Sunday, February 19, 2006

Water Competing with Wine

Who Could Ever Have Imagined Water Would Compete With Wine As A Preferred Beverage?
At Scottsdale's upscale Eurasia Bistro, Joanne Longobardi suggests starting with the Five Spice Calamari and a glass of bubbly S. Pellegrino.
For dinner, she recommends pairing the Glazed Chili-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with a refreshing glass of Ty Nant. But she's not recommending wine - it's bottled water. Longobardi is a water sommelier, who advises customers on water's clarity, taste and brightness.

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In a country that spends $6.5 billion on bottled water each year, it was only a matter of time before a profession was born to help us choose between Perrier and S. Pellegrino, Evian and Ty Nant. Water sommeliers have popped up in elegant eateries and resorts around the country, including the Ritz-Carlton in Manhattan. And in the Valley, an area rich with water aficionados, the Eurasia Bistro in the Scottsdale Athletic Club considers a water sommelier not a gimmick but a service customers crave.

"People appreciate water like wine," Longobardi said, delicately sipping the house water, filtered, of course, and served in a wineglass, garnished with a lemon slice.
Yet One Popular Culture Expert SaysThe Trend Is Almost Laughable.

"There's a certain pretension here," said Bob Thompson, professor of media and pop culture at Syracuse University. "One can understand the notion of wine and picture someone tasting and swirling it around.
The Idea That One Would Do This With Water
Is Unheard Up Until Now That Is."

Longobardi doesn't find it strange at all. She said the demand for it has become so mainstream that customers expect a variety.
Customers can choose between Ty Nant, which comes in a cobalt blue bottle that has become a collector's item in England, for $2.25 (8.4 ounces) and Evian Natural Spring Water from the French Alps for $1.50 (8.4 ounces). If patrons yearn for an effervescent (carbonated) drink, Perrier from southern France is $1.75 (6.5 ounces) and S. Pellegrino from the Italian mountains is $2.25 (8.4 ounces). And some bottles upwards of $15.75.

"It could be (compared to wine)," said Harnish, who installed a reverse osmosis system in her Scottsdale home for health reasons. "There's probably some very fine waters in this country that people don't realize exist."

"The one good thing about a sommelier is they tell the properties of the water; they're not just giving you a Perrier because it tastes good," she said. "You are given some sound information."

While Longobardi appears to be the first water sommelier in the Valley, other restaurants have had sommeliers specializing in all beverages.

Greg Tresner, a beverage sommelier at the Phoenician, peppers his vocabulary with words like "aromatic" and "sensory perception" when describing types of water. He analyzes water for brightness, clarity and viscosity.

"Today, people are concerned about safety and alternatives to tap, and people are being more specific in what they like - cleanness, a natural texture with a good clean finish," Tresner said.

Marketing bottled water has less to do with the product than the image of a lifestyle of wealth and good taste that buying it implies, culture expert Thompson said.

More than 5.4 billion gallons of bottled water were sold last year, said John Rodwan, director of industry consultant Beverage Marketing Corp. He said in terms of volume, the industry is as big as the milk, beer or coffee industry.

Bottled water first made its way into the mainstream in the mid-1980s, spurred by environmental concerns and the health and fitness craze. Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsico Inc. have even squeezed their way into the bottled water industry, offering Dasani and Aquafina, respectively. Other specialty waters have additives, like vitamins and minerals.

Longobardi said very few people she knows drink tap water anymore, even at home. "It's not so much, should you drink bottled water, but which kind," she said.

Sales of bottled water are highest in the West, with California and Arizona residents leading the way, said Gary Hemphill, senior vice president of Beverage Marketing Corp.

Thompson called the bottled water market's expansion amazing.
"What a great American story, selling water at a price," he said. "It used to be funny, but nobody's laughing anymore.

This Industry Has Taken Something As Close To Nothing
As You Can Get And Turned It Into A Huge Business."

Huge Hangover Gone Forever


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