Would You Pay $20 for Gourmet Water?

Would You Pay $20 for Gourmet Water?
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"When you ask an Italian woman about pasta dough, she will say it is so important what water you are using. Every producer of beer will say the most important thing in preproduction is the water they are using," explains Martin Riese, water sommelier for the Patina Restaurant Group. "This whole idea of using different waters has always been in our culture. We are bringing it back."

Riese is newly launching a water menu at the Patina Group's Ray's and Stark Bar, at which he is general manager. Hand-picked by Riese, the water list features 20 bottles sourced from as far as Denmark, France and Fiji that range in price from $8 to $20 per bottle.

The Bazaar in Beverly Hills is seemingly the very first to have a water menu in the United States, but internationally, you can find water bars like Le Water Bar Colette in Paris, which offers more than 60 bottles of water. The water bar concept may not be new but has yet to gain wider acceptance. Consumers are wary of spending money on expensive gourmet bottled water when tap water is available and free.

However, Riese hopes to change their minds. Not only does he have concerns about tap water in the United States due to the levels of chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride added, but since childhood, he has realized the nuances of different waters. "When I was a child and we went on vacation with my parents, I always wanted to try the water," he recalls. "When I started my career in the restaurant business, I was trained in different waters and I realized, maybe I have a special talent for it."

The differences in waters come from different levels of minerals in them, measured as total dissolved solids (TDS). The higher the TDS, the stronger the taste. While Voss has a TDS of 40, Fiji has 280 and Vichy Catalan has 3,000! "When people say it all tastes the same, I'm more than happy to give them a bottle of Fiji and a bottle of Vichy Catalan and they will right away say, 'I'm so sorry that I ever said that it all is the same,'" he explains.

Riese's passion and extensive knowledge of water, as well as certification as a water sommelier from Doemens in Germany (a certification program he helped create), informed his choices for his list, which took him a year and a half to curate. During this time, he also created his own water, Beverly Hills 90H2O, which was crafted to pair well with foods, wines and spirits. He hopes to share the story of his and every other bottle on the list with guests so everyone can understand the nuances of water.

Check out the slideshow above to learn the origins of Riese's most expensive water.