Water. It’s Not Just H2O.

We have all heard that pairing your wine and food helps to enhance the dining experience.  For some, its essential while others choose to drink simply what they like.  When enjoying a meal in fine a restaurant you may even encounter a sommelier, the wine professional formally trained in all things wine.

While all this fuss is made over the wine you are selecting, not much thought is put into the water you drink.  Until now.

While many might snicker at the thought of someone being an expert at making water suggestions, water sommeliers aren’t entirely uncommon in Europe.

Just like the subtle variances found in wine, a water sommelier is educated on understanding the nuances and varied properties of water and how they are unique to their origin, how each of them differs in composition, nutritional benefits, taste and health properties, if any.

All water is originated from rain or other precipitation but once it falls there are other factors that influence its taste.  Most water we consume today fell hundreds or even thousands of years ago.  Water then emerges or is extracted from various sources: spring water, artesian water, well water, rain water, iceberg water, glacier water, or deep sea water.

Lets take a closer look at what is in your water and how it contributes to the taste:

Minerality – The amount of minerals dissolved in water is indicated as total dissolved solids (TDS or Dry Residue), measured in milligrams per liter (mg/l) or parts per million (ppm), which are equal.

Natural Carbonation – Certain rare geological conditions can produce naturally carbonated water; often the carbonation can be attributed to volcanic activity. Naturally carbonated waters have historically been highly sought after for their supposed curative properties. The carbon dioxide helps this water absorb minerals in high levels.

Added Carbonation –  Current carbonation techniques involve pressurizing carbon dioxide before adding it to the water—the pressure increases the amount of carbon dioxide that will dissolve. Opening the bottle of water releases pressure, allowing the carbon dioxide to form bubbles that hadn’t previously been visible.

Vintage – The age of bottled waters should be noted, though, as an enjoyable part of their backstories, which add to the epicurean pleasure. Wine needs time to smooth out its tannin structure, but the quality of mineral water is not determined by its age. Vintage does influence water, however. Very young water and bottled Rain Waters don’t have much time to absorb minerals, so they tend to have low TDS levels and hence light, clean tastes. Old water may feel more substantial due to the higher Minerality.

Hardness – Calcium and magnesium levels combine to determine the mineral water’s “hardness”.

Orientation – pH Factor of Water – pH (for “potential hydrogen”) measures the waters’s level of acidity or alkalinity

Virginality – Indicates how protected a water is from its surroundings. It is determined by the water’s level of nitrate

Balance – Carbonation Levels of Bottled Water

The first recorded water sommelier in America was Martin Riese in 2011 when he relocated to Los Angeles from northern Germany.  Martin believes water is the most important beverage on the planet, and he’s urging consumers to rethink the value of this precious resource.

Like wine, water experts use words like minerality, balance and mouthfeel to describe a taste and use flavor profiles to match food.

Denmark makes a water called Iskilde. It is from a spring that was discovered 15 years ago by a retired insurance broker and his wife. Experts think water from that spring might be so old it could be from the last ice age.  According to Riese, Iskilde has both sweet and earthy notes making it a solid companion for pasta, mushroom dishes or pizza with truffles.

For delicate food, like sushi, it’s best to go with something smooth and subtle, like still water with low minerality. The water Lauquen from Patagonia would work for even the most discerning palate.

For dessert, a Spanish water called Vichy Catalan, which is very salty and bitter, can add a surprising dimension to chocolate dishes.

One of the prime joys of matching water and food, and one of the true marks of water connoisseurship is changing waters for each course, developing a progression of waters to guide you through the meal. Drinking a different water for each course highlights their subtle differences, and the progression adds enormously to the dining experience.

When it comes to bottled water, in the US we drink mostly spring water and filtered tap water. In Europe, mineral water is much more common. Mineral water comes from a naturally occurring source and has been revered for its therapeutic benefits for centuries.

Europeans have always known that water should not be “pure.” It needs to have dissolved minerals in it, like magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium. A lot of the bottled water sold in the US is highly processed, essentially just boiled and bottled tap water.

That’s not to say Martin doesn’t believe people should drink tap water. He recommends installing a water filter, which doesn’t need to be expensive but does need to filter out chlorine and drinking tap water over any bottled purified water.

Sure, some parts of the job might take more time to accept than others. Is water pairing really that much of a thing? Still, Riese’s intentions seem to be very much in the right place. “Maybe people will start to rethink their use of water as well,” he explains. “Thinking, hey, actually water has taste; water has a value. Water is precious in our lives. Maybe we should rethink a little bit how we are using water in a better way.”

Want to learn more? Visit The Fine Water Society at http://www.finewaters.com.

Martin Riese:  https://www.martin-riese.com/

*Its best to enjoy your water from a glass container.  Plastic is slightly permeable and over time will affect the taste and odor of your beverage.
And its better for our environment.

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