The first sip of wine most Italian Americans have tasted is probably Marsala. In sabayon or in a sponge cake, or even as a drop in a decorated shot glass. Marsala is a fortified wine produced in Sicily, especially in the province of Trapani. Originally, it was fortified with alcohol and aged in wooden casks to ensure that it would last long ocean voyages, like Portuguese Port.
In 1773, English trader John Woodhouse landed by mistake at the port of Marsala and discovered the local wine called Perpetuum. Three years later, he returned to Sicily and began the mass production and commercialization of what became known as Marsala wine.
In 1833, the entrepreneur Vincenzo Florio, Calabrese by birth and Palermitano by adoption, bought the land between the two largest established Marsala producers and set to making his own vintage with even more exclusive range of grape. Florio purchased Woodhouse's firm, among others, in the late 19th century, and consolidated the Marsala wine industry.
Florio and Pellegrino remain the leading producers of Marsala wine today. It is still made using a process called in perpetuum that raises the alcohol level and alcoholic taste.