Despite those know-it-all friends and the giddying array of vintages, wine shopping can still be one of life's great joys

Click! Into the e-mail in-box plops news of a survey on buying wine for dinner parties from the excellent Chilean producer Cono Sur. The surveyors phoned 969 people, roughly equally split between the sexes. The subjects were asked four questions, about how they choose wine, how they serve and pour it, what constitutes quality in wine, and - most intriguingly - how they "feel" about serving wine at dinner parties. The agency that commissioned the survey put its own spin on the results: "Brits in the dark about a good glass of wine."

I'm not so sure that the findings were quite that dramatic. For instance, the "correct" answer for identifying quality in wine is "it's [sic] rich fruit flavour", with incorrect options comprising aroma and colour. Anyone with even a little experience knows that "fruit flavour" is only part of the story and aromas tell as much about wine as the flavour. They also gives a rather prissy correct option for serving wine, saying that you're wrong to do anything except hold the bottle by the base and twist it as you finish pouring to prevent drips. OK, that might be the textbook method, but I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen people do it, except in restaurants.

The section on how consumers choose wine finds that 60 per cent of them go by price, with 50 per cent choosing discounted wines and 48 buying by country. No surprises there: we all know that UK consumers spend very little on their wine (around £3.80 a bottle last time I looked) and that supermarket special offers draw them in like flies to a lump of raw beef. Shoppers clearly don't pay enough attention to wine hacks, even though over 70 per cent say they follow "recommendations or advice" when choosing: we're always trying to urge consumers to spend more.

The really intriguing part of the survey deals with feelings about buying wine. It could have been worse: 60 per cent said they felt no apprehension about buying a wine to serve to their guests. But that leaves over a third who answered "yes" to one or more of the following options: "being out of my depth", or "nervous", or "intimidated", or "worrying about what other people will think of my choice" when choosing wine.

Why so much worry about a simple pleasure? It must have something to do with the over-abundance of choice. Go into a big supermarket and you find row upon row of bottles. Eight Australian Chardonnays. Three Muscadets. Six Chilean Merlots. If you do not have detailed knowledge of who's up and who's down, you're sunk. And you're in even more trouble if you worry about what your guests will think. There is always going to be someone who knows, or thinks he knows, about the fine points of which you are supposedly ignorant.

The good news for nervous or intimidated buyers is supermarkets do offer high technical standards. You won't often find a really offensive wine selling for £4.49 or above. The bad news: you're also unlikely to find what your guests would regard with love and fascination - it's the independents who deal in those commodities.

The point was brought home forcefully at a recent Sainsbury's tasting, where the main range was deeply overshadowed by offerings from Sainsburys.co.uk, its on-line arm. Alan Cheesman of Sainsbury's described the on-line service as "our wine buyers' playground", where they buy up small parcels of interesting (and usually more expensive) wines which wouldn't find a place on the shelves. I'd describe the on-line shop as a wine merchant, while the main range is part of a supermarket. Here are three wines from the on-line offering, all coming on-stream in June. And all guaranteed to banish nervousness, intimidation and related emotions.

Top Corks: Sainsbury's on-line stars

Spy Valley Pinot Noir 2002, Marlborough £8.99 Not New Zealand's greatest Pinot but a mighty fine one, especially at this price. Good smoky, cherry-rich fruit and very soft tannins.

Springfield Estate Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2002, Robertson £8.99 A restrained, un-oaked specimen, from an estate that practises minimal intervention. Pure, well-knitted varietal flavours.

Ermita Veracruz Verdejo 2003, Rueda £8.99 A modern-style Spanish white, carefully handled fruit yielding tangy freshness and zippy acidity, with a creamy texture rounding it off. Lovely stuff.

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