I fear I may become a water snob. Or I would just head straight to the slightly more bearable water connoisseur. In my mind, a connoisseur appreciates, and a snob name drops. “Still or sparkling?” the waiter will ask. To which I won’t be able to avoid asking if there’s a fine-water list — or if they could at least run through which H2Os they have before I can make any reasonable choice. Or I might loudly ask of they have Iskld or Che Bello at the very least.
I’m getting to know too much about all the considerations — including vintage (it doesn’t only apply to wine), terroir (ditto), TDS (total dissolved solids), source and how you can pair food with different waters — to settle on one or even a few. Teetotallers and the sober-curious will rejoice.
After being introduced in that same episode to Martin Riese — who touts himself as the world’s leading water sommelier — a contact quickly tracks down another similarly certified steward in SA, Candice Jansen. As one of a few professionals in this field, she holds water tastings, runs fine-water events, consults, and runs a related distributor of premium quality waters called Origin Floe.
Like Riese, she loves it when people fall in love with water again: “Unless you know better, you might be inclined to say that water is just water and without taste, however, this is the furthest thing from the truth. A highly mineralised fine-water has a very different taste to a low TDS fine-water. Much like wine, water has terroir and the geographical conditions at the source affect the taste of that water, so the taste profiles vary greatly depending on where the water comes from.”
When it comes to food pairing, Riese shares with Architectural Digest that this kind of dining experience should happen according to acidity and salinisation (the accumulation of soluble salts). For example, “A good match for barbecued fish is a natural mineral water with good amount of TDS or even sparkling water with heavy bubbles. The idea behind this pairing is that the mouthfeel of the delicacy should not overpower the water.”
Concerning flavours, we all know that some waters taste better than, or rather, different to others because of individual taste. Every time I return to my place of birth in the Northern Cape, memories come flooding back as soon as I turn off the tap and take a slug of its contents. Our world-class aqua in Joburg from the Vaal Dam, Orange River and Lesotho is a wholly distinct experience. I won’t share which tap I prefer.
From where your water flows is crucial — artesian, deep sea, glacier, iceberg, rain or well water? If you take Che Bello as an example, it’s a spring mineral water sourced from Karkloof Valley in KwaZulu-Natal or from a spring below Paarl Rock in the Western Cape. The brand even lists the mineral content (calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulphate, nitrate, chlorides, etc) clearly in a breakdown per litre on the front of each glass bottle.
What does this mineral content mean though? A World Health Organisation guideline for drinking water quality says that TDS (the term used to describe the inorganic salts and small amounts of organic matter present in solution in water) is about flavour because “water with extremely low concentrations of TDS may also be unacceptable because of its flat, insipid taste”. But there are no definitive studies that share what, if any, amount is optimal or bad for your health.
Be wary of marketing, too. Jansen says there is a misconception that prepared and purified waters are good for you. “They’re essentially bottled tap water that has undergone treatment to make them potable. A lot of these sources are municipal. If you’re going to buy bottled water, ensure it’s a natural water and, for everyday hydration at home, invest in a good filter that takes out pharmaceutical traces and sediment but does not change the mineral composition of water.”
I’m happy that you can access good, bottled H2O affordably. Jansen mentions that Thirsti is a good option.
More luxury options abound though — from rarer, volcanic sources and Arctic icebergs. Some of the most expensive and conspicuous waters in the world include a sound, light and frequency-infused alkaline water from Australia; Nevas (R850 for 750ml), which could easily replace your favourite Champagne because of its pearly bubbles; and Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani, from natural springs in Fiji and France that sells for about R900,000 for 750ml and comes in a 24-karat gold bottle.
Hosting dinner parties will never be the same.
MORE H2Os TO KNOW
1. Svalbardi (about R1,500 for 750ml) is an iceberg water from the Arctic is recognised for its efforts in combating climate change. It shares that the company’s immediate actions save 100kg of the North Pole ice cap for every bottle sold. It also uses its resources to educate the world on the precarious state of the Arctic and Svalbard.
2. Iskld (about R120 for 670ml) from Denmark, is a highly oxygenated water that turns milky when opened and offers a very creamy, light mouthfeel.
3. Three Bays (about R120 for 750ml) is a highly mineralised water known for its distinctive taste and is dubbed the unicorn of fine waters.