Vermouth is actually an ancient drink using wine as a base and a variety of roots, herbs and spices, wormwood in particular. Wormwood was believed to treat stomach issues and intestinal parasites.  The name Vermouth derives from the German Wermut (wormwood).  Modern Vermouth, a fortified wine, is traditionally from the Turin area of Italy (think Cinzano),  but France(Noilly Pratt)  and other countries also have their own versions.  Wormwood has been banned as a drink ingredient in many countries.  In general Italian vermouth tends to be the sweeter red version and French vermouth the drier white version.

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Marsala available in North America is a fortified wine similar to Port, Madeira or Sherry. It is produced around the city of Marsala in Sicily.  It can be made from white or red grapes. White grape varieties are Grillo, Inzolia, or Catarratto. Red varieties are Perricone, Calabrese, Nero d’Avola or Nerello Mascalese. Coloring can be golden, amber or ruby.

Marsala is marketed with 3 different levels of sweetness and various amounts of aging:

  • Secco (Dry) maximum 40 grams of residual sugar per litre
  • Semi-Secco (Semi-Dry) 41-100 with 40 grams of residual sugar per litre
  • Sweet > 100 grams of residual sugar per litre
  • Fine- aged < 1year
  • Superiore- aged at least 2 years
  • Superiore Riserva aged at least 4 years
  • Vergine e/o Solera – aged at least 5 years
  • Vergine e/o Solera Stravecchio or Vergine e/o Solera Riserva- aged at least 10 years

In Sicily Marsala is traditionally served as an aperitif between first and 2nd course of a meal. More recently dry Marsalas may be served chilled with cheeses such as Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Roquefort or other spicy cheeses and fruits.  Sweet Marsala may also be served at room temperature as a dessert wine.

In North America Marsala is primarily used in cooking with Chicken Marsala being the most well known.

Wine Pairing Veal Shells with Marsala and Vermouth & Melon & Crispy Prosciutto Salad

Vigne di Catullo Lugana Riserva 2012


Veal Shells with Marsala and Vermouth

Melon and Crispy Prosciutto Salad


When researching wine pairing suggestions for veal I decided on a Chianti to keep with the Italian meal theme.  I chose a Nozzole Chianti Classico Reserva 2011 largely based on a sign in the Liquor Control Board of Ontario  (LCBO) outlet proclaiming it to be the ‘benchmark of chianti’.  High praise indeed.

Then I was curious to find a Sicilian wine thinking that it might compliment the veal dish’s  Marsala notes in style and terroir.  I found Pupillo Cyane Moscato 2010 with an intriguing write up. Antonio Galloni of described it as ‘distinct quality of grape but in a dry appealing way. White flowers, orange blossoms and pears, expressive textured finish’ awarding it a score of 90 when reviewed in Feb 2013.

In searching for the Sicilian wine I came across Vigne di Catullo from the Lombardy region of  Italy. It originally caught my eye due to the rating of 94 by Kerin O’Keefe of the Wine Enthusiast  I was intrigued by the promise on the label of ‘a rich flavour, with accents of hazelnut and ripe fruit and a focused, silky finish.’

Tasting notes are ordered in order of preference.

Vigne di Catullo Lugana Riserva 2012

$23.95 released in LCBOs (437004) March 19, 2016

This wine did not disappoint.   The nose was slightly floral which evolved to notes of lychee as it opened up. It was lively, clean and crisp on the palate.  There were very subtle mineral and herbal tones.  It paired beautifully with both the fruit in the Melon and Crispy Prosciutto  Salad and the savoury veal course. I will be stocking up on this one!

Pupillo Cyane Moscato 2010

$18.95 released in  LCBOs  (156430)  January 19, 2016

There was no description on the bottle so I picked this up on the strength of its Sicilian provenance and the fact that it is a dry Moscato.  Moscato tends to be known as a sweeter wine but this is the second dry Moscato I have come across in the past month.  It is a deep gold colour with deliciously petrol and diesel on the nose.  The wine itself is clean, somewhat round on the tongue.  There were hints of stone fruits and kaffir lime.  Unfortunately  I found the finish to be disappointingly on the short side.

Nozzole Chianti Classico Reserva 2011

$19.95 released in LCBOs   (324160) March 19, 2016.

I found it to have leather, flint and a hint of spicy caramel on the nose.  Tar and high tannins  on the tongue.  This was a BIG wine.  It completely overwhelmed and clashed with the savoury notes in the veal dish. (My bad).  This is not a reflection on the wine, rather the pairing.  It  needs stronger flavours to balance the force of this wine…perhaps steak with mushroom and/or blue cheese trimmings.   I would agree with wine critic Michael Godel’s comment that it is  ‘A dry, dusty and somewhat rustic Chianti, well-priced and a step beyond basic.’