"This water tastes like the baby pool at the club!"

The water in question was from the tap. And the eminent jurist, among those invited to savor 16 domestic and imported bottled waters at The Washington Post's informal "water-tasting," generally faulted the acqua ordinaire for a chlorine bouquet. Only one jurist praised the Potomac as possessing a "good, pure flavor" - but he'd been smoking a pipe.

Bottled waters fared a little better. There were decided differences in taste - salinity, alkalinity, effervescene and so forth. Among the stillwaters, a number were deemed full of character - robust, gregarious, even pretentious. Others were adjudged, in the words of one eminent tongue, "just plain water." (Whatever that is.) Mountain Valley, it was generally agreed, marched over the palate with presumption. A cheaper domestic, Lucerne, was felt to lack breeding, but offered promise. And so it went.

The distilled water, devoid of all minerals that generally give water its distinctive, regional flavor, seemed rather timid. "Real milquetoast," said one jurist. It made most tongues feel like curling up and going to sleep.

Other waters were more controversial, fueling brushfires of dispute. At several watering holes along the table, vehement volleys of disagreement were exchanged.

"A good clean taste."

"You idiot, this tastes like it was bubbled with Bon Ami."

" . . . Naw, Alka-Seltzer."

"Not too bad, not too good."

"My goldfish would rather die than swim in this!"

". . . makes a darn good glass of water."

". . . couldn't save bad Scotch."

The waters were tasted blind, that is, the bottles were frocked in numbered paper bags to hide labels and giveaways shapes. To keep judges uncompromised, three bottles were emptied, refilled from the tap and rebagged. Almost every judge frowned disapproval as as soon as aqua ordinaire it the lips; it was unequivocally identified every time.

Several effervescent (bubbly) waters were added as divertissement . Perrier was served from a clear (numbered) pitcher; Badoit, Apollinaris, Vichy Celestins, Saratoga Vichy and San Pelligrino from the bottle. (Alka-Seltzer and club soda did not participate.) Several judges belched satisfaction, but few were able to pick Perrier from the pack. Its export varietal seemed to lack the stubborn C02 kick - that famous (prickly) nose jolt - so reowned when the self-christened "champagne of bottled waters" is served in France. Perhaps, it was suggested, Perrier did not travel well. Apollinaris, however, proved to be the nicest surprise - a big water, full-bodied, with a velvet sparkle.

Water was served slightly chilled, in clear glasses. No bread was offered to clear the palate between sips. Judges scribbled their aftertaste immediately on note pads before moving on to the next water.

Bottles were purchased from a local distributor and area grocers. Dusty bottles were avoided. Deer Park - considered the Ripple of bottled waters at 49 cents a gallon - was not available. Thus it, along with a number of other hard-to-find waters - Berkley Springs from West Virginia, Pennsylvania's Snow Valley, Maryland's Rock Creek, France's Vichy Saint Yorre, Calistogas (California's answer to Perrier), Sweden's Ramlosa and others - were, unfortunately, not stampled.

The outcome (note that price may vary from store to store): STILLWATERS

MOUNTAIN VALLEY: 28 ounces; 79 cents.

Outgoing crisp, expansive charm; neutral finish; refined; makes dependable, if expensive, Scotch and water.

LUCENE: (from Mount Sidney, Va., spring) 1 gallon; 65 cents.

Good everyday plastic-jug water; clean taste; young, though has grace and finish of acqua ordinaire, sans chlorine.

EVIAN: 30 ounces; $1.19.

Surprisingly plain for a French water; austere nose; clean bite; heavy on the tongue; good, if expensive, colletor's water.

POLAR BORDEN'S SPRING: 1 gallon; 79 cents.

A beaujolais of a stillwater; young, balanced. Okay on a hot day.

AQUA ORDINAIRE: (from the tap).

1 gallon; free (almost).

As charming as the baby pool; strong bouquet of chlorine; chemical nose; unmannerly.

FIUGGI: 30 ounces; $1.08.

Good but not terrific, neutral finish; pleasant, though hardly memorable.

SPA: 33 ounces; $1.17.

Bland, tasteless. A nothing water.

CONTREXEVILLE: 30 ounces; $1.29.

Like Spa, spineless.

POLAND: 32 ounces; 78 cents.

Plain, inoffensive, water with no aftertaste; tres middle-of-the-road, thin.

POLAR DISTILLED: 1 gallon; 79 cents.

Flat, dry taste of cotton; lacks charafter, contrived. BUBBLIES

APOLLINARIS: 32 ounces; $1,17.

A big bubbly; passionate, biting effervescence; slight, mineral finish; plenty of presumption for those who can afford it.

PERRIER: 24 ounces; 98 cents.

Robust; adequate, if predictable,nose tickle; pleasant, mineral finish; dependable.

SAN PELLIGRINO: 31 ounces; $1.19.

A gentle water with a slight, though not altogether unpleasant, nose; aftertaste has short, rapidly diminshing half-life; intriguing.

VICHY CELESTINS: 31 ounces; $1.19.

Pretentious; salty backbite, heavy on the swallow; rude, spicy nose.

BADOIT: 30 ounces; $1.29.

Irritable, lingering aftertaste, evasive nose of a flat club sodas; brackish, sulfurous finish.

SARATOGA VICHY: 32 ounces; 86 cents.

A strong bubbly; mawkish, flinty aftertaste of stale Alka-Seltzer; contrived nose; lacks finese.