Foodie Underground: Undertones of Sparkles

Column2012 is the year of sparkling water.

A new year, a new chance for greatness. You’re a couple of days into your resolutions by now, if you’ve made them. You open the refrigerator and glare at the reserve bottle of rosé. But no, you will not succumb to cravings, for in the new year, you’re going to want to skip out on the notes of raspberry and oak and opt for undertones of liquid and wet instead.

Recently, I found myself at a sparkling water party, featuring the bubbles of three different continents and some 10 countries. Though the event was to raise funds for a good cause, the environmentalist in me couldn’t help but cringe, and not just when the bubbles tickled my nose. On the other hand, or perhaps I should say in the other hand, the foodie in me giggled!

Specialty sparkling water has taken the same route as wine did in the days when shoulder pads were still acceptable in the workplace, leaving longtime favorites Perrier and San Pellegrino in the dust. Still on the green bottles? You might as well be chugging Two Buck Chuck.

It’s time for a change, and change this year is going to start with your sparkling water cellar. Isn’t that refreshing? It could also be cooling, or even energizing. At the very least, it will add some effervescence to your everyday routine.

The possibilities with sparkling water are endless, and unlike its sparkling alcoholic counterpart, it won’t leave you with a headache. It’s even good for your teeth. Besides, Paris puts it in their water fountains. Sort of socialist, really, but the idea is still nice.

With a nose for bubbling trends, trust Foodie Underground to guide you through the business of consuming packaged, pricey water with only the most prudent use of puns:

1. Start your research by consulting an expert.

Just as you wouldn’t pair your fennel filet mignon with an accompanying Cabernet without the guidance of a sommelier, consult a sparkling water expert until you feel comfortable navigating the carbonated world on your own. Feeling like I was drowning in a vast new pool of bubbly information, I did just that, speaking with sparkling water expert Michael Mascha. Says Mascha, “The good thing if you become aware of premium bottled waters is that you don’t have to choose one best water. You can enjoy many different waters for different occasions and food pairings. As always one should be aware if the water is naturally or artificially carbonated.”

2. Choose your regions according to personal taste.

Just like wine, the terroir of a sparkling water is so key, and you’ll have to decide if you’re more of an Alps kind of foodie or have a little more low-key, New Zealand style. Notes Mascha, “I love sparkling water and prefer it with tiny and small bubbles but sometimes a bold sparkling water can be the best match.”

3. Invest in the right stemware.

It’s just as rude to serve sparkling water in the wrong glass, like a tumbler or cup, as it is to pour someone a mug of wine. As Mascha has noted in a previous interview, you need a special glass: “A water glass needs a stem and straight sides to distinguish itself from wine glasses, though they should be of the same quality as the wine glasses used.”

4. Learn the correct vocabulary.

To fully understand the nuances of all sparkling waters, educate yourself in some the basic vocabulary, put together by Mascha on his site, Fine Waters:

Balance – Balance refers to the strength of your carbonation, and can vary anywhere from still to effervescent to bold. This is what you will want to consider when pairing with various foods, the bolder bubbles perfect for highlighting crispy pre-dinner appetizers.

Minerality – Amount of mineral dissolve in the water become the gauge for the water’s minerality. The higher a mineral count, the more distinct a water’s taste, making water with low minerality comparable to white wines and higher minerality similar to bold red.

Vintage – Unlike wine, sparkling water doesn’t need time to improve. But its age or vintage does affect its taste, with younger waters having less time to absorb minerals and therefore having a lower minerality, which in turn gives a lighter flavor.  Note however that age is less of an indicator of minerality than local geology.

5. Educate your friends.

You can’t enjoy sparkling waters from around the world in your bedroom alone, so ensure that you’ve got company by spreading the sparkling water word. You could become a water sommelier, though there’s currently no organization offering accreditation. Explains Mascha: “This is a project of love and passion and the best way is to experience as many different waters as possible. Being a foodie helps and being used to matching food and wine is a plus. It’s not a rocket science rather an opening of new experiences.”

6. Recognize the retail opportunity.

Mascha notes that sparkling water is popular in Europe but less so here in the States. It’s a problem of noise. “I see a huge potential in the U.S. with many people discovering sparkling water with smaller not so aggressive bubbles as Perrier. Right now Perrier is a synonym for sparkling water and most Americans don’t like the loud bubbles.” With many Americans catching on to the street food craze, one potential market opportunity might be to start a sparkling water food cart.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

Image: EverJean

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.