Who knew you could use wine in so many dishes? It’s not only for drinking, though we do love enjoying a few glasses of it as we splash some wine onto our Italian food! All jokes aside, let’s talk about Marsala wine, a versatile wine used for different kinds of dishes, including sweet desserts.
You probably familiar with it if you’ve tried Marsala chicken, and it’s also used in many US-based Italian restaurants. You probably use it for your own dishes, too!
But what if you were in the middle of making some delicious pasta or chicken Marsala, only to find out you’ve run out of Marsala wine? A travesty! What can you substitute for marsala wine? No worries, you can fix this!
There are a few things you can substitute for Marsala wine in recipes. Some people recommend Madeira, Sherry, or Port as substitutes. You could also try using grape juice, white wine, or chicken broth.
We’ll be listing down all Marsala wine substitute options so your recipe won’t go to waste. Read on!
What Is Marsala Wine?
Marsala is a type of fortified wine, a combination of distilled spirits originating from a nearby village in Marsala, Sicily. Usually, Marsala is fortified with neutral-flavored grape brandy. (*)
What is the alcohol content of Marsala wine?
The drink is made from different kinds of grapes, containing 15-20% alcohol. It has a higher alcohol volume as it’s fortified with brandy.
Note that if you cook with wine or other alternatives with alcohol, not all alcohol content will evaporate. Dishes that went through the following cooking methods would retain some of their alcohol content (*):
Top 8 Alcohol-Based Marsala Wine Substitutes
You’ll be surprised by how many substitutes of Marsala wine there are!
Here are alcohol-based substitution to use for cooking:
Madeira is the most suitable alternative to Marsala wine, as it’s almost identical in both flavor and color. It’s made from Portugal and comes in either dry or sweet kinds with various flavors. People enjoy Madeira for aperitifs, or it can also be served as a dessert.
Similar to Marsala wine, Madeira has a more robust flavor over time. And take note, authentic Madeira is made from 5 types of grapes, so it has intense flavors! Because Madeira already has a strong flavor already, make sure you be wary when selecting Madeira when cooking to prevent it from overpowering your food.
We recommend using the strong and potent Madeira wine (or dry sherry) for roasts, soups, and sauces that require Marsala. They are also great for reducing sauces, deglazing, or making salad dresses. If you plan on drinking Madeira, they pair well with dishes that involve soups, mushrooms, or simmering veggies.
Learn more: Madeira Wine Substitutes
2. Fortified Wine
Madeira is a king of fortified wines, which are wines improved from a particular distilled spirit, usually brandy. Marsala wines are top tier when it comes to using fortified wine for cooking, but we also commend other fortified wines for using when cooking sweet or savory food.
Besides Madeira, there are other fortified wines we recommend when replacing Marsala wine. We’ll get into all that in the next section, so let’s keep going!
3. Non-Fortified Wine
You can also use standard white wine as a Marsala wine substitute as well. If you’re worried about the accuracy of the flavor, you can add a bit of cognac or brandy to non-fortified wine.
To imitate the flavor of Marsala wine, we suggest you use one cup of white wine, half a cup of brandy, half a tablespoon of brown sugar, and just a pinch of salt for taste. This is a good substitute as it’s easier to find and purchase white wine than Marsala!
If you are creating a savory dish, go for dry white wine. For desserts, opt for sweet white wines like Moscato or Riesling. If you use dry white wine, you can add a bit of brandy to improve its overall flavor.
4. Dry Sherry
Dry sherry is a fantastic replacement, too! While Marsala gives a bit more complex flavor to food, dry sherry can also offer a similar result. This is because dry sherry, like Marsala, is fortified using brandy, with an alcohol content of 17%.
However, please note that you should use actual drinking sherry wine and not the ones made for cooking. Sherry wine for cooking contains higher sodium content and additives, which would likely affect the final flavor of your dish.
The flavor of dry sherry isn’t as complex compared to Marsala wine, but it does excellently in dishes that don’t have Marsala wine as the main ingredient. If ever you used sherry and it doesn’t taste ‘right,’ we suggest mixing in a bit of sweet vermouth.
Learn more: Dry Sherry Substitutes
5. Sherry Wine or Sweet Vermouth
If you don’t have dry sherry, you can use sherry wine mixed with sweet vermouth—mix equal amounts of sherry wine and sweet vermouth to give more intense flavors to your dish.
Sherry and sweet vermouth are other types of fortified wine, flavored with aromatic spices and herbs, enhancing the aroma.
We like using Amontillado wine if a recipe calls for dry Marsala wine. This is a variety of sherry wine originating in Spain from the 18th century. For a sweet Marsala wine alternative, you can also use Pedro Ximinez, another Spanish wine.
6. Port Wine
Port is a fortified wine you can use instead of Marsala wine when creating desserts and other sweet recipes. We like using Port as a base for desserts, particularly if we poach or braise pears and other fruits.
While Port is usually associated with sweet red wine, there are many flavors to choose from. Dry, semi-dry, white, and rose varieties you can use when savory recipes call for Marsala wine.
Learn more: Port Wine Substitutes
7. White Grape Juice
Do you have white grape juice in the kitchen? Mix it with brandy or cognac to make a suitable Marsala wine substitute! For every quarter cup of white grape juice, mix in one teaspoon of brandy. If you need one cup of white grape juice, mix one tablespoon plus one teaspoon of brandy or cognac.
8. Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a kind of red wine made of Pinot Noir grapes. It gives off a slightly sweet flavor and can be found in your local grocery or liquor store.
You can add a little bit of sugar until you reach the desired taste, as this ingredient helps mimic Marsala wine’s flavor.
Other Non-Alcohol Substitutions To Try
If you aren’t using Marsala wine because of the alcohol content, we’ve got you covered. Here are non-alcoholic options for your dishes:
1. White Grape Juice
We mentioned white grape juice mixed with brandy or cognac. You can make a non-alcoholic mixture using a quarter cup grape juice, one tablespoon of vanilla extract, and two tablespoons of sherry vinegar.
2. Prunes with Balsamic Vinegar
Besides prunes, you can also use figs or plums to substitute for Marsala wine. Cook down any of those fruits until it becomes a stew-like texture, simmering it over low heat, then straining them using a fine-mesh sieve. Once you have strained your fruit, add Balsamic vinegar until it reaches your desired taste.
3. Red Grape Juice
If you plan on making cakes or other baked goods, we recommend using red grape juice. You can also use cranberry juice if that’s what you have!
Granted, you won’t get the exact flavor, but it’s good enough and without any alcohol.
4. Figs and Rosemary
Mix figs, rosemary, and sage by making it into a puree. Either use the puree as is, or you can water it down slightly before using it. When you use this to substitute for Marsala wine, add one teaspoon each time in your recipe, only increasing the amount as desired.
5. Balsamic Vinegar
While balsamic vinegar works as an alternative to Marsala wine, this is only best used when really in a pinch. This isn’t our first choice, especially when you need to make sweet dishes or the recipe calls for sweet Marsala.
If you use balsamic vinegar, we suggest you reduce it first and add a bit of sugar afterward. There’s no exact amount needed to add, just enough until it reaches your desired taste.
If you plan on making a meat dish or other savory recipe, you can use chicken or vegetable stock. Simmer the dish with the stock for a longer period. The taste won’t be exactly like you used Marsala, but it’s adequate for such dishes without alcohol.
Frequently Asked Questions
But wait, we’ve got more in store for you! Learn more about Marsala wine here with these frequently asked questions from readers.
Wrapping It Up
Marsala wine can be a bit difficult to find in local grocery or liquor stores. Or sometimes, we tend to forget that we don’t have enough Marsala when it’s time to cook.
Not to worry, as there are fantastic Marsala wine substitutes you can use, either for cooking or drinking.
We hope that our list has helped you find the most suitable one you have in the kitchen right now. Try any of the options above, and let us know what worked best for the dish you made in the comments section below.