How One Water Sommelier Really Feels About Bottled Water

In the culinary world, a sommelier is someone who's basically a wine professional. They know how to store it, they know what to serve it with, and they know exactly how it should taste. Wine has all sorts of different flavor profiles and tasting notes, so it's impressive that someone can identify all of those complex flavors and know just what separates the top-shelf bottles from the cheap stuff. But being a sommelier isn't all about grapes — there are also sommeliers for water.

Now, you've had plain old water before and it's a safe bet to say that water doesn't exactly have much of a flavor or taste to it. So what exactly is a water sommelier, and what do they do? According to Eater, Martin Riese's interest in water sprouted when, while vacationing in different cities with his parents, he noticed that the tap water in every city they went to tasted somewhat different. Upon taking a job in the restaurant industry, Martin realized that, although many restaurants have a wide variety of beers and wines, there's usually a slim selection of water choices. Martin's work in sampling and tasting water is expansive, from writing a book about the study of water to even curating a 45-page menu for a Los Angeles restaurant exclusively for bottled water (via Business Insider). But what does Riese think about the "mainstream" selection of bottled waters, like those most commonly sold at grocery stores and gas stations? 

'Glorified tap water'

Eater interviewed water sommelier Martin Riese about bottled water and how to shop for the "best-tasting brands," all seemingly in service of answering a simple question: Is bottled water really worth it, or is it mostly all the same stuff with different labels and price tags? According to Riese, when he purchases bottled water, he looks for water that comes from a natural source such as a spring or a glacier. Anything that's "purified" or "vapor-distilled", he explains, is very often the same kind of water you'd get from your sink, but heavily filtered and given a small amount of added nutrients to appear fancy. Riese also claims that trendy phrases such as "alkaline" or "electrolyte-infused" don't really mean much, as there's no solid evidence that shows those types of water do anything special for your health. In fact, Riese claims that, largely, bottled water in America is "the biggest scam on planet Earth," with a majority of the water sold being overpriced tap water.

Riese prefers using glass bottles to store and drink water, as not only does plastic wind up in landfills, but plastics can leech certain chemicals into the water. This claim is supported by a study done by the Harvard School of Public Health, which showed an increase of bisphenol A in subjects' urine from drinking from plastic bottles. He also recommends reusable aluminum water bottles (though cautions that some brands have plastic coatings).