Cloyingly sweet and slightly acidic and tangy, Marsala is an aperitif or dessert wine, very similar to port or sherry that is often used in cooking.
Like port and sherry it is typically also a fortified wine, meaning it has been enhanced with a distilled spirit, typically Brandy. This increases the alcohol content, the shelf life and imparts a distinctive flavor.
Marsala wine, not to be confused with Masala the spice, originates and is named for a specific region in Italy. It comes in variations of sweetness and is typically produced from white grapes. When used as an aperitif it is sipped before a meal as a preparation for digestion. As a dessert wine, it accompanies the end of the meal and similarly can help stimulate digestion.
From a culinary perspective, Marsala wine is used in a wide variety of dishes both sweet and savory. Most notable dishes include, the Italian dish Chicken Marsala and the desserts, Zabaglione and Tiramisu. One of my favorite ways to use Marsala, besides in Zabaglione, is in a winter dish of Brussels Sprouts. I sauté shallots and Brussels Sprouts, then remove them and add Marsala to the pan, reducing it down to a thick syrup I then add back in the shallot and Brussels Sprouts and sprinkle on some roasted Hazelnuts. It seems extra delicious on a cold winter evening.
From a health perspective, being the research geek that I am, I have searched databases far and wide to find a nugget of “health” benefits specifically concerning Marsala Wine. Sadly, I have found none. However, I have found an Italian saying; “Wine makes good blood” and think there is always something to be learned from folk sayings. I also am aware and have shared that there are health benefits to the moderate or occasional consumption of both red and white wines. Lastly, I did find a research study listed in the Journal of Internal Medicine concerning fortified wine and blood sugar levels; a group of researchers found that drinking a moderate amount of fortified wine whether while fasting or eating a meal, had no significant impact on blood sugar levels outside of the typical impact that would have occurred without consumption. So, perhaps, Marsala and other aperitifs and digestifs are meant to just be consumed for the sake of themselves and enjoyed in moderation or on special occasions where they can be incorporated into a meal and appreciated for their own unique qualities.