Marsala wine has a unique full-bodied quality used in cooking to offer a depth of flavor in rich caramelized sauces. If you aren’t able to find any or have poured the last drop from your current stash, you can substitute marsala wine with certain other wines or even brandy.
To mimic the marsala wine taste, you need to consider the best alternative that will blend well with the other flavor profiles in your dish. In this guide, we’ll help you choose the best alcoholic or non-alcoholic marsala wine substitute for your recipe.
What Is Marsala Wine?
This fortified wine is produced in Sicily. It contains rich undertones of vanilla, brown sugar, tamarind, and stewed apricot. Marsala wine comes in dry and sweet varieties.
Although mostly used in cooking, and popular for the dish chicken marsala, the wine can also be sipped, pairing well with chocolate, asparagus, and brussels sprouts.
Dry marsala is generally used for savory entrées giving caramelization and nutty flavor to comforting dishes with mushrooms, veal, beef tenderloin, and turkey.
Sweet marsala is commonly used for sweet, viscous sauces in desserts such as zabaglione, and savory chicken or pork main meals. You can use dry marsala if you have run out of sweet marsala, but not the other way around.
If you aren’t sure which one to get, always go for dry as you will have more versatility and can always sweeten it up during cooking if needed.
Best Alcoholic Substitutes For Marsala Wine
Marsala wine’s unique and enchanting flavor is hard to match. Some substitutes will offer similar flavors, while others may take the flavor profile in a slightly different direction.
Regardless of the option you choose, replace marsala wine in your recipe measure for measure with the marsala substitute.
Madeira is the closest substitute for marsala wine you can use as it is almost identical in terms of color and flavor. Made with five types of grapes, Madeira has a strong flavor and is enjoyed as an aperitif or dessert.
As with marsala, it becomes more robust with aging. Consider its age when choosing the best type of Madeira for your recipe as the flavor can be strong.
#2. Fortified Wine
Fortified wines have been improved with a distilled spirit, generally brandy. Since marsala and Madeira wine are both fortified wines, using another variety can offer a close flavor and color match in sweet and savory cooking.
Fortified wines you may want to consider include vermouth, sherry, port, and Commandaria.
#3. Dry Sherry
When using dry sherry instead of marsala wine in your cooking, make sure to use drinking sherry and not cooking sherry. Cooking sherry wine has a higher sodium content that will change the taste of your recipe somewhat.
Although dry sherry is not quite as complex in flavor as marsala wine, it will yield a similar overall result.
#4. Sherry and Sweet Vermouth Combination
To add more intensity of flavor to dry sherry, combine it with sweet vermouth. Use equal amounts of sherry and sweet vermouth to make up a complex, full-bodied marsala wine substitute.
#5. Amontillado Wine and Pedro Ximenez
Amontillado is a variety of sherry that originated in the 18th century in Spain. Amontillado is a suitable substitute when your recipe calls for dry marsala wine. Pedro Ximenez is another Spanish wine, however, this type is suitable as a replacement for sweet marsala.
#6. Port Wine
Port is generally associated with sweet dishes and desserts. It makes a great base for braising or poaching pears. Port also comes in dry, rose, and semi-dry varieties making these port options suitable to use in savory dishes as well.
#7. White Grape Juice with Brandy
Using white grape juice with a touch of brandy or even cognac makes for an easy last-minute substitute while cooking. Use the following ratios to combine your ingredients:
- Add one teaspoon of brandy for every ¼ cup of white grape juice, or
- Add 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon brandy (or cognac) for 1 cup white grape juice.
#8. Non-Fortified Wine
Standard white wines can be used as a substitute for marsala wine in your recipe. As with a grape juice substitute, you can add a small amount of brandy or cognac for an improved depth of flavor. You can match marsala wine closely by combining the following ingredients:
- 1 cup white wine of choice
- ½ cup of brandy
- ½ tablespoon of brown sugar
- Pinch of salt
Use a dry white wine variety for savory dishes and opt for a sweet white such as Riesling or Moscato for desserts.
#9. Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is readily available in most liquor and grocery stores, making it an easy substitute for when you can’t get your hands on marsala wine. It is made from pinot noir grapes and has a slightly sweet taste. Add a bit more sugar when used in sweet dishes to get a closer match to the marsala flavor.
Non-Alcoholic Marsala Wine Replacement For Cooking
When cooking with alcohol, not all of the alcohol content will evaporate. Although a large percentage of it will, foods that are braised, poached, sauteed, baked, or simmered can retain between 4% to 85% of the initial alcohol content.
If you want to avoid alcohol for religious or health reasons, here are some non-alcoholic substitutes for marsala wine that will do the trick.
#10. White Grape Juice and Sherry Vinegar
For the best non-alcoholic alternative, combine the following ingredients:
- ¼ cup white grape juice,
- 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
#11. Prunes, Figs, or Plums with Balsamic Vinegar
This method takes some additional time to prepare but is worth the delicious depth of flavor it adds to your dish. You can use one type or a combination of fruits such as prunes, figs, or plums and cook them down as you would to stew fruit by simmering over low heat.
Once cooked to a soft juicy pulp, strain the fruit through a fine-mesh sieve. Add a touch of balsamic vinegar to the strained mixture and your marsala wine substitute is ready.
#12. Red Grape Juice or Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice or red grape juice do not match the flavor exactly but are good alcohol-free substitutes for marsala wine in cakes and baking recipes. If the cranberry juice is slightly tart, adjust the sugar in your recipe accordingly.
Last-Minute Marsala Wine Alternatives For Cooked Dishes
The following three substitutes will not provide you with the same taste but will enhance the flavors in your dish with different notes and extra depth. These alternatives should be used according to taste and must not be replaced measure for measure.
They are quite easily obtainable and if you have them in the pantry already it will save you a trip to the store. Use the below alternatives in savory recipes.
#13. Balsamic Vinegar
If you are using balsamic vinegar as a marsala wine substitute, it is best to make a reduction out of it. Once cooked down over slow heat, add small amounts of sugar at a time to your taste and let it dissolve in the reduction.
Add a tablespoon of the reduction to your dish or sauce at a time and adjust to taste. The balsamic reduction adds a delicious depth of flavor, but too much can be overpowering.
#14. Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Although it won’t provide the sweet aromatics of marsala wine, chicken and vegetable stock will give savory dishes such as meaty stews and braises more depth, especially when cooked over a long period.
#15. Figs and Rosemary with Sage
Puree soft figs, rosemary, and sage in a blender or food processor. The puree can be watered down or used as is by adding only a teaspoon at a time to your dish and adjusting the quantity according to taste.
Marsala Wine Substitutes For Drinking
Although marsala is largely known for use in cooking, it is also served as a drinking wine with dessert. It pairs well with goat cheese, chocolate, and nuts. When served with savory entrees, it can be paired with chicken or veal.
If you would like to serve wine with a meal or dessert but don’t have any marsala, you can serve port, sherry, or Madeira as a marsala wine substitute since they complement similar foods with the same level of sweetness.
Marsala wine brings a depth of flavor to sweet and savory dishes. Its unique flavor is due to the use of only Sicilian indigenous grapes as well as its complex winemaking process.
When choosing your substitute, consider the type of dish you are making as well as the level of sweetness required. Although you may not get the exact same flavor, some substitutes can come pretty close in flavor when you don’t have the real thing on hand.
*image by milla74/depositphotos