It is a simple idea: You sell a bottle of wine by putting an illustration on the label showing the food that goes well with it. Most people, the theory goes, think food first and wine second.
That is the concept behind the line of wines called "Wines That Love," now sold in Maryland. These inexpensive wines (the suggested retail is $13 a bottle; I found some on sale for $10) are matched with popular supper entrees. So you have one wine that proffers itself as the perfect partner for steak, another for chicken, another for pizza, another for grilled salmon and then one for pasta.
The wines are blends that come from Italy, Spain and Chile. They have synthetic corks, not screw tops.
The palate behind these pairings is Ralph Hersom, who earlier in his career has been wine director for Le Cirque and cellar master for Windows on the World, two high-end Manhattan restaurants.
"We identified food that people eat on a weekly basis, then identified the wine for it," Hersom told me in a telephone interview. Most people, Hersom said, begin a meal by choosing the food. "Then they ask, 'What am I going to drink with that?' Left to their own devices, many people don't have a clue."
The pairings, Hersom said, are the result of lengthy tasting sessions in which endless servings of, say, pasta with tomato sauce, were matched with various wines. "We tried to make the meals as authentic as possible," he said, adding that the tomato sauce on the pasta dish came from jars.
The procedure was to sip the blend, then eat a bite of the food, then sip the blend again, he said. When the pairings got close, Hersom hopped on an airplane and visited several wineries and "played chemist," tweaking the blend of varietals until he got what he thought was the ideal mix. The perfected blend was then bottled and shipped to the United States.
I tasted five of the wines with the suggested food pairings and, for the most part, they worked. They were one-dimensional, and while I enjoyed sipping them when they were paired with food, generally they were not pleasant to drink solo. They have high acidity for wines that have similar prices, which makes them good wines to enjoy with food.
There are plans, Hersom said, to expand the line, matching wines with other foods.
Here is my rundown on the line, which is distributed in Maryland by Washburn Wines:
Wine That Loves Pizza
This medium-red wine, a blend of Italian corvina and rondinella ripasso with lambrusco, had a pleasing aroma, firm fruit notes and a slight sweetness that stood up to a homemade pizza of pesto, sausage and cheese. It is the lone wine of the line I would sip solo.
Wine That Loves Roast Chicken
This wine was red, not white. Garnacha grapes from Spain give this light red wine the kind of bright fruit flavors and low tannin that work well with the dry meat of roast chicken.
Wine That Loves Steak
A relatively high-alcohol wine - 14.5 percent - with substantial tannin, this blend of reserve merlot and carmenere from Chile stood up to the big, dark flavors of grilled steak. The more steak I ate, the better the wine tasted.
Wine That Loves Grilled Salmon
I thought I was sipping sauvignon blanc, but this turned out to be a blend of pinot grigio, garganega and chardonnay from Italy. The fruit flavor of this slightly sweet wine cut through the creamy flavors of the fish.
Wine That Loves Pasta With Tomato Sauce
The one clinker in this collection. A blend of syrah and nero d'Avola from Italy, it was flat and did little for the pasta.