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Berger: Beaujolais Nouveau an overrated wine

Walk into any upscale café and look at the wine list. There are a lot of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons, right?

Curiously enough, many people still buy one or the other of these strange choices to go with their dinner.

To me, neither is a very acceptable choice for a meal. Chardonnays usually are a parody of themselves, soft and occasionally so sweet they conflict with many dishes. And today's young cabs are unformed little monsters with hard tannins that might be fine in a decade. But not now.

I was reminded of this fact late last week when I recalled that last Thursday was Beaujolais Nouveau day around the world. It is the third Thursday in November that the first of that year's wines are released.

So the first 2014s are out. So what?

Beaujolais Nouveau is almost not wine. It is a frivolous light red wine made from Gamay, has a load of fresh-jammy fruit, and is best served chilled. As such, no self-respecting wine snob would be caught dead with a bottle of this stuff.

Yet it is a perfectly satisfactory quaff with calamari dipped in aioli, truffled fries, bruschetta, and all other finger foods, a culinary category that is so popular these days.

If it isn't already clear, the kind of food referenced here is not 'gourmet,' which is in quotes since I really do not know what it means, exactly.

Beaujolais Nouveau is exactly the sort of wine that ought to be at most people's hand when eating most meals. It may well be essential to have a 1982 Petrus when dining at Paul Bocuse or Lucas Carton, but at your local café (two steps above a diner), wines from more 'ordinary' grapes are best.

That's because so many other grapes work best young with the foods we typically eat, which rarely involve two pounds of butter and a two-day reduction sauce.

Here are a few to think about:

Barbera: This tart, red Italian wine, also being made by a wide variety of California wineries, is a great companion to tomato-sauced pasta dishes, as well as chicken cacciatore, eggplant parmesan, and a wide range of foods that are based on acidic ingredients. Barbera is typically not very dark in color, relatively crisp, and usually has moderate alcohol.

Sancerre and fume blanc: These two elegant, tart white wines from the eastern Loire Valley are crisp enough to balance the delicacy of pan-fried trout, sanddabs, and other lighter, white seafood dishes. Rarely are such dishes prepared with heavy cream, so many Loire white wines are a sheer joy with them.

Sherry: Almost no one remembers this Spanish gem of a wine, which many believe to be solely a dessert item. But a small glass of a dry or medium-dry sherry served alongside a creamed soup (with perhaps a teaspoon of the wine added to the soup!) is a sublime experience.

Vinho Verde: This dry white (there is also a red by that name) from Portugal has low alcohol, is crisp and delicate, and works nicely with appetizers. Buy the youngest bottle you can find (it doesn't age well) and chill it to get the marine-y aroma.

Lemberger: Virtually unknown in many areas of the world, this cold-climate red can be a charmer with hamburgers and meat loaf. The best versions are from New York and Washington.

Off-dry riesling: When dining at a Thai, Mandarin, or Indian restaurant, seek out a slightly sweet Riesling to buffer the mouth against spiced dishes. I love hot foods, but the usual suggestion of beer is done more for its heat-protection qualities. Medium-dry Riesling does as good a job and offers a delightful aroma of fresh, tropical fruit.

Finally, is it just a coincidence that the official release date for Beaujolais Nouveau comes just a week before Thanksgiving? You can determine that on your own.

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