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Are Sweet and Dry Marsala Interchangeable?

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2014

If a recipe that calls for Marsala doesn't specify sweet or dry, which should be used?

Marsala, an Italian fortified wine that originates from the port city of the same name, can be found in both sweet and dry styles, a classification based primarily on the residual sugar content of the wine. Aside from the obvious—sweet Marsala tasted sweeter than dry—tasters noted that the dry samples featured raisin and prune flavors balanced by sharp acidity and savory, nutty notes. The sweet Marsalas possessed those same dried fruit flavors but also featured hints of molasses and caramel, and they had a more syrupy consistency. Most tasters found sweet Marsala more palatable when sampled straight.

However, when we tried both styles in recipes for chicken Marsala, mushroom stuffing, and zabaglione, tasters preferred the dry style in all instances. Though both were acceptable, tasters found that dry Marsala offered more depth of flavor, while sweet Marsala added sweetness and some flavor but wasn’t as complex.

The takeaway? For both savory and sweet applications, we suggest using dry Marsala if a recipe doesn’t specify a style.