ARE the bubbles aggressive, super fine or in between? This one has a delicate mousse. The bubbles of that one are fading fast. One would think we were tasting sparkling wine, not water. But water was the subject of the evening, a departure from the dégustations des vins that Kitt Schroeder would regularly hold at Lemuria, her beautiful little restaurant nestled in a corner of her sprawling garden.
The idea for the water-not-wine tasting was hatched when Schroeder took delivery of the first shipment of Antipodes, the bottled water that she decided to import from New Zealand. She had discovered Antipodes during her last visit there and was so enthralled by it that she just had to bring it to Manila. Wine is Schroeder’s preoccupation and as principal of Brumms Quality Wines Inc., she is known for her small, but carefully chosen portfolio of wines, primarily from Germany and Austria, now augmented by boutique offerings from Chile, Argentina New Zealand and Romania. Why import Antipodes? Because I want to, she said simply. Like fine wine, there is fine water. Did you know there is a Fine Water Society?
Because Lemuria’s main dining room was fully booked that evening, Schroeder organized the water-tasting in her garden, in the airy, glass-roofed pavilion bordered by greenery. A long table was set out in immaculate white with matching crisp table napkins. There was the promise of a full-course menu from Kevin Endaya, Lemuria’s gifted chef, and wine of course—but first, there was water for clearing the palate.
The Fine Water Society, founded it 2008, aims to bring the naturally sourced and bottled-at the-source water experience to consumers and counts among its members the famous mineral water labels Badoit, Perrier, Evian, Vittel, Vichy and Volvic from France, Gerolsteiner from Germany, San Pellegrino from Italy, and Antipodes (one of the founding members of the Fine Water Society). It defines ‘fine water’ as that which comes from a single, well-defined source, reflecting the unique characteristics of the place where it comes from.
In the case of Antipodes, the water comes from a 327-meter-deep aquifer located in the isolated, almost uninhabited are of Whakatana, in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. The water comes to the surface under its own pressure and is also bottled at source. At the 2006 Berkely Springs Festival of Waters, considered the “Olympics of Water,” held over four days in West Virginia, 70 waters from 12 countries (and 22 states) competed for awards. Antipodes was named The World’s Best Sparkling Water, besting the competition in overall quality of appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel and aftertaste.
But those are the same qualities wine is assessed for. Are those what we will be looking for in the Perrier, Badoit, Evian and Antipodes? The four were presented in their still and sparkling forms at the same temperature. The skeptic in me was ready to confirm that water is odorless and tasteless. And aftertaste—really?
The Perrier had large, aggressive bubbles compared to Badoit’s and Evian’s subdued, medium-sized bubbles. Antipodes had a gentle effervescence that surprisingly persisted as a fine prickle on the tongue long after I thought the bubbles had dissipated. Gerolsteiner, a mineral water label from Germany, also on the Fine Water Society’s list, was not part of our tasting but was mentioned by Schroeder. I had the opportunity to taste the sparkling version afterwards and found the same gentle beading, although Gerolsteiner felt just a bit heavier with a faint, briny-ness. In the Fine Water Society’s web site (www.finewater.com), Gerolsteiner is described as the “closest thing to taking mineral supplements in a naturally occurring water.”
What will Antipodes pair with? One of the guests at dinner was curious. There is a growing interest in the pairing of fine water with food, driven by the waters’ texture and specificity of origin, much like in the case of wine reflecting its terroir or growing environment. But given the choice between wine and water pairing, I went for the wine. Schroeder brought out another of her new finds from New Zealand—Momo, a line of organic wines from the Marlborough region. There was the Momo Pinot Gris 2013, as crisp and fresh as the feta and watermelon salad and the pan-fried barramundi with ratatouille. With the roasted duck breast with potato Lyonnaise, it could only be the Momo Pinot Noir 2011, fragrant and silky, but hefty enough to stand up to the gaminess of the meat.
But after all that richness, it was a glass of chilled, sparkling mineral water that settled—and refreshed the palate wonderfully. Over dessert, a gorgeous purple-hued flower dropped onto the table from the trailing vines overhead. It was as unexpected as it was astonishing, this impromptu table ornament. As unexpected as a glass of fine water.
• Momo wines and Antipodes are available at Brumms Quality Wines Inc., email@example.com, 723-7139
• Gerolsteiner is exclusively imported and distributed by Fly Ace Corp., www.flyacecorp.com, 807.9999