Jessica Altieri | Water Sommelier
Where does your water come from?
It’s not something we think about every day when we turn on the tap. But let me ask you this…when you have a choice, do you prefer to order a mineral water?
Mineral water tastes better because of where it comes from.
When it bubbles forth from layers of rock in the ground, or filters down through high mountains, it brings with it a combination of minerals in various strengths. This is what gives it taste. This is its ‘terroir’, as wine buffs call the environment the grape comes from.
So, it follows that natural mineral waters have different tastes. And because of that, they taste better with certain food and wine. Some waters bring out the best in your coffee bean or tea leaf. Others are great for replenishing your mineral deficiency after exercise.
Come with me on an adventure through the world’s great mineral waters and I’ll show you…not all water is equal.
Types of Water
Let’s start by looking at the various types of water you drink and define exactly what they are.
· Tap: Originates from large wells, lakes, rivers or reservoirs and is processed as per Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards
· Spring: Originates from a confirmed spring source. It may contain minerals, but non-mineral spring water is common. Check the label.
· Mineral: Contains at least 250 parts per million (ppm) of trace minerals.
It originates from underground water source and natural carbonation is common
· Still or Sparkling: Some mineral waters have natural carbonation. Others are still. Some waters have carbonation added artificially, like soda waters.
· Seltzer: Artificial carbonation added to water
· Club Soda: Has added flavour
· Tonic Water: Is bitter in taste and has calories
· Artesian: Uses an Artesian Aquifier to pump water from deeper layers to the surface
Water’s Terroir: Really a Thing?
We regularly discuss the terroir of wine but the way in which the geographic region affects the flavor and properties of wine, is also applicable to fine mineral water. Marrying and melding with its minerals and rainfall, landscape and soil, water – as much as wine – has a strong element of terroir.
The main components of terroir are all represented in the waters of the world, especially those that are bottled for consumption. Climate: check. Everything is subject to weather. Soil and terrain: check. All water flows through it to end up underground, mingling with minerals. Tradition: check. Many of the great water companies will tell you on their websites exactly how they harvest their water.
Terroir? Water has it in spades.
Different terroirs produce varying levels of minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium and Sodium. These minerals, which are present at different levels based on geography and other factors, have a marked impact on the taste and mouthfeel of water.
So, as you might expect, different kinds of water pair better with different types of food, just as wine does. Additionally, the quality and type of water used in coffee and tea have a significant impact on the taste of the beverage and can also alter the taste profile of a glass of wine or an entire meal.
How to Assess Your Water
First, look at the label, just as you would with a wine. This will tell you something of its terroir but will also indicate the level of minerals in the water
· Very Low: 50mg/l
· Low: 500mg/l
· Medium: 1,000mg/l
· High: 1,500mg/l
Next get the mouthfeel. Isn’t that a great word? Are you rolling your tongue around your mouth already? So try it with a mineral water. Mouthfeel, or the sensation of the water in the mouth, is the first thing we notice when we take a swig of life-giving water. Highly carbonated water has a bright, lively and distinct mouthfeel: You know it’s happening.
On the other hand, still water is a smoother experience. In between, there are variances in the carbonation, or effervescence (another great word) in different mineral waters. That’s why learning to tell them apart is interesting and fun.
After mouthfeel, the next thing you’re looking for is TDS – total dissolved solid. This is how connoisseurs measure the ‘bite’ of the water. The more minerals that are dissolved into the water, the crisper it tastes … to a point. After that point, water becomes heavy and unpleasant. Somewhere on the scale you’ll find the one that appeals to you or suits your choice of wine and food.
Why not have your own water tasting at home? Choose contrasting waters with different mineral contents and carbonation. Compare the texture and the mouthfeel. You’ll quickly learn to differentiate between them. Now your ready to move on to the fun stuff…pairing your water with wine and food.
Matching Your Water with Your Meal
You’re already pairing your wine with your food – a full-bodied red with a steak, a crisp white with fish or salad, perhaps a sparkling wine with a spicy food. So, it stands to reason that if you match your water to your wine, you’re automatically matching it to your food.
At one end of the scale, a full-bodied red wine will sit well with a water which has high-mineral content while white wine goes better with a low-mineral content.
Mineral water is perfect with hors d’oeuvre and, in a more reserved state, with salads and desserts. Pair a tray of oysters with a delicate mineral water – fine bubbles and high minerality. Great textures going on here!
On the other hand, still water is perfect for lighter seafood and soup, as it won’t overpower the dish, while lightly effervescent water goes well with poultry. In the case of a lighter red meat dish, you can get away with bubbly once more. Just like a big, bold red wine stands up to a steak, a big, bold bubbly water would be a perfect match as well.
Dessert goes well with a still, slightly carbonated water.
Coffee, just like good wine or cognac, has about a thousand notes influencing every blend and brew. Roasters work hard to identify the right beans, source them from the right regions and roast them just the right amount. While you might think a blank slate de-mineralized water is best for coffee, not so. Minerals such as magnesium, calcium and sodium bring out the piquancy of coffee’s many lively notes and are a crucial addition to any brewing water.
Tea is best brewed in spring water with low mineral content, a pH of 7 and a TDS of 30ppm. Strong mineral content can leave tea with a metallic taste.
The good news is that mineral water is good for you. We all know our bodies need vitamins and minerals for optimum health, so how great to have a drink that contains those minerals.
Here’s what you’re likely find in a fine water…and just look at the benefits.
· Sodium: Helps to regulate your blood pressure and prevent blood clots.
· Magnesium: Fuels the heart, blood and nerves and is a natural muscle builder. Magnesium deficiency can result in muscle cramps.
· Calcium: You know you can get calcium from milk and cheese but isn’t it great to know you can get ot from mineral water, too. Calcium improves bone strength, teeth and nails
· Silicon (silicic acid): The ‘wellness’ mineral, Silicon is important in the formation of collagen, which keeps your skin looking healthy.
· Chloride: Creates blood and pH balance and aids digestion
· Sulfates: Aid digestion
· Hydrogen Carbonate: Regulates body pH
Minerals are critical when working out. Many people don’t know, in fact, that they’re almost as important as water itself, and that without them, you can actually be poisoned by the life-giving liquid. Specific waters have more of certain replenishing salts and elements, such as magnesium, calcium, sulfur and potassium. Now you can sweat without worrying about the consequences.