Blind date

Drink - Victoria Moore gets fresh with Robert and friends

To some wine drinkers, Villa Maria's Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc is to wine what Dido is to music. Make of that what you will, according to where your areas of knowledge and snobbery lie.

Personally, I like Villa Maria a lot, but I'd generally pick up a Sancerre or something from the Touraine instead - yet I wouldn't have a clue where to start when it came to replacing the Dido CD, although, yes, I am very tired of it now.

My friend Robert, who knows more about music than he does about wine, never buys French wine. He is very keen on the zingy, upfront flavours of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in general, and he likes Villa Maria's award-winning version, but £7.99 is a lot to pay, especially on a week night. So what should he buy?

I repeated this dilemma to Oddbins and Majestic, which between them sent me a selection of Sauvignon Blancs mainly from the New World, but with a couple from France thrown in. Then I invited Robert and some others round for a blind tasting.

There were 11 wines, six blind tasters and me. I was strict - no one was allowed to get drunk until they'd sampled all the wines. First we tried the wines individually, then I put the numbered glasses on a table so that people could make comparative tastings against ones they weren't so sure about. Everyone was forced to make notes throughout, and I asked them to select their top two or three wines without stating the order of preference.

To my chagrin, the wine that emerged as clear favourite wasn't from Oddbins or Majestic at all. Five out of six of my tasters said they loved one we already had in the fridge and buy whenever Thresher deigns to stock it.

"West coast house in wine form," they wrote (whatever that means). "Fresh."

It was the breezy, zesty Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon Blanc, a vin de pays from the Cotes de Gascogne, and it costs only £5.29. I felt a little bit guilty because I'd asked Oddbins and Majestic for New World-style wines and, although this wine was very far from offering the restraint of, say, a Sancerre, it was a bit more, well, French than most of the others.

Once the bottles had been unmasked, Robert's other favourite wine turned out to be the Villa Maria, which goes to show not only that Villa Maria does indeed make good wine, but that Robert's palate knows what it likes. Two others had singled it out for special praise, commenting particularly on its delicious smell - "very enticing and classic Sauvignon, would definitely buy".

We had two other New Zealanders. One, Fairleigh Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2001 (Majestic, £6.99), was a hit. "Great smell - it hit me! More orangey, less lemony. Mellow." The other didn't win anyone's top vote, although it did get some great tasting notes - "very fresh gooseberry, elderflower, passion fruit" and "pale complexion of an English rose". To be fair to it, I had served the 2001 Dashwood Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (Oddbins, £6.99) towards the end, and I think it may have got a little bit lost among all the other shouty flavours. My cousin and I tried it again the next day, and we both found it very elegant.

Reviewing everyone's slips, I discovered that one other wine had done particularly well among the New World fans on my panel. The rest - me included - hadn't liked it at all, one complaining that it tasted of "petrol". But those who disagreed were ecstatic: "subtle but bright"; "clean - could drink all night". It was the Chilean Vistasur Sauvignon Blanc 2001 (Majestic, £4.99).

It is worth remembering that we were, for the most part, choosing stand-alone wines, though all went well with the cold salmon and asparagus pasta we ate afterwards. One last point: those looking for cheap NZ Sauvignon Blancs might be tempted by Oxford Landing at £4.99 (Oddbins and Majestic). Robert's tasting note hit the nail on the head: "A little watery. Quaffable, though. One to knock back without thinking." And his conclusion: "The one for drinking quickly to get pissed." So if that's what you want, then get it.

This article first appeared in the 04 March 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Lord Snooty and his party pals