DOC area for liqueur wine in the Italian region of Sicily. It is one of the most famous dessert wines in the world and is named after the port of the same name (Arabic Marsah-el-Allah = port or gate of God) in the province of Trapani. The zone with more than 5,000 hectares of vineyards covers the entire province of Trapani, with the exception of the island of Pantelleria, which is located off the coast of Sicily and belongs to it, and the municipalities of Alcamo and Favignana. In 1770, the English merchant and wine expert John Woodhouse came to Marsala and began exporting Sicilian wines to England, because the demand for port and sherry there exceeded supply. 1773 is considered the year of "invention", when Woodhouse added eight litres of spirit to each of the four hundred litre barrels destined for England. He had already been involved in the production of port wine in Portugal. In 1796 he opened the first Marsala House in Marsala, consisting of a warehouse and cellar.
The success of the wine was initiated, so to speak, by the English Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), who in 1800 ordered an annual delivery of 500 barrels for the fleet. In 1812 the Englishman Benjamin Ingham founded a second company in Marsala and exported the wine to North America and Australia. The largest Marsalahaus Florio still in existence today was opened in 1832 by Vincenzo Florio. All three companies were finally taken over by the Wormwood House Cinzano in 1929.
The DOC rules of 1969 still allowed flavouring with ingredients such as bananas, eggs, cinchona bark, strawberries, almonds, cream, coffee, etc. Especially the egg yolk added "Marsala all'Uovo" was popular. These types, known as "Marsala Speciale" even had their own DOC status. The partly quite adventurous mixtures contributed to the bad image in the end. Strongly restrictive DOC regulations were issued in 1994. The special forms were no longer allowed to be called Marsala and the permitted additives and methods were strictly regulated. The starting product is a different blend of the white wine varieties Ansonica(Inzolia), Catarratto Bianco, Damaschino and Grillo, as well as the red wine varieties Calabrese(Nero d'Avola), Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Pignatello(Perricone), depending on the type of Marsala.
There are three colour types: oro (white, golden), amber (white, amber) and rubino (ruby red, amber when aged). For all oro and amber types, the four white varieties are blended in any mixture, for all rubino types the three red (70-100%) and the white varieties (up to 30%) are blended. For all three Marsala qualities these three colour varieties are available. The wines are aged in the sweet grades secco (dry, residual sweetness under 40 g/l), semisecco (semi-dry, 40 to 100 g/l) and dolce (sweet, over 100 g/l). Since 1984, only two types, Fine and Superiore, may be added: "Mosto cotto" (cooked, concentrated must) for sweetening and/or "Sifone" (fortified must). The label sometimes contains abbreviations for the production method.
However, the great time of the marsala seems to be over. From the mid-1980s onwards there was a brief renaissance due to the stricter DOC regulations introduced from 1984 onwards, but in the meantime the traditional wine seems to be slowly being forgotten again. The production volumes fell sharply. The types Vergines/Soleras are only available in small quantities. On the label they are listed after the product name: Variety, colour and degree of sweetness; for example "Marsala Vergine Stravecchio Oro Secco"
Fine: The most common type in terms of quantity enjoys a rather low reputation in terms of quality, as mostly the simplest wines are produced. The ageing period is at least one year, although this does not have to be in barrels. The alcohol content must be at least 17% vol. I. P. (Italy Particular) may be indicated on the label.
Superiore: The maturing time in wooden barrels is at least two years and for Superiore Riserva at least four years. The alcohol content must be at least 18% vol. Most of these wines are aged sweet (dolce). The label can indicate SOM (Superior Old Marsala), LP (London Particular) or GD (Garibaldi Dolce).
Vergine or Soleras: In this highest quality Marsala type, wines from different vintages and qualities are artfully blended with each other, similar to the Solera system in sherry. Sweetening and sprittling is prohibited in comparison to the other two types. It is also the only type that is only matured in "secco". The alternatively used additional designations Vergine and Soleras, as well as Riserva and Stravecchio have the same meaning. The maturing period in the barrel is at least five years; for Vergine (Soleras) Stravecchio and Vergine (Soleras) Riserva at least ten years. The alcohol content must be at least 18% vol.
Well-known producers are (with some historical farms): Marco de Bartoli, Donnafugata (no longer produces any), Florio, Pellegrino and Rallo. Bartoli does not even mention the name "Marsala" on the label for its top product "Vecchio Samperi" in Vergine quality (no DOC status), but only markets it as a simple wine (formerly Vino da Tavola). The reason is disagreements with the responsible authorities.