Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Book Review - Fine Waters

Fine Waters:
A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Most Distinctive Bottled Waters
by Michael Mascha
Quirk Books, 2006
Reviewed by William I. Lengeman III

Some have suggested that the increasing popularity of tea has made it "the new coffee." While it might seem a stretch to call water "the new wine," after reading Michael Mascha's Fine Waters you might not be so sure.

Mascha, who presides over the FineWaters Web site, took up serious water drinking when his doctor recommended that he give up wine. While most of us probably assume - deep down in our little hearts - that all bottled water is more or less equal, Mascha says this is a common misperception, "bottle water is still treated as a commodity lacking this terroir - the distinctive flavor determined by the local characteristics of the source."

After a glossary that bottled water novices should find useful, Mascha goes on to give a grand overview of water in six parts, starting with a brief history. Nowadays there are more than 3,000 brands of bottled water worldwide, with the most (600+ brands) in Italy, where the average citizen downs more than 50 gallons of the stuff every year.

Mascha makes a distinction between bottled waters that are just purified tap water and those that are something more. He provides a summary of various sources, ranging from springs and aquifers to icebergs and glaciers and even rain water. Who knew?

In his discussion of flavor and characteristics, Mascha presents the FineWaters balance scale for carbonation, with five levels, ranging from still to bold. He also devotes a substantial chapter to food pairings, which includes a handy chart for quick reference.

The author is not keen on adding ice to bottled water and recommends serving it at anywhere from 54 to 62 degrees, depending on the type of water. Other sections include one on stemware and another with tips on conducting a water tasting.

From here it's on to the directory. As Mascha notes, it's subjective and not at all comprehensive. Only about 100 waters from his "favorites list" are covered. There are no ratings. Factors considered include carbonation, minerality, hardness, orientation, virginality, vintage, region and source. Waters covered run the gamut from Antipodes (New Zealand) to Wildalp (Austria).

A photo accompanies each entry. Some bottles are quite bland but others are works of art. Among the more striking ones, in my humble estimation - Antipodes, Fine (Japan), Gleneagles (Scotland), Karoo (South Africa), Malavella (Spain), Voda Voda (Serbia), Voss (Norway), and 1 Litre (Canada), which is packaged with a small plastic cup.

All of this bottled water stuff admittedly finds us straying from our preferred TGS subject matter. But, as I've said before, if you underestimate the importance of water in a good cup of tea, try drinking one without it.

Image: Quirk Books

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