Forget wine. It's all about water pairings

Meet a sommelier ... for water
Meet a sommelier ... for water

Not all waters are created equal.

Connoisseurs are taking the language of wine and bringing it to the humble water glass, hoping to elevate the conversation around the stuff most of us drink every day.

There's more to it, these experts say, than just sipping something that comes out of the tap, or from one of the mass-produced bottled waters on the market. And when it comes to matching food with a refreshing beverage, there's sometimes nothing better than a glass of perfectly paired H20.

"The chef cares about the food, the sommelier cares about the wine, but it seems like nobody cares about the water," said Michael Mascha, a food anthropologist who wrote a book detailing the tastes and profiles of bottled water around the world. "You have 200 wines on your wine list, and you tell me still or sparkling?"

For some who say water tastings and pairings are just another elitist practice of the 1%, Mascha disagrees. He says Americans are becoming more sophisticated with their dining, and it should be expected that water gets the same attention at the table.

"People want to engage with something over dinner and just having a boring bottle of Pellegrino on the table doesn't cut it anymore," Mascha said.

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At Ray's & Stark Bar, a restaurant in Los Angeles, diners can experience a water tasting or order bottles from a 42-page water menu.

"Water is not just water," said Martin Riese, the restaurant's water sommelier. Customers seem to be into the idea -- since introducing the water menu last year, water sales at the restaurant have increased 500%. And Riese's water label -- Beverly Hills 90H20 -- won the World's Best Water Award this year.

Riese suggests pairing water with food according to acidity and salinization. Like wine, water experts use words like minerality, balance and mouthfeel to describe a taste and use flavor profiles to match food.

Voss, for example, which is sold in a bottle that was designed by an artist for Calvin Klein, has slightly bitter notes. It will pair nicely with asparagus.

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Denmark makes a water called Iskilde. It is from a spring that was discovered 15 years ago by a retired insurance broker and his wife. Experts think water from that spring might be so old it could be from the last ice age. It costs about $12 for a liter.

According to Riese, Iskilde has both sweet and earthy notes making it a solid companion for pasta, mushroom dishes or pizza with truffles.

For delicate food, like sushi, it's best to go with something smooth and subtle, like still water with low minerality. The water Lauquen from Patagonia would work for even the most discerning palate, and that brand is specifically for the luxury market, selling at $24 a liter.

For dessert, a Spanish water called Vichy Catalan, which is very salty and bitter, can add a surprising dimension to chocolate dishes.

"Very suddenly you have sweet and salty notes on your palate and that's very interesting," Riese said.

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