Marsala wine is a common ingredient used in several different recipes, and it is also an easily replaceable component. So while running out may not be ideal, it’s not the end of the world, and we are here to show you what you can use to substitute Marsala wine.
What Is Marsala Wine?
Marsala wine is the most popular and well-known type of fortified wine that comes out of Italy. This fine wine has an alcohol content that is higher than standard wines, and it boasts a deep ruby-red color.
This fortified wine is made stronger by the addition of grape brandy. It can be made either sweet or dry, and culinary enthusiasts can use either, depending on the recipe they’re making. However, the most common use of Marsala wine is in rich, nutty sauces.
There are a few different flavor profiles that fall under the umbrella of Marsala wine. It can have a vanilla taste or brown sugar undertones, as well as honey, tobacco, walnut, licorice, cherry, apple, and more.
You may see dry Marsala used in recipes involving chicken, veal, and risotto, while sweet Marsala can be used to cook tiramisu, shortcake, and other desserts.
Not only can you cook using Marsala wine, but you can also drink it. Dry Marsala pairs wonderfully with appetizers such as salty nuts, olives, and goat cheese. It’s also great with smoked meats, as well as recipes cooked using Marsala.
Sweeter Marsala wine is excellent with any kind of chocolate dessert and other cheeses. The sweeter flavors are best served in port glasses because you will typically drink less than you would other lighter wines.
Top 5 Marsala Wine Substitutes
Things don’t always go as planned when we’re cooking, and that can mean running out of a certain ingredient. Should this occur, there are plenty of Marsala alternatives.
Perhaps the best possible substitute Marsala wine you can find is Madeira. Madeira is another kind of fortified wine that comes out of Portugal. Like Marsala, you can find Madeira in both dry and sweet styles as well as a variety of flavors. Some of those flavors include caramel, walnut, peach, orange, and burnt sugar.
When you cook with Madeira, you get a very, very similar result as you would with Marsala. So, it makes for the best substitute. While the real wine is rare and hard to find, there are plenty of more readily available types that aren’t aged as much.
These types of Madeira are excellent for deglazing, reducing sauces, making salad dresses, and more. Madeira also pairs incredibly well with any dish that involves mushrooms, soups, and simmering vegetables.
2. Dry Sherry
It’s very common to use a variety of wines in cooking. Some wines are more suited for certain dishes, but in many cases, you can substitute one wine for another.
Dry sherry is another kind of fortified wine. Because dry sherry and Marsala are both wines combined with stronger alcohols, like brandy, it’s easy to switch them out. Whether you’re making a sauce, deglazing a pan, or making a fancy marinade, you can swap your Marsala for dry sherry.
Note, this substitute must be real sherry, as opposed to cooking sherry. Cooking sherry has a different flavor than traditional sherry because it has additives and extra salt to extend its shelf life.
If you want to nail the flavor profile with this substitute, try adding an equal amount of sweet vermouth. This enhances the overall flavor profile, transforming it into one that more closely matches that of Marsala. The result is a complex flavor, but be aware that cooking with sherry can also give you a higher sodium content.
3. White Wine & Brandy
Marsala is a fortified wine, which is a wine that has been combined with stronger alcohol such as brandy. This combination not only increases the alcohol content of the wine but also enhances the overall flavor.
So when you are all out of Marsala, why not recreate your own fortified wine right at home?
White wine and brandy make for a solid substitute for Marsala wine. White wine is a very common ingredient, so it’s not hard to get your hands on it. It’s also very popular in a wide range of recipes, so cooking with it may not be entirely foreign to you.
To mimic the taste of Marsala wine, you can mix a half cup of dry white wine with a teaspoon of brandy. Keep in mind that dry whites are not typically very sweet, so if you need a little bit of sweetness in your recipe, try adding a pinch of brown sugar to the mix.
White wine is super common in chicken and other meat dishes. It’s also used often to deglaze pans. As you can see, it also comes in handy for sweet dishes – something not many people are aware of.
4. Chicken & Vegetable Stock
Both chicken and vegetable broth are super common ingredients found in the average kitchen. Even the most amateur chefs can utilize these ingredients successfully, whether they’re making a homemade soup or crafting an intricate sauce.
Chicken stock is also a great alternative for deglazing a pan, as that will get you the same results.
You can easily find chicken and vegetable stock in any local grocery store, and it’s an affordable ingredient. Some people like to keep bouillon cubes or powder on hand to make broth on the fly. While broth is a bit different from stock, it often works in the same way in recipes.
Finally, you can also make your own chicken stock by boiling chicken bones.
Both chicken and vegetable stock are healthy, non-alcoholic substitutes for Marsala wine. You can even find low-sodium versions of each, which is perfect for anyone watching their salt intake.
When substituting for Marsala, chicken and vegetable stock or broth is best used in savory dishes. Meat dishes that require long periods of simmering will do well with this substitute, but it’s not a good option for sweeter dishes like baked goods.
5. Grape Juice
Another great non-alcoholic substitute for Marsala wine is grape juice. The great part about grape juice is that you can cater to the type of Marsala you need by using either white grape juice or red grape juice.
In the case that you need a substitute for a savory dinner dish, white grape juice is an excellent option. You can even add sherry vinegar and a little bit of vanilla extract to make the flavor more exact.
If you’re baking a cake or another baked good, you can substitute red grape juice for sweet Marsala wine. Cranberry juice can work as well, and the flavor is close enough to give you a nice flavor.
Grape juice is a natural way to replace this kind of wine without opting for another alcoholic option, so if that’s important to you, you can count on these two.
Plus, grape juice is a healthy substitute for Marsala wine, offering beneficial components including vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Of course, if you want an even closer match using grape juice, you can combine it with brandy and cognac. Brandy is the ideal pair. Add one teaspoon of brandy for every quarter cup of white grape juice.
Learning how to cook is different from a lot of other skills. You can master the basics all you want, but cooking is a skill that you can continue to fine-tune throughout your lifetime. Just when you thought you perfected a dish, you engineer a new twist that changes the flavor all over again.
Precision and perfection are nice in other areas of life, but they’re not quite as necessary in cooking. As you can see from today’s discussion, for every ingredient listed in a recipe, there are a dozen others that could take their place.
Marsala wine is an excellent component in any recipe, but you can substitute Marsala wine and still make a fabulous dish. If you didn’t see a substitute here that you had in stock, try another one of these honorable mentions:
- Pinot Noir (red wine)
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Prunes with Balsamic Vinegar
- Figs and Rosemary with Sage
Thankfully, missing one ingredient isn’t the end of the world in the kitchen. There are plenty of Marsala alternatives that can make up for the listed ingredient, keep your recipe alcohol-free, or even make it a little healthier.