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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Is Water The New Wine?

It is not uncommon to deliberate over the perfect wine to accompany an entree when out at a fancy restaurant. But too frequently, we overlook one important aspect of our meal. What if after asking our waiter for a wine pairing with our entree, we asked which fine water he would recommend to supplement the dining experience?

That's exactly what is happening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art restaurant, Ray and Clark's. The manager, Martin Riese, is a German water sommelier who for decades has worked at three-star Michelin rated restaurants. He has recently introduced a water menu with twenty fine waters from around the world. He argues that a great water can enhance delicious meals and excellent wines, which are often tainted by commonplace tap water.

Not that there's anything wrong with tap-- more than a third of American bottled waters come from purified municipal sources. Mr. Riese's point, though, is that additives such as chlorine can coat the palate and alter the taste of a delicate wine. The artesian waters on his menu have natural trace minerals that come from geological formations in the earth. Brands such as Fiji and Aquacai represent tastes specific to the sources where they are bottled. These are the waters Mr. Riese prefers, because like a hundred dollar vintage, their complex flavors can complement a meal, and offer a unique terroir.

Even artesian water bottles are of a higher echelon, made from fully recyclable polyethylene terepthalate (PET). Lower-grade bottles often contain Bisphenol A (BPA), which the FDA banned last year from children's sippie cups and baby bottles. Besides being more environmentally friendly than BPA bottles, PET is also very strong, so that companies that long used glass, such as Voss, have now introduced plastic options as well. Glass bottles, by the way, do not make water taste any better.

Once poured from the bottle, three factors determine a water's flavor. The most obvious is carbonation. Very bubbly water can overpower subtle textures, which is why highly carbonated water pairs well with crispy and fried food. It's a good idea to drink these at a higher temperature (64 degrees Fahrenheit), to mitigate the intensity of their bubbles. Lesser carbonated water and still water better suit delicate dishes, such as fish. And, as white wine is to red, flat water should be served ten degrees cooler than its more carbonated counterparts.

After the question of still or sparkling, total dissolved substances-- vitamins and minerals known as TDS-- are the next feature in tasting bottled mineral water. According to finewaters.com, water with high TDS, such as San Pellegrino, has more than 1100 mg/L. Perrier has 550 mg/L. Aquacai has about 50. The higher the TDS, the harder and more substantial the water. Lower TDS makes for a softer and lighter water. Heavier water pairs appropriately with hearty, robust foods, such as cheese and meats, while seafood and desserts match well with lighter water.

The least obvious aspect of a water's flavor is its pH level. Alkali water, with a pH that ranges from 7.8 to 10, is slightly sweet, and is ideal for sipping with dessert. Acidic water, whose pH ranges from 5 to 7.3, may be subtly bitter, and resultantly, better accompanies salads and fatty foods.

When pairing water with wine, still water is always more appropriate, especially when drinking champagne or other sparkling wines. A bubbly water, especially one high in TDS, can leave an aftertaste, and affect the wine's flavor. Typically, water with low mineral content
and a neutral pH works best with white wine. The best water to pair with wine is neutral-tasting and has no additives.

Now that awareness about bottled water is on the rise, it's more likely to think of a fine water as a way to heighten the flavors of an expensive wine or a thick steak. Fiji and Aquacai have natural mineral content, neutral pH, and are bottled at the source, which makes either one a great way to hydrate for taste, health, or to bring out the flavors in your favorite vintage.

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