Cantine Pellegrino, Marsala Superiore Dry, Sicily, Italy

The Wine of the Week
by Annette Tomei

Cantina Pellegrino Marsala SuperioreNV, Cantine Pellegrino, Marsala Superiore Dry, Marsala DOC (Sicily), Italy  

Note: In this month’s look at fortified and specialty wines, we introduce Marsala, a fortified wine that is associated more with cooking than it is with drinking. Wine professionals everywhere are doing their part to change the image of fortified wines and encourage taste exploration – our monthly investigation of fortified and specialty wines is our contribution that mission.

Marsala is a region on the northwest coast of Sicily, in the Province of Trapani, where wine has been made for over 1,000 years. In the late 18th century, Englishman, John Woodhouse (a wine merchant of Port fame), visited the area and applied the techniques honed in the making of Port, Sherry and Madeira to the local wines, creating what we now know as Marsala. What began as a popular beverage in England, evolved into an over-produced, typically poor quality, product in the mid-late 20th century. In recent years, great effort has been made to change the image of Marsala through stricter regulations and improved production techniques. Still, it probably will never reach the level of respect and demand of its more popular cousins.

Marsala can be made from up to ten grapes indigenous to Sicily. Like other fortified wines, it is categorized by the minimum aging requirements – Fine (1 year), Superiore (2 years), Superiore Riserva (4 years), Vergine/Soleras (5 years), and Vergine/Soleras Stravecchio (10 years). Furthermore, the wine can be dry (secco), semi-sweet (semisecco), or sweet (dolce) depending on the amount of sugar (residual and added). The process of making Marsala involves aging the fortified wines through a system called in perpetuum, quite similar to the solera system in Sherry production.

Cantine Pellegrino has been a family operation since 1880, producing Marsala and a few select other specialty styles of the region. They are at the forefront of the effort to revitalize the reputation of Marsala wines, and have attained multiple certifications of their eco-friendly practices and high standards of production.

The Cantine Pellegrino Superiore Marsala is dry by the DOC standards, but retains a small amount of residual sugar from the fermentation process prior to fortification with eau du vie, and aging at least 2 years in French oak barrels. Decanter Magazine awarded the 2007 vintage of this wine “Best Fortified Italian Wine”.

Aromas of caramelized oranges and toasted almonds lead to flavors of toasty, nutty citrus, cooked dried fruits, and a subtle but refreshing tartness. There is a kiss of sweetness and a touch of savory earthiness. The finish is lingering and slightly astringent. This wine went beautifully with split pea soup, and with roast pork. It is also a great choice with flavorful firm cheeses. Try it with earthy foods: grains, roast vegetables, potatoes, and legumes – a touch of sweetness in the preparation (from fruit-based sauces to Sicilian agri-dolce style dishes) would make it even better.

Annette is the founder of VinEducation, where she is a food and beverage educator and consultant. She is also a professional chef who frequently contributes delicious recipes to EatSomethingSexy.com.