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MICHAEL MASCHA is Water Editor of THE NIBBLE™ and founder of He advises restaurants and hotels on the development of water menus.  Click here to e-mail Michael.



October 2005

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Beverages

The Water Menu

Matching Food to Water is a Hot New Trend


The wine list, please, and the water menu. 


As water enthusiasts we have long anticipated that, as natural bottled water grows in popularity, fine restaurants and hotels will recognize the need to offer their patrons more than the choice of “still” or “sparkling.”  That’s the same as asking a wine drinker if he wants “red” or “white.”


“Still or Sparkling?” = “Red or White?” = Not Enough Information or Choice

With more and more information available about fine natural bottled waters, diners increasingly seek specific waters to enjoy with their food choices both inside and outside the home. When enjoying the cuisine of a fine restaurant, knowledgeable customers increasingly demand that a higher level of attention be paid to the selection of bottled water available. “Still” or “sparkling” does not cut it anymore: there is disappointment when one cannot find one’s brands of choice on the “water menu.”

Restaurants at the forefront are creating water menus, similar to wine lists. Water menus are not simply a list of all available brands. Creating a water menu is a selective process that matches the direction of the food menu created by the chef with the right natural bottled water choices to affirm or contrast the food. Like wine, natural waters come from a unique source, they have terroir and have a story—and often a long history—attached to them. They have unique qualities that pair with food.


Matching Water to Food

Just as not one “red” or “white” is the perfect match for any dish, neither is there one universal water match.

  • Take Apollinaris, for example, a sparkling, classic water from the Eifel region of Germany. Apollinaris originates in a site which has different layers of rock and volcanic occlusions (the Eifel). This unspoiled landscape allows the water to penetrate into the deepest layers of the earth. Natural carbonic acid collects from the volcanic rock stratum, which facilitates the absorption of many minerals which flavor the water. This means no artificial carbon dioxide is added to the water. Due to the volcanic activity in the Eiffel, the water here is particularly rich in minerals, as The magma below the aquifer continuously gives off carbon dioxide, so the water has carbonic acid which increases the solubility of minerals. All of this behind-the-scenes process of nature creates a flavorful water that is perfect with crispy and crunchy foods, meats and game.
  • You probably don’t want to drink Apollinaris if you order sushi or other delicate flavored food, especially fish dishes. Spa, a still water with a TDS* of 33, is a much more appropriate choice as it does not overpower the delicate flavors and matches the mouthfeel much better.
    *Total Dissolved Solids, the percentage of minerals in the water

Use The FineWaters Balance as a Guide

Using the FineWaters Balance, a unique scale developed by FineWaters, sommeliers and discerning consumers can distinguish between varying degrees of sparkling and still waters and learn how to pair water and food for the ultimate match. The FineWaters Balance divides bottled water into five categories—Bold, Classic, Light, Effervescent and Still—and describes how each group affects the taste and feel of specific cuisine. The FineWaters Balance also addresses factors like optimum drinking temperature and appropriate stemware. The recommendations that follow are for a drinks-only match—to incorporate all of the different food variables would become quite complex, and it is something that we do on a consulting basis for restaurants that wish to match waters to specific dishes on their menus.

  • Red wine would match best with a FineWaters Balance | Still designation if you only drink wine. Be sure that the temperature of the water is not lower then the temperature of the wine. No ice, please!
  • White wine, usually served slightly chilled, matches best with a water that has some small bubbles from a FineWaters Balance | Light designation. These best match the mouthfeel of the colder wine.
  • For Single malts, a FineWaters Balance | Still designation with character, terroir and a story (Gleneagles, Hildon, Cloud Juice, Oregon Rain) would work well.

Where Are The Water Menus?

Depending on location, a casual survey of restaurants shows that between 10 to 20 percent of the checks do not contain a line item for alcoholic beverages. Most of it has been replaced by bottled water. Restaurants and hotels also see a water menu as a differentiating factor and something that attracts the high-end, trend-setting clientele.

Not to mention, it is also a source of revenue.  We don’t mind paying $8 or $10 for a bottle of water at a fine restaurant: we just don’t want it to be the same water we have in our refrigerator at home for $1.59...or keep paying $10 to drink the same ubiquitous two or three brands everywhere because restaurants treat water as an afterthought and don’t take the time to offer more interesting choices.

We are glad to see that chefs, sommeliers and managers in the hospitality industry are considering a large number of brands for their water menus—they are taking the water list as seriously as the wine list. This bodes an exiting future for the bottled water connoisseur, an evolution that will emancipate natural bottled water.

We encourage you to ask the establishments you patronize to offer more extensive water choices: to develop a water menu. Customer demand on your part encourages action on theirs. Not only do they want to accommodate your needs: water is a profitable item, and given the choice between your request for a glass of tap water or a bottle of fine water, they would of course prefer to serve you the latter.  If they can’t tempt you with the Perrier or Evian you drink all day at home and office, tell them you want them to introduce you to new and exciting waters, just as they present you with exciting food and wine choices.

Together, we will help see that these choices are available sooner rather than later, at every restaurant in America.

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