Dog adoptions have slowed after peaking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, wine consumption is at a decline for the first time in decades. What does a wine expert who loves dogs do to support two of her biggest passions during these tough times?
Write a book pairing dogs with types of wine, of course!
Michele Gargiulo is a sommelier in the Philadelphia area. Her first book, Pairing Paws: Dog Breeds & Their Spirit Wines, assigns more than 50 dogs to wines based on their personality, appearance, and unique breed history. Popular and exotic breeds alike are expertly paired with a variety of wines through evocative descriptions and full-page photos that bring together two passionate groups of people: wine fans and dog lovers.
Get a preview of the dogs (and soon, cats!) on Instagram and learn more: www.pairingpaws.com
Gargiulo began writing Pairing Paws: Dog Breeds & Their Spirit Wines during a time of great personal challenge. She and her dog Riesling were living on their own for the first time in a long time. It was also early 2020 – shortly before her industry would be ravaged by global lockdowns.
Dogs have been there for Gargiulo during some of the hardest times of her life. Her book honors and gives back to these animals, as 50% of proceeds are donated to animal rescue efforts in Philadelphia. When she looked for pets to feature in her book, she gave priority to rescue dogs, reflected in the photos of the unique and loveable dogs representing breeds such as the Chihuahua and West Highland white terrier.
Self-published, the book was rejected by more than a dozen publishers, in part because of her dedication to rescues.
“Some publishers said no people wouldn’t care to read a book that pairs wines with inedible animals. They also didn’t like that the book featured rescues, because they aren’t purebred. So, I published the book myself, sourcing the designer, editor, printer, and photographer while juggling all the other moving parts that go into self-publishing,” Gargiulo said. “I was sure the publishers were wrong – that rescue dogs do have a large following of people who care.”
The book was recently released in summer 2022 and is now available through online retailers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You might also catch Gargiulo with her book at events in and around Philly. Meet her at White Dog Cafe in Wayne, which is hosting a book signing on September 19!
She began pairing dogs with food and drink by assigning a type of wine to her own dog based on the attitude little Riesling had that day. “You always think these dogs are going to be as sweet as a dessert wine,” Gargiulo writes of Yorkshire terriers in her book, “but they are actually very complex little creatures.” She pairs the breed with a dry and rich Riesling variety.
Yet, she said fun, fresh takes like this are uncommon in the world of wine. Though the industry is changing, many people still see wine as an expensive pastime belonging to an exclusive club guarded by its experts. She hopes that a book like hers can create a more welcoming and inclusive space that’s realistic about the way people today drink wine.
“For a lot of people, the reality of how they enjoy wine is pouring a glass or two to drink with their McDonald’s,” Gargiulo says. “I wanted to inject some fun into something that’s been too stuffy for too long.”
And with her book, she succeeds.
I love the book for its approachability and lighthearted – sometimes humorous – tone. It isn’t too dry or intense for me (a simple enjoyer of canned cocktails), yet is full-bodied enough for true wine fans and Garguilo’s own contemporaries. That’s because she is a master at her craft, sharing the histories of both drink and dog in ways that bring them to life on the page – even if you can’t tell a retriever from a spaniel or a merlot from a malbec.
For instance, she pairs the Boston terrier, one of the bubbliest breeds of dog in the world, with a champagne. This pairing needs no further explanation. But when she pairs the greyhound with a Beaujolais nouveau, a type of wine with which I am unfamiliar, her descriptions of both the breed and the wine are so vivid that it all makes sense, even to me.
As a sommelier, Gargiulo is perfectly positioned to pair food with drink, and she does so while folding in everyday scenarios familiar and delightful to dog owners. She sets scenes in which the reader sits on the floor with a glass of wine, some spinach puffs, and their English mastiff while procrastinating paying the bills.
Some highlights include her recommendation to enjoy the Australian cattle dog’s wine with a Slim Jim. Or to drink the Cavalier King Charles spaniel’s with a lobster roll. Or the German shorthaired pointer’s with soft pretzel bites dipped in cheese.
“I recommend enjoying this wine with spicy pad thai while reassuring your Havanese that they are the only love of your life,” she writes in what is probably my favorite line from her book.
I met Gargiulo after she featured my dog Dipper in Pairing Paws: Dog Breeds & Their Spirit Wines. I got a good laugh when she paired the silky terrier – Dipper’s breed and a close relative of the Yorkie – with a Hungarian wine that isn’t currently exported to the United States. I’d never thought of my dog as something so exotic. I wondered how she knew to recommend the wine with oysters and an evening of watching my dog chase birds on the beach – two of my favorite things!
I had also never heard of a wine having notes of wet rocks or crushed shells, which are ways Gargiulo describes some of the wines in the book. But as I read, it was as if those notes flooded my senses then and there thanks to her descriptions alone. This reminded me of the way dogs smell and experience the world, with a nose that is – based on scientists’ most modest estimate – at least 10,000 times stronger than ours. Wine tasting, too, relies on a honed sense of taste and smell. Wine lovers and dogs may be more similar than they realize!
Today, Gargiulo is working on her next book, in which she pairs wine with breeds of cats. (She’s currently seeking owners of exotic cats in the Philly area – contact her if you have one!)
If you’re disappointed your favorite breed of dog didn’t make it into her first book, she said she’s open to the idea of a second volume with even more breeds and wine pairings. You can also follow her on social media, where she’s continuing her breed pairings.