Sherry vs Marsala : What Fortified Wine Do You Need?


One time, we were planning a dinner party and realized: Wow, wine is a must-have!

And it isn’t just any wine we need, it’s a good bottle of fortified wine that works amazingly.

Think about it – You get to cook with fortified wine and get amazing dishes or desserts and enjoy it in a fancy wine glass before or after dinner!

Plus, we can’t deny that if we share we cooked something with wine, not only does it elevate a dish’s flavor, but we have that air of fanciness that sets the mood.

There are two fortified wines usually involved in the cooking process and what we enjoy drinking: Marsala and Sherry.

While you might think: “Hey, I can interchange these two,” they have differences that make it better for certain meals or recipes than the other.

So, please take a look at our comparison guide for Marsala vs Sherry!

What is Marsala?

image of Compare Marsala vs

Marsala is a fortified dessert wine originating from Sicily, Italy. It’s well-known for being a crucial ingredient in Zabaglione and veal sauce.

Even with Marsala’s Italian origins, this wine was actually created by an Englishman during the 1700s, who thought an ideal way to ship wine from Sicily to London was to fortify it with brandy.

  • Fun fact: When the production of Marsala decreased, so did its popularity in the 1960s. However, popularity soared once the quality increased.

You probably know Marsala either for drinking or thanks to the popular dish, chicken marsala! Other recipes, including Marsala, include mushroom cream sauce, salads, or pork dishes.

What is Sherry?

While numerous countries like Australia, Canada, and South Africa created Sherry fortified wine, this wine’s origins go back to Spain. Sherry is produced in styles that range from sweet to dry, which we know as:

  • Cream Sherries
  • Oloroso
  • Amontillado
  • Manzanilla
  • Fino

Fino Sherries are bone dry, having a light, nutty character. Because of that, they make great aperitifs. You can also enjoy these while eating roasted almonds. As for Manzanilla Sherries, they are bone dry with a slightly salty characteristic.

You can serve this as an aperitif when serving green olives, sardines, or oysters.

  • Pro-tip: Like many wines, Fino and Manzanilla sherries should be served chilled. Also, since the fresh flavors won’t last long, it’s best to consume the bottle within days after opening it.

Amontillado sherries are a bit heavier with 18% ABV with a mahogany color because of the wood aging. They are richer and sweeter than the Fino sherry, making it great to pair with full-bodied soups or enjoy during a cool evening. (*)

Cream Sherries are the richest among all sherries, which you can serve as a digestif, meaning after your meals. You can serve it on its own or alongside desserts like with trifles.

  • Fun fact: There’s cooking sherry and drinking sherry. As the name suggests, cooking sherry is for adding deeper flavors to your dish with their increased sodium levels and added potassium for preserved taste and longer shelf life. Because of that, you shouldn’t drink this!

Marsala vs Sherry: The Key Differences?

Now that you know what Marsala and Sherry are, what makes them different?

Marsala and Sherry use completely different grapes and have different production processes. Sherry is made from Spain, while Marsala comes from Italy. What they do have in common is that they get a boost of pure alcohol or brandy during or after fermentation.

In terms of flavor and cooking purposes, Marsala offers a medium-rich body we best recommend for sauces, marinades, seafood, and meats. As for Sherry, this fortified wine has complex roasted nutty flavors best for soups, stews, or sauteed dishes.

If you’re wondering about the “better” fortified wine, there isn’t any. It all depends on your personal taste, what you’re cooking, or what food you plan to pair the wine with.

Fun fact: It’s possible to substitute Sherry for Marsala! We recommend getting the dry version for cooking. You can use other substitutes for cooking Sherry, such as dry vermouth, dry white wine, or even chicken stock with lemon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a few questions on Marsala vs Sherry? Continue reading!

1. How do you cook with fortified wine?

Whether you’re creating classic recipes or inventing new ones, a splash of fortified wine can give more flavor to your dishes. You can either use it before cooking or towards the end of it. It’s also great to drizzle over desserts or mix in your batter.

Here are other examples to use fortified wines with:

  • Stir dry Sherry into cream soups or shellfish bisques
  • Saute chicken with vegetables, then deglaze it with Sherry
  • Steam mussels with dry Sherry and your chosen herbs
  • Brush desserts with glaze flavored with Marsala
  • Flavor caramel sauces with Marsala
  • Enrich tomato-based pasta sauces with dry Marsala
  • Add a splash of dry Marsala in butternut squash or mashed sweet potatoes

2. What are the types of fortified wines?

Besides Marsala or Sherry, there are other types of fortified wines, such as Port and Madeira. Port wine is a popular fortified wine best paired with nuts and blue cheeses. Madeira is a fortified wine from Morocco, heated or baked during manufacturing. It’s excellent as a digestif with hard cheeses or nuts.

3. Can you use Marsala and Sherry in cocktails?

Of course, you can! Many cocktails feature these two drinks, such as:

  • Bloody Marsala
  • Marsala and Tonic
  • Marsala Martini
  • Manhattan Superiore
  • Rebujito
  • Adonis Cocktail
  • Sherry Old Fashioned
  • Among many others

From cooking to baking, cocktails, or on their own, fortified wines are quite versatile.

  • Pro-tip: We recommend using authentic versions of fortified wine, particularly wine from the country it originated from. You don’t have to spend too much, as a decent bottle of wine can go from $10-15.

4. What’s the difference between regular and fortified wine?

Fortified wine contains a higher alcohol content than regular wine because of the addition of distilled spirits like brandy. Traditional wine would have 10-15% ABV, while fortified wines can have 17-20% ABV. This would give fortified wines a stronger taste, best suited for dishes that need more of the wine’s flavor.

Wrapping It Up

If there’s one thing to remember, folks, it’s that not all fortified wines are created equal. Also, there isn’t any better wine to cook than fortified wines!

Now that you know the difference between Marsala vs Sherry, you can select the best one for cooking or drinking.

We hope we helped you with our comparison guide on Marsala vs Sherry!

Check out our other blog posts to delve deeper into the world of cooking and drinking.

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