Sunday, August 3, 2008

Water as wine

Wotta lotta s....

ONE has an "elegant velvet" character when served at room temperature while another has a "large mouth feel" and is best served as a pre-dinner drink with hors d'oeuvres.

But these beverages don't come from a posh restaurant's wine list - they come from a water menu.

Sydney's Four Seasons Hotel launched its first water menu at its Kable's restaurant last week (see table above), with 20 varieties from countries such as France, Italy and Fiji.

Hotel food and beverage director Sven Fitjer said there was demand from patrons looking to cut back on alcohol consumption.

"People are increasingly conscious of maintaining a healthy and more balanced lifestyle. However, they are not prepared to sacrifice on the experience," he said.

"The new menu allows our guests to appreciate water in the way they value the significance of the regions and complexities in varieties of wine. "They can confidently explore how mineral contents and varying carbonations complement particular dishes on the menu."

A 750ml bottle of Cape Grim costs $18 and a bottle of Cloud Juice rainwater from King Island costs $20. But these are nothing compared to 420 Volcanic, sourced from the Tai Tapu spring at the bottom of an extinct volcano in New Zealand. The water bubbles to the surface through 200metres of volcanic rock. It sells for more than $100 a litre. 420 Volcanic is on the list at Claridge's in London, which launched its water menu last year.

The venerable hotel offers 30 different brands emanating from exotic locations such as the glaciers of Norway or India's Nilgiris mountains. Claridge's refuses to stock the so-called "Cristal of bottled waters", BlingH20, which comes in a frosted bottle hand-decorated with Swarovski crystals. At $85 a bottle, it is the refreshment preferred by Hollywood celebrities. Paris Hilton reportedly gives it to her Chihuahua.

In health-conscious Los Angeles a number of luxury hotels have employed water sommeliers to advise on food and water matching. In New York, teetotallers can imbibe at the Via Genova cafe which serves only water - 65 varieties. In Sydney, the Four Seasons is believed to be the only hotel currently offering the option.

While tap-water devotees may sniff, water experts can apparently differentiate between the mineral content and pH balance of various drinks.

Wine buff-turned water aficionado Michael Mascha has written a guide to bottled waters of the world told The Guardian newspaper: "Water is in a transition from being considered a commodity to being considered a product."

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