Group Grape 

Bargain Gewürztraminer pleases the crowd.

The wisdom of crowds is a hot topic right now, thanks in no small part to James Surowiecki's 2004 book by that name. Surowiecki points to piles of research indicating that groups of people make consistently smarter decisions than individuals — as evidenced in the book's opening anecdote about a butchered ox weighing just one pound more than the average guess of a crowd of fairgoers.

Thinking strength in numbers, we used a recent holiday weekend as an excuse to gather all our favorite Wineaux within walking distance for a bargain tasting. Our butchered ox: Gewürztraminer, that full-bodied, richly aromatic white wine so strongly associated with the best in German winemaking, despite a lineage that may actually trace back to Italy. The results said a bit more about the wisdom of personal taste than the wisdom of crowds. Although there was a clear favorite, each wine had at least one taster insisting it was best.

"Pear-licious!" a few of us exclaimed after tasting Columbia Winery's 2006 Gewürztraminer ($7.99), which had elements of peach as well, and was light and sweet enough to function as dessert all by itself. Our ecotaster friend from up the hill wasn't a fan — he felt that it lacked substance and likened it to Thunderbird, despite its relatively low alcohol content of 11 percent. One of our returning 'N Sync tasters thought of Sour Patch Kids, and could see enjoying this wine with a main course of fish. Melon, prosciutto, and cheese were other suggested accompaniments, courtesy of friends who had quite obviously just returned from a honeymoon in Italy.

Slightly more popular was the 2005 Fetzer Valley Oaks Gewürztraminer ($7.19), recently voted Best of Class in the 2007 West Coast Wine Competition. I loved this one for its light, mineral-y taste, on the dry side of sweet. Our Token Winemaker compared it to lemongrass tea and proclaimed it "good for semisweet swilling," even though it lacked that traditionally powerful Gewürz aroma of roses and lychees. Ecotaster liked this one, too — he called it refreshing and very drinkable, and imagined it with berries on a hot day. 'N Sync suggested trying it with something spicy.

Less pleasing to our crowd, but still not lacking in ardent defenders, was the 2006 Banyan Monterey County Gewürztraminer ($9). I didn't mind its citrusy aroma, but found the taste much too sweet. Ecotaster loved its spicy flavor and complexity — for him it brought to mind high-thread-count sheets. Tuscan Tippler #1 noted a slight effervescence that a few others detected as well; she declared it "yummy" — perfect for daytime drinking and the richest and most complex of our bargain trio. Tippler #2 was less a fan, but ever the romantic, thought it evoked moonlight in August.


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