Marsala The history of the ups and downs of the famous Sicilian wine

“Domenico Buffa uncorked the bottle of his branded” Virgin “of a ten-year-old extract, prepared exclusively from Grillo grape, and generously filled a glass the size of an aquarium for a goldfish. In the twilight, the flickering color of the drink became visible-yellow, like a buttercup, thick and full. I sniffed the wine and felt a mixture of delicious shades of sweet pea, broom, peach and toffee with traces of tubular tobacco. – Great. A marvelous bouquet, “I said, and took a small sip. Marsala embroidered my tongue delicately and gently, like a silk scarf, leaving a piercing mix of varied tastes, including light sweetness. And I immediately remembered my first trip to Sicily … ” Matthew Fort

We were brought from Sicily a couple of bottles of Marsala , and there was the so-called “heap of events” – immediately we caught the eye of Matthew Fort’s book, on the very first pages of which we found a short digression into the history of this famous Sicilian dessert wine. And since only after having tried a new wine, we decided to learn as much as possible about this amazing drink, then the book came at an opportune moment.

Matthew Fort and his book

 Matthew Fort
Sicily: Sweet honey, bitter lemons 

Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons:
Travels in Sicily on a Vespa

A little about the author. Matthew Fort is an unusual writer. Another lover of wine and European cuisine, the second after the famous Peter Mayle . And he writes about in the same format – a personal diary. He distinguished himself by having made a not uncommon voyage – on a scooter (!) – around the entire coast of Sicily. During his journey, he led an enogastronomic note, which included descriptions of everything that he tried there. Finding the country through her kitchen – that was his goal. As a result, a very original artistic and culinary book turned out – the author, directly mixed with the artistic text, gives recipes of authentic Sicilian cuisine. And, of course, he writes a lot about the vineyards, winemaking and wines of Sicily . Below is his notes on Marsala. So, the word is Matthew Fort.

Marsala – city and wine

“Marsala is a port, washed on three sides by the waters. It was by sea that Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Spaniards, British and Americans came here, and the spirit of ancient civilizations survived in the city to this day. A wine from Marsala flew off the sea, bringing world fame to her a century and a half ago. ”

The English and Marsala

“In 1773, an Englishman, John Woodhouse, came from Liverpool, looking for ingredients for soap. Instead, he discovered a local strong alcoholic beverage and decided that it was Marsala that should come to taste to the English aristocrats. The beginning of the business of Woodhouse was promoted by Admiral Horatio Nelson , who ordered in 1798, after the battle on the Nile, several barrels for his sailors. During the next century, colossal conditions were made on the Marsala. ”

Marsala – The heyday of the 19th century

“The connection with England flourished, which was greatly facilitated by the relationship that arose between the Woodhouse with the Inghams and Whites,” kings living near the volcano, “as the families who were engaged in the production and trade of marsala called.”

“The Sicilian clans also came into play, and first of all the Florio family, which became one of the richest and most influential on the island. All of them have made a great contribution to the cultural life of Sicily and the prosperity of the Italian nation. [Marsala is exported to America, Germany, Russia and other countries.] In America, for example, during the period of the dry law, Marsala was sold as a medical tonic. ”

Marsala – decline in the early 20th century

“The glory of its beginning began to decline when the owners sold their business to large companies; as the areas of the vineyards shrank, the quality of the wine deteriorated and was sacrificed to the price …
The consequences did not take long: the marsala stopped drinking. People said that it was only suitable for cooking, and poured chardonnay into their glasses: “This is a miserable substitute for sherry or Madeira, devoid of any kind of individuality.”
Along the entire long sea line of the city there were huge empty buildings, in which Marsala was previously stored and from where it was transported all over the world … Most of them were turned into dumps … A three-story structure with a vaulted shady first floor and Corinthian columns … belonged to Wytheakers, once struck by the majesty . Now the gilded plaster was showered, and the stone collapsed … ”

Marsala – a revival in the second half of the 20th century

“In one of these wine stores began to appear again signs of life. Marsala was preparing to return. Her revival began when the talented winemaker Marco de Bortoli, deciding that salvation in quality, not in quantity, began to produce wine according to new standards. He was joined by several families, including Buffa, and gradually the reputation of Marsala won back lost ground. And Eduard Lear had already written:

In a magnificent sitting-room,
The walls of which hundreds of books decorated, He
pulled the marsala – a glass for a glass,
But hop did not take him prisoner. 

After such a seeding of Matthew Fort, of course, I want to continue my acquaintance with the famous Sicilian wine. So, in the following posts: Marsala in a row of other strong wines – Madeira and sherry ; varieties of grapes grown for the production of marsala; original technology of production and aging; types of marsala; main producers and brands. And it is also interesting to study the combination of marsala with different dishes; In addition, as the sweet strong wine of Marsala is widely used in cooking – as constituents of sauces, creams and additives.

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