Don’t let their simplicity fool you. Bottled mineral waters comprise one of the fastest growing segments of the beverage industry, and simplicity perhaps best explains their ever-expanding popularity. These waters have a clean, unassuming flavor and are bottled at their source—pristine and uncompromised with no additives, no calories and no warning labels. This is one beverage trend easily fathomed.
Varying amounts of minerals endow each particular water with different tastes and characteristics and in many instances these differences are quite pronounced. Perrier is an incomparable example of a naturally carbonated, highly effervescent water. Italian San Pellegrino is a pristine sparkling water with an abundance of fine bubbles that leave the taste buds fresh and tingling and mild acidity that stimulates salivation. Swedish Ramlösa is a lightly carbonated water, while Acqua Panna and Evian are pristine and still.
Harmonizing Waters, Spirits and Wines
Water is integral to almost everything we do in the food and beverage business. It is the essential element in every alcohol beverage, every mug of coffee and every cup of tea. Water is served before meals, with meals and after meals. It is the principal ingredient of every mixed drink and glass of beer. The importance of water is universal; and yet some restaurants and cocktail lounges have integrated water programs, while others fail to see its potential.
For instance, the surging popularity of super-premium spirits has ratcheted up the importance of bottled spring and mineral waters play behind the bar. Marketing top-shelf spirits necessitates having your act together when it comes to stocking the appropriate waters. A swallow or two of water is the best way to fully prepare your palate. It awakens the taste buds and allows you to better perceive the flavors present in the spirit. When measured by volume, water’s contribution to the appreciation of spirits amounts to little more than a splash. Yet that splash of spring or mineral water accomplishes a great deal, namely hastening the release of the bouquet and developing the spirit’s full range of flavors. Without the water, you’re getting only half the show.
Water also enhances the enjoyment of wine. The process of pairing a wine with a complementary water is referred to as harmonizing. Heavy food and wines high in tannins and acid can overshadow a water lighter in body. Conversely, a full-bodied water may overpower certain lighter wines.
From a sommelier’s point of view, a full-bodied water should optimally be paired with full-bodied wines rich in tannins and high in acid. The two liquids harmonize and act in synergy with the other. Furthermore, rich and flavorful foods should be paired with water and wines that possess the same characteristics.
Balancing the flavors and characteristics of water, wine and food is fundamental to fine dining. For example, pair a light-bodied still water with low residual minerals with soft, suave wines with moderate alcohol and subtle aromas, and foods light flavors. Conversely, food and wines that are complex and have full, persistent flavors and aromas should be matched with a slightly acidic water with moderate effervescence.
As the median age in this country rises, bars and restaurants will continue to cater to a steadily aging clientele. Meeting their needs and wants is simply good business. Mineral waters offer singular advantages few other products sold at the bar are capable of.
Mineral waters can be marketed in much the same way varietal wines are, relying heavily on server familiarity. A horizontal tasting is an excellent method of acquainting servers with the characteristics of the various mineral waters.
Mineral waters are best served chilled. When warm, the carbonation in the water may prove too active and vigorous. For those patrons who want mineral water served with ice, the use of cubes made with tap water is rather self-defeating.
The up-selling opportunities are numerous and easily seized upon. At a recent dinner at the Hudson Hotel in Manhattan, the server inquired of our group whether we cared for still water, carbonated water, or water from the tap. Not surprisingly we opted eschew the tap water and go with a few bottles of still. A few eventually increased to four, which at $6 a bottle added another $24 to our tab. Not an eyebrow was raised, which perhaps best sums it up.
Deciphering Label Information
Need some help understanding what’s written on the labels of mineral waters? Here’s a brief explanation:
Mineral Water: A water obtained from a natural or drilled spring whose mineral and salt content give it specific properties that may be beneficial to health. Mineralization, temperature and flow at the source must be constant. Bacteriological purity is assured, as the only treatment is filtration and elimination or iron.
Spring Water: A water obtained from a natural or drilled source, usually still or lightly carbonated and which no therapeutic claims are made. It is subject to full bacteriological purity tests.
Naturally Carbonated: The water emerges from underground with enough carbon dioxide to make it effervescent. Carbonation levels are measured in grams per liter. A lightly carbonated water contains up to 3 grams per liter; moderately carbonated waters contain 3-6 grams per liter while highly carbonated waters contain 6-9 grams per liter.
Carbonated/Sparkling: A term used to identify waters artificially infused with carbon dioxide.
Mineral Content: Mineral content is measured by the total dissolved solids or dry residue. Lightly mineralized water has less than 500mg per liter; medium is up to 1000mg per liter and high mineralization is over 1000mg per liter.
pH Factor: The balance between alkalinity and acidity. Water with pH above 7 (such as San Pellegrino) tends to be alkaline. Below 7 tends to be acidic (such as Perrier).