It’s possible that you’ve been served by a wine sommelier before (if not, save those pennies for a visit to one of our Top 10 restaurants) but have you ever been offered a water menu to pair with your food? In the unlikely event that you have – we’re envious! – chances are your water sommelier trained at The Doemens Academy in Gräfelfing, west of Munich in Germany.
You read correctly – they offer a unique water sommelier qualification (yours for a cool €2000) that teaches theoretical knowledge about a wide variety of waters and their characteristics, and includes field trips and practical components that demonstrate all facets of water appreciation.
But what do you look for in a water when it comes to pairing it with your dish? Michael Macha, publisher of FineWaters, a web site portal that aims to be the ‘definitive voice for water connoisseurs’ says that mouth feel is the most important factor guiding the way bottled water is matched with food. (Mineral content and acidity play more minor roles.)
So the first thing you need to ascertain is the texture of your spring water. Like fine South African MCC or Champagne, the quality can be determined by the fineness of the bubbles.
Once you’ve tasted your water and measured the body or mouth feel, you can start to think about what dish to serve alongside. “Sometimes contrasting the texture of the food allows for enhanced pleasure,” says Michael. For example, if you have oysters or sushi, with their very subtle and delicate flavour, a light sparkling water would provide additional sensation in the mouth, whereas a still water might leave things a little flat. More robust flavours and textures in food can stand up to more fizzy waters.
Water Sommelier Martin Riese from Patina Restaurant in Los Angeles, which has a 45-page water menu, says that mineral water with a smooth mouth feel will pair perfectly with salads, lowering their acidity for a more pleasant taste. Rich food like meaty braised dishes can be matched with a carbonated mineral water, which won’t overwhelm the bold flavours.
But it’s not only with food that you can match your H20. Pairing water with wine is also an art. Award-winning sommelier and president of the ASPI (an association for professional Italian sommeliers) Giuseppe Vaccarini has some useful advice on wine and water pairings. Giuseppe says that water and wine share many characteristics, such as structure, minerality, body, balance and acidity. Both wine and water come from nature and derive their main elements from the soil, therefore they work well together.
For fresh and fruity whites, rosé and low alcohol wines, choose a light still water with low mineral content. For young reds and full-bodied wines, try sparkling water to match their acidity, salinity and high tannin levels. The structure of mineral water needs to harmonise with the structure of the wine.
As with wine, it can enrich the sensory experience when you know more about the water’s source and the history of its bottling, so do your homework if you’re planning on a tasting for your next dinner party. Grab a handful of bottles of local still and sparkling spring water, another few bottles of wine, and get sipping. Practice makes perfect.