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Marsala, Port and Sherry

Information about Marsala, Port and Sherry plus Recipes Collection

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December 

2003

 

 

Marsala, Port and Sherry are all examples of fortified wines. Other well known types include Madeira and Vermouth. The process of fortification involves the addition of spirits, especially brandy and sometimes additional flavourings in the shape of herbs or spices.

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

 

The practice of fortifying wine took off in the 16th and 17th centuries with the increase of long sea voyages around the globe. Many of the normal wines transported from Europe spoiled during the rigorous journey during which they were not only subjected to being shaken about, but also to huge temperature changes. Wine makers found that adding certain amounts of brandy protected and stabalised the wines. It also gave them a more robust flavour as well as increasing the alcohol content. Fortified wines are generally between 17 and 21 percent alcohol.

 

The addition of brandy takes place either before or during the fermentation process, the timing of which makes a difference to the end product. If added before fermentation, the wine has a higher sugar content and is therefore sweet; if added after fermentation a dryer wine is achieved.

 

Marsala, Port and Sherry, as well as the other fortified wines, are not only good to drink, served either as aperitifs or dessert wines depending on the type, but have also long been used in cooking and are excellent in both savoury and sweet recipes.

 

Marsala


Originating in Western Sicily, Italy, Marsala takes its name from the town where it was produced. Although the area had been making fortified wine for a long time, even dating back to Roman times, it was in the late 1700s, that the Englishman John Woodhouse developed the technique used today for making Marsala.

 

Marsalas range from dry to sweet, the sweetest called dolce, the driest called secco and are graded from young to old, Fine being the youngest with 1 year aging, grading up through , Superiore, Superiore Riserva, Vergine, and Vergine Stravecchio or Vergine Riserva, being the oldest with a mighty minimum of 10 years aging.

 

Generally, the dry Marsalas are served apéritif and the sweet ones as dessert wines however it is also a vital ingredient in many Italian recipes including  zabaglione and tiramisu. As a general rule, choose the sweeter varieties for cooking as they have a richer flavour. Marsala can be substituted with Madeira or sherry.

 

Port

 

Port originates from the Douro region in Northern Portugal. It takes its name from Oporto, the town where it was traditionally aged and bottled. Whilst there are many types of port wine, there are basically four categories: in order Vintage, Tawny, Ruby and White with Vintage port being considered the best. Some Vintage ports can be aged for 50 years or more!

 

Most ports are relatively sweet and are served after dinner although some white ports ( which are produced the same way as red ports except that they use white grapes) are sometimes left to ferment for a longer period thus producing a drier port suitable to be served as an apéritif.

 

In cooking, the robust Ruby Port retains its colour well and is therefore an excellent choice with the added bonus that its cheaper than a vintage or Tawny port. As port generally has quite a strong flavour, it should be used with discretion in both sweet and savoury recipes until you are familiar with its use. Port can usually be substituted with Madeira or sweet sherry.

 

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Sherry

 

Sherry was traditionally made from grapes grown in the Jérez de la Frontera region in Andalusia, Spain although today it is made in other countries too.

 

 

There are two categories of sherry: Fino and Oloroso. Fino sherry is generally very dry (sometimes mouth-puckeringly so) and often expensive. Examples of Fino sherries are Pale Cream, Manzanilla and Amontillado although Pale Cream sherry is sweetened somewhat. Oloroso sherry is more heavily fortified and usually much sweeter than Finos. Examples include Amoroso and Cream Sherry. Having said that, in Spain Olorosos are usually dry. For drinking, the Fino Amontillados and Manzanillas are best served well chilled as an apéritif and the sweeter Olorosos and Amorosos are best served at room temperature after dinner.

 

Once again, sherry can be used in both savoury and sweet recipes however on the whole, avoid using the very dry Fino sherries. Sherry can usually be substituted with Port or Madeira depending on the recipe.

 

Below are just a few sweet and savoury recipes using these wonderful fortified wines. To find all the recipes on this site just use the Search facility.

 

Happy Cooking!

 

Starters and Soups

Port with Melon    Veg   CD   HD   15mins

Creamed Onion Soup with Port     HT  SP   40mins

Rice and Tomato Soup     Veg   HT   SP   70mins

Liver Pâté with Sherry    CD  HD   90mins

Terrine of Meats with Port     CD  HD   90mins

 

Main Courses

Venison Medallions with Stilton    HT   MC  British  15mins

Nut Crusted Halibut    HT  MC  20mins

Salisbury Ostrich Steak    HT   MC   20mins

Grouse With Raisins     HT   MC   50mins

Chicken Pancakes     HT  MC   60mins

Cotes d'agneau a la Villeroi     HT  MC   French   60mins

Duck with Cumberland    HT  MC   75mins

Accompaniments

Cranberry Sauce     HT   CD  ACC   15mins

Zabaglione Sauce    Veg   HT  ACC  20mins

Basil and Tomato Sauce     Veg   HT   ACC   30mins

Baked Parsnip with Madeira   Veg   HT   ACC   40mins

Chestnut and Sausagemeat Stuffing   HT  ACC  50mins plus cooking

Braised Chestnuts with Port    HT  ACC  70mins

 

Desserts, Cakes and Baked Fayre

Syllabub     Veg   CD  DP  15mins plus chilling

Mulled Plums     Veg   CD   DP  20mins plus cooling

Tiramisu      Veg  CD  DP  Italian  20mins plus chilling

Zabaglione Sauce    Veg   HT  ACC  20mins

Butter Biscuits     Veg   CD  CBF  40mins

Pears Sabayon    Veg   HT  DP   90mins

 

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