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Waiter, this wine tastes like cat pee

New Zealand's crisp white wines are justly famed, particularly those from the South Island's Marlborough region. Now a study has analysed the taste of the country's most popular wine, sauvignon blanc – and those who quaff it might wish they hadn't.

Asparagus, one of the flavours identified by a team of researchers, might be just about acceptable. Passionfruit sounds fine. But cat's pee ... well, you could be forgiven for deciding to have a beer instead.

It seems, though, that drinkers, in New Zealand at least, are not deterred by such findings. One vineyard, Coopers Creek, is marketing its sauvignon blanc under the name "Cat's Pee On A Gooseberry Bush", calling it "a youthful, kittenish wine, full of zing and zip".

The wine scientists spent six years and more than £6m studying the unique character of sauvignon blanc, New Zealand's leading grape variety.

The "expert sensory panel" was trained to distinguish between 16 flavours, including canned and fresh asparagus, stone fruit, apple and snow peas.

Sue Blackmore, a wine science lecturer at New Zealand's Lincoln University, reassured wine drinkers that such flavours were present only in very small quantities.

"We are talking about parts per billion, very tiny amounts to make the wine more complex and interesting," she said. "If you had a lot of the compounds that give you cat's pee, it obviously wouldn't be great, but it's amazing what a little can do."