The Ideal Alternatives For Marsala Sauce's Star Ingredient

Marsala sauce is named for its star ingredient, marsala wine, which is itself named for the Sicilian village where it originated.  The epitome of Italian comfort food, marsala sauce has inspired iconic comfort food dishes like Chicken marsala. Traditional Italian cooks might argue that you can't make marsala sauce without marsala wine, but there are worthy substitutes that could fool the staunchest naysayers.

If you find yourself without marsala wine, port, sherry, and Pinot Noir are the ideal alternatives. Marsala, port, and sherry are fortified wines containing fermented grapes and added spirits. Port uses red grapes and is both sweeter and heavier than sherry, which derives from white grapes and has a drier, lighter palate.

Since marsala is a fortified red wine, port better imitates its heavier, richer flavor and mouthfeel. However, many marsala sauce recipes call for dry marsala, which is closer to dry sherry's flavor profile. Whichever one you use, port and sherry are versatile ingredients with the depth of flavor and texture to stand up to a hearty and comforting dish like marsala sauce.

Pinot Noir is another good option that you may be more likely to have on hand if you're a wine drinker. As a sweeter, medium-bodied red wine with a mix of red fruit and earthy notes, Pinot Noir would enhance the earthy flavors of mushrooms and sweet flavors of caramelized shallots in marsala sauce.

How to substitute marsala wine in marsala sauce

To substitute any marsala wine alternative in marsala sauce, it's a simple one-to-one ratio; if the recipe calls for one cup of marsala wine, you would alternatively use one cup of sherry, port, or pinot noir. That said, there are a few tricks and guidelines to consider for each alternative.

It's important to use dry or sweet sherry instead of cooking sherry. Cooking sherry's elevated sodium content negates the sweetness found in marsala that you'd need to compliment the other ingredients in marsala sauce. Even dry sherry might need some added sweetness, in which case you could replace half the sherry with sweet vermouth.

Port is heavier and sweeter than Marsala, but it comes in numerous varieties, ranging from very dry to sweet. If you want to mitigate sweetness in your marsala sauce, you can opt for the driest port to substitute marsala wine.

When substituting Pinot Noir for marsala wine, the same one-to-one ratio applies. Pinot Noir is significantly less sweet than port and sherry. If you want a sweeter profile, you can add a spoonful of white or brown sugar to your sauce.