Chicken Marsala and other delicious recipes call for this flavorful Italian wine. What if you ran out, or it’s not easily available in your area? There are plenty of options to replace it, so these Marsala wine substitutes can save the day!
What Is Marsala Wine?
Originating in Sicily, Italy, Marsala is a ‘fortified’ wine named after a village in the region. This type of wine is made using a combination of distilled spirits, brandy being the one commonly used.
Other fortified wines that are quite popular include sherry, port, vermouth, and Madeira.
Marsala is excellent for drinking, and it’s best served chilled at temperatures around 55°F. It’s also used as a cooking wine for both desserts and savory recipes.
There are various kinds of Marsala wine and its color and flavor can be very different, depending on the types of grapes used to make it, how it’s aged, and the spirit it was fortified with.
It can be dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, with an alcohol content of 15%-20%, and colors ranging from gold to amber and ruby.
What Does It Taste Like?
Marsala wine ranges from dry to sweet and it offers a mix of flavors such as brown sugar, vanilla, tamarind, and sweet apricot.
Higher quality versions have an even more complex flavor profiles with added notes of honey, tobacco, dried fruits, apple, morello cherry, licorice, and walnut.
Alcohol Substitutes For Marsala Wine
Several types of wine and some brandy mixes are good alcohol substitutes for Marsala wine, and we’ll discuss each.
Even when the wine or alcohol is cooked, not all of it evaporates. A dish baked for 25 minutes can keep 45% of its alcohol content. Simmering food for 2 hours will leave only around 5% of the original alcohol.
If you’re trying to avoid alcohol in your recipe, see the non-alcohol substitutes section below.
This is another fortified wine with a layered flavor that gets better with aging.
The authentic Madeira wine is made of five grape varieties and is close to Marsala wine in both color and flavor.
It’s actually the best Marsala wine substitute and easily available in local stores.
For cooking, it can also be replaced with dry sherry, which is another fortified wine.
Dry sherry’s flavor is not as rich as Marsala, but it works as a substitute for recipes where Marsala is not a main ingredient. Mix equal parts of dry sherry and sweet vermouth for a closer match.
I recommend you avoid cooking sherry and stick to the real kind. Cooking sherry contains sodium and additives and the flavors it imparts are not the ones we need.
While we’re still discussing fortified wines, vermouth is another easily available option worth considering.
As I already mentioned, mixing vermouth and dry sherry makes for a closer alternative.
An excellent substitute, Port wine is an expensive one too!
Use a sweet variety for desserts and opt for dry or semi-dry port for savory recipes.
There are more affordable options on this list, so this one is best kept for truly urgent situations!
Amontillado And Pedro Ximenez
These are two types of Spanish sherry wine that can be used as alternatives to Marsala wine.
Amontillado is best as a substitute for dry wine, while Pedro Ximenez can be used to replace sweet wines.
Dry White Wine
While not ideal, you can use any quality dry white wine as a replacement in savory dishes.
Add a small amount of brandy or cognac for a more pronounced flavor boost.
This red wine has a subtle sweetness and is a staple in most grocery and liquor stores.
I recommend using Pinot Noir for chicken and pork dishes and you can make it taste closer to Marsala by adding a bit of sugar.
Sweet Riesling And Moscato
Sweet white wines, such as Riesling and Moscato, are also easy to find and can be used to replace Marsala wine in desserts.
This is the spirit most often used to fortify Marsala wine and that’s why it can be useful to create a substitute.
When lacking better options like Madeira and dry sherry, these brandy combinations can replace Marsala in a pinch.
¼ cup of white wine + 1 teaspoon of brandy
⅓ cup of white grape juice + 1 teaspoon of brandy
Both these brandy combinations can replace Marsala in a 1:1 ratio.
Non-Alcohol Marsala Wine Substitutes
All those delicious recipes calling for Marsala can taste great even if you skip the alcohol. The flavor won’t be the same, but still highly enjoyable!
White Grape Juice
This is a quick and easy alcohol-free substitute for Marsala, perfect if you’re cooking for kids or people with dietary restrictions.
Also, check if you have the ingredients for the combination below. It’s actually the best non-alcoholic Marsala substitute.
¼ cup white grape juice + 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar + 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Red Grape Juice
You can rely on red grape juice as a standalone alternative to sweet Marsala for desserts.
If you combine it with sherry vinegar and vanilla extract according to the formula above, it will be perfect for savory meals too.
Figs, Prunes, Or Plums + Balsamic Vinegar
Simmer figs, prunes, or plums like you would a stew and strain them through a fine sieve.
Add a bit of balsamic vinegar to the fruit pulp and use it to replace Marsala in a 1:1 ratio.
Figs + Sage + Rosemary
Slowly stewed figs with sage and rosemary are another easy non-alcoholic alternative to Marsala wine. Use only small amounts of herbs since we’re aiming for subtle flavors.
Puree this concoction and use it as a substitute for Marsala in your savory recipes in a 1:1 ratio.
Balsamic Vinegar + Sugar
Sometimes you just have to work with what you have on hand. Balsamic vinegar with sugar (or honey) makes a decent option for replacing Marsala wine in savory dishes.
Reduced balsamic vinegar is also an option. This is a concentrated form of balsamic vinegar with a higher sugar content, so it doesn’t require any further sweetening.
Homemade Vegetable Or Chicken Stock
Vegetable or chicken stock will deepen the flavor of your dishes even though not in the same way as Marsala wine.
Homemade stock is best, but you can make a delightful meal with store-bought stock too!
To recreate the natural acidity of the wine, add a dash of balsamic vinegar to your stock.
Best Substitutes for Drinking
Cooking with Marsala wine might be fun, but let’s not forget it’s also a delicious drink!
If you can’t find it in the stores near you, try to find another fortified wine such as sherry, Madeira, vermouth, or port.
The two sherry varieties we discussed above, Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez, also make excellent substitutes for drinking.
For a close profile match, substitute Marsala wine with another fortified wine, such as Madeira, sherry, vermouth, and port.
The best alcohol-free replacement for Marsala wine is a 3-ingredient mixture. Combine ¼ cup white grape juice, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.
The perfect ingredient for replacing Marsala wine depends on the flavor of your dish.
Ideally, it should be another fortified wine, such as Madeira, port, sherry, or vermouth. They are the closest in taste to the original.
Other easy to find Marsala wine substitutes include dry white wine, Pinot Noir, sweet Riesling, and Moscato.
If you can’t use alcohol in your dish, you have several options to choose from. My favorite one is white grape juice combined with sherry vinegar and vanilla extract.
Next time you purchase Marsala wine, it’s worth grabbing an extra bottle. Stored in a cool, dark place, an unopened bottle will last indefinitely. Even after opening, that bottle will be good to use for the next 4-6 months.