Sparkling or Still: Is Water the New Wine?

photo by bookjunkie

When I am asked “Sparkling or Still?” at a fancy restaurant, I am almost too afraid to say tap. I think mineral water is an acquired taste, but I know people who prefer it to tap water. It made me wonder about the appeal and I did some research. Turns out water is becoming the new wine. In the past few years, water sommeliers have emerged. How is that possible when water has no taste? But in fact it does. The taste is affected by the size and amount of the bubbles, the mineral content and even whether the bottle that holds it is made of plastic or glass. Of course glass would be superior. Just like wine, different kinds of water go with different meals.

Michael Mascha is most well-known of water sommeliers. He’s a retired food anthropology professor at USC and he even has a twitter account if you want to follow him:

At the forefront of the water movement is water sommelier Michael Mascha, who is working to “educate people about premium bottled water” in hopes of “taking bottled water to the next level and making it a luxury item”

In general, mineral waters can substitute red wine, whereas soft water serves best to replace white wines. Thus, carbonated waters like Portugal’s Pedras are similar to bold reds and would pair with red meats, steaks or “things that require water to stand up with them,” whereas Hawaiian Springs, a “young,” low-mineral drink, would pair with sushi, white poached fish or other subtle and delicate foods.

Water is best enjoyed at room temperature, he says. “The colder the water, the less you see a difference, as the tastebuds on your tongue are basically muted and you don’t perceive it.” Ironically, he admits to drinking plain tap water when thirsty, saving bottled waters for appreciative consumption.

{Source: Slash Food}

..75% of the fine-water experience is mouthfeel–basically, how many bubbles there are and how big they are. Some 20% comes from how dense the liquid is with minerals such as calcium and magnesium–which, to my shock, is listed on the side of most bottles as the TDS: total dissolved solids. The remaining 5%, Mascha claimed, comes down to pH balance: slightly alkaline waters taste sweet; acidic ones have a tinge of sourness.

As I reeled from all the technical details, Mascha further disarmed me by admitting that no one really needs a water sommelier. “A trained waitstaff can advise you. It’s not rocket science,” he said. Also, he thinks the common restaurant markup of five to eight times the cost of a bottle is horrible business. He told me that, aside from really nice dinners, he downs tap all day long. For our first course at La Terza, beef tartar, Mascha poured Vichy Catalan, arguing that the high mineral content would hold up against the beef. In general, he suggests treating high-TDS waters (above 800) like red wines and low-TDS waters like whites. He also recommends pairing water that has small bubbles with subtler dishes so that the effervescence doesn’t overpower the food.

{Source: Time Magazine}

Check out the Tasteful Life for a review of sparkling water and see how San Pellegrino, Gerolsteiner and Perrier fared:

San Pellegrino had some tiny bubbles with a hint of mineral. It didn’t linger but faded so it was easier to drink more of. This water goes well with cheeses, meats, and fish. It isn’t over powering but you know it’s there.

Gerolsteiner is sharp, metallic, and bubbly. It is an assertive mineral water where you can taste the minerals in it.

Perrier was tasteless with big bubbles that faded quickly. There was no hint of mineral and it was defiantly the least favorite out of all that we tasted.

According to the site dedicated to water, Mineral Waters of the World, Italy is the biggest producer with an incredible 603 brands, followed by Germany with 580 and France with 217. The USA is also a big consumer of mineral water with 184 brands.

Italy produces the famous San Pellegrino which comes from the Italian Alps. If I had to have sparkling water I love this particular brand with a slice of lemon, although I have a suspicion that the water sommelier would have you drink it unadulterated and at room temperature. Not Singapore’s room temperature, but probably around 20 degrees.

In America, companies are not allowed to advertise that mineral water is healthy although the minerals have been found to be beneficial. Also if you’re addicted to fizzy sodas, sparkling water could be a good replacement minus the calories.

Places like Zurich, Basel and Munich have such strict regulations for their tap water that it’s equivalent to still mineral water. Ever since Newater was introduced I don’t think Singapore measures up, which made me want to explore this topic even more. That plus the funny taste that I get from the tap water in my house if I drink it directly from the tap. It used to taste so lovely and sweet in the 70’s. Either my tastes have changed or the quality of the water has changed significantly. Does anyone else out there have a similar experience? How is the tap water in your country? Can you drink it straight out of the tap?

water in Singapore

photo by bookjunkie

Here are some of the mineral waters sold in Singapore. What are the prices like in your country?

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
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12 Responses to Sparkling or Still: Is Water the New Wine?

  1. This is a great post. I always drink mineral water when I go out (too expensive at home) because I just love the way it tastes. The water here is not good at all and in my home, it’s double filtered, but it really should be reverse osmosis filtered to get all the impurities out (pharmaceuticals from people’s waste is one!!)
    I LOVE San Pelligrino (only I’m too cool, so I just call it “Pelligrino”) , but my favorite is Voss sparkling. The taste is just pure refreshment
    Thanks for the water lesson!

    • bookjunkie says:

      After doing the research for this post, I am now strangely craving for Pelligirno….I want to be cool too so much learn to appreciate it 🙂 Now that you’ve mentioned Voss, I have to look out for that.

  2. Crystal says:

    We don’t like Singaporean tap water. It tastes bad, to me.

    We have a ice mountain bubbler in our home, and use that for all our (and the kittens) drinking water.

  3. 365days2play says:

    Ever since I saw some business types replying “I’ll just have normal water” when asked “Sparkling or still”, I’ve decided that it’s okay to ask for plain water even at fancy restaurants. It’s quite scary to think that water might become a premium product.
    I’ve never liked the taste of unboiled water, even when I was young. I feel it tastes of tap…..or pipe perhaps? Hahaha…
    I’ve seen some ang mohs drink out of the sink taps in the public toilets. First time I saw that, I was totally appalled.

  4. notabilia says:

    Always tap water for me. Here in Singapore, we put it through a Brita filter. Perfection.

  5. Lady J says:

    I love sparkling water. When asked ‘Sparkling or Still’ at restaurants, the man and I are usually the ones who would drink Sparkling water. I love drinking sparkling water with apple juice to quench my thirst. At home, we don’t drink out of the tap and usually boil our water. But when I was living in Japan, I used to drink out of the tap most of the time. The tap water in Japan taste better than the one in Singapore.

    Thanks for sharing this.. learnt a little more about water today 🙂

    • bookjunkie says:

      The first time I tried sparkling water when my friend made me Ribena with San Pellegrino I think and I liked it a lot 🙂 Bubbly Ribena is real good.

      Now that I’ve researched water I have a new appreciation for sparkling.

  6. aearthr says:

    I would recommend boiled water at night. Drink it in the morning when it is cool. It’s the best for me.

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