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Does Marsala Wine Go Bad? Our Team Takes The Stale Sip Test!

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Last Updated: September 13, 2022

Marsala wine is a known cooking ingredient in various dishes like chicken Marsala. The nutty and caramelized taste it creates makes it an excellent addition to any kitchen.

If you frequently use Marsala cooking wine, then you've probably wondered, "does Marsala wine go bad?"

Yes, it goes bad. However, not in a way that endangers your health - it simply loses aroma and flavor over time.

If you want to learn why, how, and how long Marsala wine lasts, keep reading because we'll discuss those below.

What Is Marsala Wine?

Marsala wine is an Italian fortified wine that's made of Sicilian grapes. It's usually made of local white grape varietals, such as Damaschino, Grillo, and Inzolia. Red grapes can also be used, such as Pignatello, Perricone, and Nerello Mascalese.

This beverage is produced through the winemaking process of alcohol fermentation - yeast consumes the sugar content of crushed grapes, which releases ethanol (a type of alcohol) and carbon dioxide. 

Basically, wine is fermented grape juice.

Then, the wine is "fortified" by adding another type of alcohol called distilled spirit. Since extra alcohol is added, fortified wines usually have high alcohol by volume (ABV). Marsala wine, for example, has an ABV of 15%-20%. That's some strong alcohol, but not so incredibly potent that you can't drink Marsala directly.

The typical flavors of Marsala wine are apricot, vanilla, brown sugar, and tamarind. However, it isn't just limited to such a range of flavors. High-quality Marsala wine can offer pronounced notes of dried fruit, honey, tobacco, walnut, and licorice.

However, the taste of Marsala wine can change depending on when the distilled spirit is added during the fermentation process. This is why fortified wines are usually divided into two:

Dry

Dry fortified wine is created if the spirit is added after the fermentation process ends. The yeast has consumed most of the sugar content, resulting in a drier wine.

Dry Marsala wine is made with white grapes. It is commonly used for cooking, especially in savory and cream-based dishes like chicken Marsala. It also adds a nutty and caramelization to mushrooms, turkey, veal, and beef tenderloin.

Pasta

Sweet

Meanwhile, sweet fortified wine is created if the spirit is added before the fermentation process ends. The sudden increase in alcohol level kills the yeast, leaving much residual sugar that results in a sweeter wine.

Sweet Marsala is typically used as a dessert wine. However, it can also be used to create sweet and viscous sauces. You can find it in desserts like zabaglione or certain dishes with pork loin or chicken.

Sherbet

Taste Test: How about going over the French side and savoring one of their well-known wines in the world? Read it here and tell us your palate's experience -- Is Cabernet Sauvignon Dry or Sweet.

How Does Marsala Wine Go Bad?

When Marsala wine finally spoils, it gradually loses aroma and flavor. However, it doesn't become a health hazard. With that, here are some of the common causes that may cause Marsala wine to go bad:

Heat

Heat can quickly ruin a nice bottle of wine. Leaving your Marsala wine exposed to direct sunlight for multiple hours can alter its flavor and aroma. Thus, you should always store Marsala away from heat.

Oxygen

Over-oxidation occurs when your wine is left open for too long, or the cork is defective. When the natural bacteria in your wine interact with oxygen, they grow and convert alcohol into acetic acid, creating an unpleasant flavor in your wine.

Cork Taint

Cork

Cork taint, also known as trichloroanisole (TCA), is a fungus present in cork. When a TCA-contaminated cork is used in a wine bottle, the taint can transmit its strong scent in the wine, hence the term "corked" wine.

Due to its high sugar content and the extra alcohol from the fortifying process, Marsala wine has a longer shelf life than other wines.

How Long Does Marsala Wine Last After It’s Opened

Marsala wine usually lasts from four up to six months after opening. You may also check the label of your Marsala bottle if there's any indication.

If you use Marsala as a cooking wine, it's most convenient to keep it in the fridge. However, you're not required to refrigerate opened bottles. It's OK to store Marsala wine in a dry, dark cupboard or shelf, much like how you would store olive oil.

An opened bottle of Marsala can even last for a long period of three years. You will have to use a wine preserver and store it in a cold, dark room with not much humidity like a wine cellar.

Below is a sample image of a wine preserver:

Wine Preserver

How Long Does Marsala Wine Last If Unopened

Whether high-quality or commercially bottled, an unopened bottle of Marsala wine lasts indefinitely. However, it should still be stored properly, as exposure to direct sunlight and humidity can spoil your wine even if it's unopened.

How Do You Know When Marsala Wine Goes Bad

Suppose you notice that your Marsala wine has been kept in the cupboard longer than six months after opening. In that case, you can check if it lost its original quality.

The first indicator you may notice is color. If the color changes slightly, your wine has been exposed to too much oxygen.

Meanwhile, suppose your Marsala develops an off odor similar to rotten grapes or vinegar. This is another clear indicator that the quality has degraded.

Finally, you can also pour your wine into a glass and check if there are sediments or bubbles. Unlike sparkling wine, Marsala doesn't have bubbles, which may signify an air leak.

Can You Use Expired Marsala Wine

Marsala drinking wine can still be consumed past its expiration date. However, it wouldn't be an enjoyable drink due to its off scent and degraded taste.

However, Marsala cooking wine is still suitable for cooking long after expiration. However, it wouldn't taste as great in your dishes as when you bought it.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of Marsala is best as a cooking wine?

We recommend either a "Fine" or "Superiore" Marsala if you're looking for a Marsala cooking wine. These are the two Marsala styles commonly used for cooking, with "Fine" aged one year and "Superiore" aged two years.

It's also important to note that you can substitute dry Marsala for sweet Marsala recipes, but not the other way around. Therefore, it's best to buy dry Marsala for versatility.

What are the usual food pairings to Marsala wine?

Suppose you intend to use Marsala as drinking wine. We recommend serving it chilled with sweets like tiramisu, pannacotta, or any chocolate dessert. However, you can also pair it with asparagus, Brussel sprouts, figs, dried fruits, and pastries.

What are the best substitutes for Marsala cooking wine?

Madeira wine is the best substitute among the cooking wines out there because of its similar flavor profile. Like Marsala, Madeira wine also has a high sugar and alcohol content, so it also has a long shelf life.

Red wine, red wine vinegar, and other fortified wines like port and sherry are also good options. They pack an alcoholic punch while retaining some sweetness. Of course, drier wine is better for cooking.


Conclusion

Although known as a dry and semi-dry cooking wine, chilled Marsala can be an excellent sweet wine for sipping. Apart from being a staple for many dishes, Marsala wine also lasts long in your kitchen as long as you keep the proper storage conditions. As a wine enthusiast, learning when Marsala wine goes bad is the key to a pleasant dining experience.

Even though expired Marsala is safe for consumption, why would you drink wine that's gone stale, anyway? Do your taste buds a favor and get yourself a fresh bottle of Marsala.

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