Similar to a wine sommelier who is knowledgeable about wines, a water sommelier is well-versed in the characteristics, qualities, and nuances of various waters, including mineral content, taste profile, and source.
They can guide individuals in choosing the right water to complement a meal, much like a wine sommelier advises on wine pairings.
Water sommeliers may also be knowledgeable about the environmental and geographical aspects of water sources, as well as the filtration and purification processes that affect the taste and quality of water. While the concept of a water sommelier may seem unusual to some, it has gained popularity in certain culinary and fine dining circles, where attention to detail and a focus on the sensory experience are highly valued.
In the world of the Certified Water Sommelier, the abbreviation TDS is an important one. TDS stands for Total Dissolved Solids. The TDS of a natural mineral water is basically the amount of minerals, dissolved in the water, measured in mg/l (milligrams per litre) or ppm (parts per million).
Natural mineral water is not a commodity with uniform characteristics, but a natural, unprocessed product, with terroir reflecting its origins, geology, and circumstances.
TDS is the major role player in giving water its taste, however the carbonation and pH also contribute. The higher the TDS, the more distinct the taste of the water. While a low TDS can be compared to a white wine - light, easy drinking and subtle - a high TDS water can be compared to a red wine - more complex, with lingering flavours and an aftertaste.
Most bottled mineral water in South Africa has a very low TDS (with the exception of Mountain Falls water, with a TDS of 345 mg/litre - the highest in the country). This is important because we need the minerals in the water for healthy living and hydration. There are so many water brands and water stores around that use a reverse osmosis system to filter tap water and then sell it to the public. Water that has been filtered by reverse osmosis is dead water, with no minerals (as is distilled water).
Another important measurement to observe on the label of your bottled mineral water is the level of nitrate or NO3. This is an indication of pollution around the source. The closer to zero the nitrate, the better the water. Nitrate indicates pesticides, farmland, or civilization close to the source, which can’t be tasted and should be tested for in a laboratory.
The interesting part about being a Certified Water Sommelier is that I get to pair food and wine with water, where water becomes a taste enhancer rather than just a palate cleanser.
Remember that tap water is highly processed, and that the added chlorine is an absolute flavour killer. It’s also poisonous, and anything tap water is used for will taste like chlorine - your cooking, your coffee, or your glass of water. Tap water also gets a scoop full of fluoride during processing. While this can be great for your teeth, you never swallow your toothpaste – with good reason.
For the coffee lovers out there, try to use a mineral water with high magnesium levels, as the magnesium in the water will extract more sugar from the coffee beans and provide you with a naturally sweet, smooth coffee!
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about food, wine, and their relationship to water.
I prefer to pair still mineral water with food and wine, and sparkling water with food only. The reason for this is that - once water is carbonated or the CO2 is added to the water - the water becomes more acidic. This is not good for wine, but works well with food. On the other hand, still water, with a higher pH and a high TDS, is fantastic with a bold red wine, Syrah, or Bordeaux Blend. I enjoy my high TDS still water with a bold, buttery Chardonnay, and lower TDS mineral water with Chenin Blanc or any light white wine. Remember to also use mineral water ice cubes for whiskey and cocktails!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nico Pieterse is a Certified Water Sommelier based in Franschhoek. For more information or to get in touch, visit www.thefinewatercompany.com.