What water does for your wine
September 14, 2016
We know to have a crisp Marlborough Savingnon Blanc with our snapper or pair a big, bold Mendoza Malbec with our steak, but what water are you pairing with your wine? According to international wine expert Tyson Stelzer, the minerality of your water has a dramatic effect on the palate perception of wine. It’s time to think about what water to serve with your carefully selected bottle of wine.
First, let’s talk about water:
In the words of Michael Mascha (PhD), creator and publisher of www.finewaters.com, and arguably the world’s leading expert on water – there is a difference between bottled water and bottled water.
Most of the bottled water you’d pick up at the supermarket or at a weekend event is just bottled municipal water. It’s conveniently packaged, on-the-go water, but it’s no different than what’s coming out of a water fountain or your home faucet. Some of this water is even labelled ‘spring water’ due to lenient FDA rules about the use of the term. It's this kind of bottled water that was getting all the bad press for being a scam a few years ago.
Bottled natural spring water, however, is a totally different thing. It’s a natural product with terroir. It begins, as all water does, as rain water, and as it drips down on different parts of the globe, it is filtered through different geological formations such as soil, clay, sand or rock. These geological layers have different mineral compositions which the water takes with them as it filters through.
We can measure these minerals as total dissolved solids (TDS), and we can taste them too, which is what makes trying different natural waters from different sources (springs, wells, glaciers, icebergs, sea, rain and aquifers) in different parts of the world so interesting. What we’re tasting is usually a mix of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and silica. In different levels and combinations the water can taste salty, dry, sweet, silky and smooth.
Remote areas of the planet are great areas to source from. Anywhere that is far removed from industry and cities. Unlike wine, which is dependent on climate, water is uniquely dependent on the remoteness and protection of its source. Water that is deep underground is generally more protected from human activity than surface or shallow water. The overall surroundings will also make a difference so look for water sourced from pristine environments.
The water source will also affect the balance of the water. The pH for pure water is 7, however slightly alkaline waters tend to taste sweeter and softer than the more acidic ones. Much of the mouth feel of water, however, comes from if it’s still or carbonated. Whilst the bubble used to be an after-thought, it’s now an art. From a fine bead to a classic or big, bold bubble. Lower levels of carbonation work best with fine wine.
Wine and food interact to impart different taste characteristics through one another, while water is meant to cleanse the palate to enhance the mingling traits of wine with a meal. Making a good choice in which water to put on the table can balance beverages for maximum flavor.
Here are a few rules of thumb for water and wine pairing:
Fresh, fruity whites and rosé: Due to the lightness of fruity whites and rosé they are easily dominated by high mineral and carbonated waters. Instead, go for a low mineral, pH balanced still water.
Young Reds and Full-Bodied Wines: Both young reds and full-bodied reds pair best with a sparkling water. Reds have intense, fruity fragrances, acidity, salinity and high tannin levels that enhance the gustatory persistence on the mouth and stop salivation, giving your tongue a sensation of dryness and a touch of bitterness for a few seconds. Vaccarini explains: “Following with a sip of sparkling mineral water, the C02 will be able to immediately open your papilla, salivation will start again and the structure of the mineral water will harmonize with the structure of the red wine, creating a very pleasant taste in the mouth.”
Champagne: Perhaps not surprisingly, it is with the more subtle wines that the water minerality makes the most difference. For that celebratory bottle of champagne in particular, go with a low mineral still.
Tyson Stelser, an international wine expert, recently set out to taste test seven different waters to compare their impact on five diverse wines with distinctive mineral textures of their own: a De Sousa Cuvée des Caudalies Blanc de Blancs Brut NV from the chalk soils of Champagne, Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2009 from the stark slate of the Clare Valley; Pierro Chardonnay 2012 from the Margaret River’s sandy gravels; Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2011 from the gravels of Martinborough and Wynns Glengyle Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from the limestone of Coonawarra.
He found, not surprisingly, that the waters that demonstrated the most dramatic influence on the delicacy of the more subtle wine styles like Grosset Riesling and, most pronounced of all, champagne. Coonawarra Cabernet, the most intense wine of the line-up, was less perturbed. However the water that came out trumps every time was Antipodes sourced from the deepest, highest quality aquifer in a remote part of New Zealand. Untouched from its source deep below the ground, and surrounded by pristine forest, lakes and rivers. The area has never experienced commercial or industrial activity and continues to have extremely low population density - rare in the world of bottling water.
Antipodes (an-tip-o-deez) water is naturally filtered through dense ignimbrite rock resulting in a mineral make-up that is mostly silica giving it a silky smooth mouth feel. The neutral pH and gentle taste of Antipodes doesn't taint or dominate the palate when paired with fine wines. It’s so naturally pure no chemical cleaning, processing or sterilization is needed. There are few waters in the world which can be taken from their source this way, making it one of the world’s purest waters and the most awarded water at the prestigious Berkely Springs International Water Tasting, the world's leading mineral water competition.
Another reason we love Antipodes is their efforts in preserving the environment. All production energy is from 100% renewable sources: geothermal, wind and hydroelectric. The natural environment is preserved and enhanced through the creation of wetland reserves around the source. The methods of bottling, packaging, recycling, wetland planting and delivery mean the entire Antipodes process is completely carbon neutral, achieving carboNZero certification.
Here are a few more more tips to get the best out of your natural water and wine pairing:
- Chill your water to 55 degrees before serving. This is the temperature of most springs and coincidentally a similar temperature to most underground wine cellars. However if you want to calm a big, bold, bubbly water serve that closer to room temperature.
- Forget the ice. Since ice is made with tap water, as it melts it dilutes the natural water – unless of course you’re making your ice out of Antipodes
- Find nice glassware. If you are drinking wine in a formal setting, water should be served in a water goblet. These special goblets are shorter than a wine glass as the water is in a supporting role, and the different glassware will avoid confusion as to what is what. For a more informal setting, a tumbler would be better suited.
- Sip water and wine alternatively. According to Giuseppe Vaccarini, and Italian Sommelier and regarded as one of the world's best, to bring out the best qualities in both your water and your wine, sip them alternatively. This will create a pleasant sequence without either overpowering or annulling the other.
- Stay hydrated. Alcohol is dehydrating which diminishes your sensitivity to taste and smell. Staying hydrated is not only good for your well-being but allows you to fully use your sense to enjoy your meal.
Tyson Stelser, multi-award winning commentator and judge, television presenter, international speaker and named The International Wine and Spirit Communicator of the Year 2015 in The International Wine and Spirit Competition. To read his article where he taste tested waters with wines: http://tysonstelzer.com/articles/water-wine-youd-be-amazed-at-what-water-can-do-to-wine/
Also if you're interested about fine waters, find a copy of Fine Waters: A connoisseur’s guide to the world’s most distinctive bottled waters by Michael Mascha.
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