Bone Appétit!

We eat dog food so you don’t have to!

By Teddy Wayne

$2.59 for 13.2 oz.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY NICK FERRARI FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

You love your dog like it’s a member of your family. Why not feed it like one? Many people do. “Human-grade” pet food — which meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ ingredient and manufacturing requirements — and its less strictly defined relatives are a rising sector of the $18.9 billion pet food industry. David Lummis, senior pet market analyst at Packaged Facts, estimates that all-natural dog food represents 10 percent of all sales.

How does gourmet dog food taste to a human palate? Lucy Postins has some idea. The founder of Honest Kitchen, the biggest pet food company permitted to claim human-grade status, says her 16 employees try every ingredient when putting a recipe together. But what about the average foodie? I tucked into seven dog dishes and solicited wine pairings from André Mack, owner of Mouton Noir Wines and award-winning former head sommelier of three-Michelin-star-rated Per Se in New York.

Merrick

Burger Pie & Sweety Fries

Presentation

The old-timey can features a Norman Rockwell–style drawing of a hamburger and fries on a checkered tablecloth. The food within consists of chunks of potatoes buried in a tilled soil of brownish blended meat.

Taste

A passable canned beef stew, but missing the complex texture of, say, a Campbell’s Chunky. The potatoes — sweet and white — were tasty but dominated by the gamey beef mash. Best for unsophisticated palates.

Wine Pairing

A full body to take on the texture, tight tannins to help break down that major-league beef, and redolent oak to tame the gaminess. 2007 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec, Mendoza

RATING: 2/5

Weruva

Cirque de la Mer

Presentation

Sizable chunks of tuna in a pumpkin soup bedecked with bright pieces of carrot and sweet potato. The green label boasts “Actual Food” and “Made in a Human Food Facility.” The fine print reads, “For Pets Only.”

Taste

The tuna is light and savory, while the vegetables make for a sufficiently fresh, if unexceptional, garnish. Well seasoned. A hearty, balanced meal fit for either a king’s feast or a peasant’s hearth.

Wine Pairing

A New Zealand sauvignon blanc with bright flavors (light enough not to overwhelm the fish), a crisp finish, and notes of cat pee in the bouquet. 2009 Kumeu River Sauvignon Blanc

RATING: 4.5/5

Weruva

Jammin’ Salmon

Presentation

Stringy chicken and salmon swimming in a soupy blend. Chicken is first in the ingredient list and salmon fourth, but “Guitar-Pickin’ Chicken” wouldn’t be as sexy. The fish gives it a cat-food-like odor. All in a can with a 1970s-orange label.

Taste

A largely neutral assemblage, save for the salmon, which smacks of store-bought tuna. The tomatoes, peas, sweet potatoes (a dog-food staple), and tiny pieces of withered pumpkin are lost in the mealy sludge.

Wine Pairing

A warmer-climate pinot noir offers fruit to fend off salmon aromas and slightly higher alcohol, translating to body or mouthfeel to match the texture of the potatoes. 2008 Loring Brosseau Vineyard Chalone Pinot Noir

RATING: 1.5/5

Honest Kitchen

Embark

Presentation

Dehydrated food resembling chopped broccoli in a recycled, biodegradable box. Water turns it into a green, spinach-celery porridge with flecks of color from a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, including coconut and kelp.

Taste

While the spinach-celery base lacks pizazz, the other elements — notably the cage-free turkey — anchor an engaging mélange. Hints of rosemary bring nuance to the 1960s-commune gruel.

Wine Pairing

A wine without oak or malolactic fermentation, but with tropical flower notes would complement the coconut and fruits in the dish. 2009 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

RATING: 4/5

Merrick

Little Italy

Presentation

Nearly square gelatinous meatballs float in a gooey brown stock, with crescent moons of pasta and tiny spheres of carrot. The appetizing illustration of the dish on the label is borderline false advertising.

Taste

The pasta was not quite al dente but edible; I confess I could not bring myself to eat the chicken-and-beef-liver meatballs. If there is indeed Parmesan cheese in the can, as the label promises, I failed to discern it.

Wine Pairing

A wine that has some acid to cut through the fattiness of the meatballs and to complement the freshness and earthiness of the carrots. Nebbiolo is my go-to here. 2006 Antoniolo Gattinara

RATING: 1/5

Michael’s Soul-Stew

Chicken

Presentation

Whole ingredients packed in a glass mason jar, with a blue-and-white label and an image of a grinning dog. Michael’s claims to use only “USDA certified human-grade meats and farm fresh vegetables.”

Taste

Belying the mascot’s happy expression, Michael’s neglected to add any seasoning, resulting in a healthy but insipid pablum of carrots, yams, potatoes, rice, peas, and celery. The titular soul is nowhere to be tasted.

Wine Pairing

A vouvray (from the Loire Valley), particularly one with an “off-dry” style with exotic flavors of ginger and fig, should add dimension to this flavorless dish. 2010 Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Demi-Sec

RATING: 2.5/5

Nature’s Variety SweetSpots

Sweet Potato & Molasses

Presentation

A small paper cup filled with burnt-orange frozen yogurt in an appealingly nostalgic brown box with a picture of a tongue-wagging lab. It’s 98 percent lactose-free, so it’s ideal for Jewish dogs or ones with digestive problems.

Taste

The deliciously light flavor of sweet potato commingles with molasses in this melt-in-your-mouth guiltless treat. Of the various dog foods I’ve sampled, this is the only one I might try again.

Wine Pairing

As a counterpoint to the sweet potato and slightly bitter molasses, a light, mineral-driven riesling. It’s austere and precise in the face of this frozen dessert. 2007 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling, Nahe

RATING: 5/5

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