"I'll have a Perrier, please," said a pert twenty-something woman attending a book party at an upscale hotel near Harvard University.
The barman shook his head. "Perrier went out with Ronald Reagan," he said. "Now it's Pellegrino."
So how good is S. Pellegrino, the fancy sparkling natural mineral water imported from Italy? A Monitor panel of eight volunteers tested this latest in-vogue water against some of its major competition - Perrier and Poland Spring. And to make the test a little more interesting, we included an old-time, lower-priced brand in our test: Canada Dry Club Soda.
It was a blind testing. Each panelist was given plain cups numbered 1 through 4 filled with chilled sparkling waters. Tasters were asked to rank the waters, and write down their likes and dislikes.
Although there were some differences of opinion among the panelists, the overall results were clear. The surprising winner was Canada Dry.
S. Pellegrino dribbled in fourth.
Among the taste testers, six of the eight chose Canada Dry as their favorite.
"Fresh, fizzy, feisty," wrote one panelist. Two of the panelists commented that the Canada Dry was more flavorful, "almost fruity." Another described it as "refreshing."
Pellegrino's problem? "Quick to go flat," one complained. "Somewhat chalky." Another described Pellegrino as rather medicinal. Others said it was "a bit boring" with "fewer bubbles." Several who disliked Pellegrino said later they thought they were drinking the budget-priced Canada Dry.
And what of Poland Spring and Perrier? Panelists rated them almost identically - not as tasty as Canada Dry, but sharper and livelier than Pellegrino.
"An aggressive little water! Crisp and quenching," one taster said of Poland Spring. Another said the "taste stays in your mouth longer" than other brands.
Upon drinking Perrier and Poland Spring, one taster said he could scarcely tell any difference. But others said the Perrier left an aftertaste, and was either "dull," as one tester put it, or comparatively "flat."
The bottom line: When you pay a lot more for fancy brands, including the imports, it doesn't guarantee you'll get better taste. In fact, the winning drink in this test was from a firm that bottles its water domestically and is best known for its ginger ale.