They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but let's face it, most of the time we do. The same can be said about wine. How many times have you made your decision on what wine to buy based on the label alone? That's an observation that stuck with writer Frances Mayes when she set out to create her new line of Italian wines.
Mayes is best known as the author of the wildly popular book, "Under the Tuscan Sun," in which she recounts her experience buying and restoring a 200-year-old farmhouse. The memoir stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for two and a half years and later was made into a movie. She has since published numerous other books, including her most recent work, "Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir."
Lately, however, Mayes' time has been spending time on the launch of a line of wines in Italy, and is now overseeing their marketing in the United States. "All of the states have business regulations and baroque rules," she said, which is why her wines are just now appearing in stores in Connecticut.
Mayes said the process started last July in Italy. She was having dinner with a friend -- a wine importer -- when the idea came up. "Many good things get decided over dinner," she said. So they set about tasting 115 different wines and finally chose seven for their sources. There are two whites: Abbraccio, a Trebbiano, Chardonnay, Grechetto blend, and Pensiero, a Pinot Grigio. The reds include Auguri, a Sangiovese blend; Permesso, a Cabernet Sauvignon; Sentiero Alla Casa, a Sangiovese Montepulciano blend, and Tondo Tondo, a Sangiovese. In addition, there is Toccare le Stelle, a Prosecco.
Each of the labels features a painting by artist Jennifer E. Young. "I wanted the labels to appeal to women," said Mayes. "In wine stores, the labels all look alike. They're very masculine." These, however, feature scenes from Mayes' life. The Permesso has a depiction of her front door, while Auguri shows her house.
On the back of each bottle, Mayes wrote a personal description. "I didn't want, `This is good with fish,' " she said. In addition, there is a symbol on the back of each label that means something personal to Mayes.
To celebrate the launch of her wines in Connecticut, Mayes held a tasting and wine signing last week at the Twisted Vine shop in downtown Fairfield. Fans of her books came out to chat and sample the vino.
Virginia and John Goodfellow had Mayes sign a copy of "Under Magnolia" as well as several bottles of wine. "We're giving this as a gift to our son, Todd," said Virginia. "It's his 50th birthday."
"I love Frances Mayes," said another fan, Andrea Olynick, "and my husband loves wine, so it's an easy match." Olynick said that, next to the Bible, "Under the Tuscan Sun" is her favorite book. "She is my favorite writer in the world," she said. "She has given so much of herself."
Olynick presented Mayes with a gift: a sparkly bag and a bubble bath cupcake. "You've brought so much joy to my life," Olynick told Mayes. "I've read `Under Magnolia' and I'm about to listen to it on audio."
Mayes laughed. "It's many hours of a southern accent, I have to warn you."
Tuscan Sun wines are now available in Connecticut and range in price from $12 to $26. For more information, visit www.tuscansunwines.com.