There are so many mineral waters to choose from, the choice is bewildering. Darrell Burnham puts his palate to the test
The Best Western Monkbar Hotel has an unusual attraction for a hotel in York – a Water Sommelier. Darrell Burnham has been Deputy Manager at the Hotel for four years; when he arrived, there was a crystal water-purification system at the hotel plus Abbey Well sparkling and still waters. Burnham`s interest in bottled waters really piqued when he was introduced to Fiji water when it first came to this country.
"The rep tried to break down even the most cynical of people. She even got the maintenance man involved, and she showed you could discover the difference between crystal, tap water and Fiji,"explains Burnham. "York water is very good. So after that experience I thought, ‘if Fiji can be that different, wouldn`t it be possible to put together a list of ten waters that each offer something different?` So I went from one bottled water to a list of 14, and eventually stuck with a list of my 12 favourites."
When asked if there was really was much difference between bottled waters, Burnham is adamant. "There is a marked difference between some of the waters. If you were to ask me if I could tell which was which in a blind tasting, the answer would be no. Still, there is a difference, but it`s not outrageous. It`s not like wine. Water either tastes of something or of nothing.
"Of the still waters, I know, Fiji is the best – it`s head and shoulders above the rest – but can I say it`s worth the price? Especially with the impact that its transportation will have on the environment – and when there are so many great English waters? The answer would be no."
We ran nine of the biggest-name water brands past Darrell to see what he thought of them
The Best Western Monkbar Hotel
York YO31 7JA
From Verg?ze near Nimes in the South of France, Perrier`s spring claims to have been sampled by Hannibal on his way to attack Rome. It was used for a spa by the Romans, and is currently the biggest-selling water in the world. Darrell Burnham: "There is a nice, citrustinged acidity to this, and the fizz is nice and laid back. There`s a good, sharp, crystalline quality too. It`s sharp in the mouth, so makes a good palate cleanser, though the fizz isn`t in your face and thankfully doesn`t blow your head off." www.perrier.com.
- SAN PELLEGRINO
San Pellegrino flows from a thermal spring at the foot of a wall in the Dolomites found above the Brembo river in the Italian Alps. All of which contribute to the unique chemical make-up that has kept it popular since 1250. DB: "This is quite odourless, but then there`s a real mouthful of bubbles and mineral flavours. When you have it in your mouth, it`s so complex. It`s almost like you have a marshmallow in there – there`s so much flavour to bite down on. There`s a good, lasting aftertaste too. This is the most individual water that I`ve tried today, and it`s my current favourite." www.sanpellegrino.com
An inquisitive water diviner, invited to source water for domestic use near Bethania (Wales) in 1976, discovered a powerful hidden spring. A narrow borehole was sunk through one hundred feet of rock and on tasting the water, the diviner declared it to be the purest that he had ever tasted. Subsequent stringent chemical analysis confirmed the source`s naturally pure, wellbalanced composition. DB: "This has a much lower mineral content that any of the other waters tested. The upshot of this is that there`s very little odour or aftertaste. The still is a nice, clean water. The sparkling version is a little harsher on the tongue, but it really cleans the palate – it`s like having your tongue sand-blasted." 01974 272111 www.tynant.com
- AQUA PANNA
Aqua Panna originates in Tuscany, in the Apennine mountains, between the Futa pass and Mount Gazzaro, benefiting from the limestone hills of the area to produce a still mineral water. The water from the Panna spring has been known, apparently, since 187BC. DB: "Like the Ty Nant, this water seems very low in minerals. There`s a light, soft mouthfeel, and it`s very fresh tasting, but it`s not nearly as full of character as San Pellegrino – the sparkling water from the same company." www.sanpellegrino.com
Bottled in the hills of Shropshire, Belu comes from a spring that originates 180 feet below the surface, climbing through layers of ancient rock that release natural minerals into the spring before it surfaces. Water from Belu is supplied in compostable plastic bottles, and for every one bought, money is invested in companysponsored water projects including setting up pumps and boreholes in the third world, as well as purification and clean-up projects in the UK. DB:"There`s a good mineral flavour to this – that bicarbonate of soda/Andrew`s liver salts kind of taste. It`s not in the same league as San Pellegrino, but there`s still a minerally feel with a good, long aftertaste as it sits on the palate." 0870 240 6121 www.belu.org
- ABBEY WELL
Abbey Well was discovered in 1910 and comes from a source in Northumberland, where it has been naturally filtered through white sandstone. DB: "A very pure, clean-tasting water – very soft in the mouth, but nothing stands out about it. There are no real flavours to pick up on, in either the still or the sparkling varieties." 01670 513 113 www.abbey-well.co.uk
From a depth of 1,500 metres, the water filters through the limestone of the Peak District as it slowly travels to the surface, picking up its unique flavour along the way. The Romans built a spring there in AD70 and at one point it was the most fashionable spa in Britain. It`s the number one brand of water in the UK today. DB:"This is an earthy, full-bodied water. It`s good and soft, but there`s always a light-lemon citrus flavour – it`s sparkling, not fiercely carbonated. The still has earthiness and a fullbodied flavour, but a soft mouthfeel." 0800 000 030 www.buxtonwater.co.uk
Bottled at the Primeswell Spring after filtering through the surrounding granite rocks. The water flows through a loose gravel bed and on to the factory. The low mineral content gives Malvern a clean, fresh and delicate taste making it the perfect accompaniment to food and wine. DB: "Malvern is very natural-tasting – it`s not far from the flavour of Highland Spring in that neither of them taste of much at all because they`re pure water, so that`s perfectly acceptable. The sparkling one is pleasantly effervescent, but there`s not much difference between this and many other waters. It`s a little on the bland side." 0870 607 0080 www.cokepubandbar.co.uk
- HIGHLAND SPRING
This water comes from a protected, 2,000 acre catchment area of the Ochil hills in Perthshire. No pollutants have been permitted in the area for 20 years, and the rainwater drains through the red sandstone until it`s purified, then it`s pumped back to the surface. DB: "This is a pure, clean-tasting water with a slightly acidic taste to it. Both sparkling and still versions are perfectly acceptable table waters." 01764 660 500 www.highlandspring.com