marsalas like the Oltre 4 range will be displayed behind bars and on cocktail lists for mixology,” she said.
Cantine Florio was founded in 1833 by Vincenzo Florio. The winery was acquired by the Disaronno group, its current owner, in 1998.