THIS WAS the first time we ever really had any trouble getting volunteers for a tasting. Perhaps it was the volume.We tasted 39 varieties and brands of sardines available in Washington. The weight variances among the cans was about an ounce. They all weighed between 3 and 4 ounces. Here are the condensed results: GOOD TO GREAT

Madre Sicilia (Americana Market, Columbia Road, $1.05) -- skinless, boneless, in pure olive oil, produced of Spain. "Good quality meat, but not pretty, smoky, oil practically unnoticed." Also highly ranked among the Spanish imports was the Pay-Pay brand also available at Americana Market.

Underwood (95 cents) -- packed in soybean oil, one layer, product of Norway. No one was really excited, but they all agreed it was nonoffensive and adequate for snacking.

Scala (Americana, 55 cents) -- a little salty, but "natural, slightly smoky."

Roland (available in specialty shops, $1.39) -- "meaty tuna taste, not over-poweringly fishy."

Empress Sardines (Safeway, $1.09) -- skinless and boneless, packed in pure olive oil, product of Morocco, "excellent, well-balanced, not too fishy, safe."

Palacio Spicy Sardines (Americana, $1.15 -- spiced with gherkins, carrots, pepper, spices and salt, product of Spain. "Perfectly spiced, peppery perfume."

Long Life (Americana 59 cents) tied with Palacio for best of spicy, but these are very spicy.

Beach Cliff Small Size (Standard Drug Store, corner of Columbia Road and Belmont, two for 79 cents) -- cheap but the best of the Maine sardines.

Spirit of Norway (79 cents) won in the mustard sauce category. The quality of mustard used was superior to the others. However, most people didn't like the sardine and mustard combination of any brand.

Vigilante in Tomato (Americana Gocery, 97 cents) won the tomato sauce category. The Maine and Norwegian tomato-sauce sardines were too sweet. BAD

S&W Skinless & Boneless (Larimer's, $1.59) -- "too oily, awful, rancid-tasting with sour aftertaste." The Norwegian Brisling S&W sardines ($1.69) didn't do much better: "turpentine aftertaste.

Spirit of Norway (Giant, 79 cents) -- brisling in water."No no no no, unpleasant, blah."

Roland Skinless, Boneless in Water (specialty shops, $1.39) -- "wet, dry cardboard."

Any of the Glyngore Cocktail Brisling Sardines (Larimer's, $1.69). They come in all sorts of revolting "flavors," like Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce and sherry wine, curry and garlic.

Scotch Buy Norway sardines (Safeway, 59 cents). It is only fitting that sardines with such confused nationality were rejected.