Sommeliers are usually defined as wine experts that recommend meal pairings at restaurants. Not Martin Riese. He is America’s first and only sommelier who helps patrons select the best water to go with their choice of food. The 41-year-old discovered his unique skill of being able to distinguish the subtle differences in the taste of waters from different regions at a young age while touring Europe with his family.
However, it was not until 2005 that his unusual talent transformed into a career. While working at First Floor, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Berlin, a customer asked him, “So Martin, you have over 1500 different wine labels but just one water brand. I do not like the taste of that water, what else can you offer me?" Realizing that there may be others that felt similarly, the water connoisseur created a unique menu featuring a variety of spring and mineral waters.
To find the best choices for his customers, Riese sought out waters from all over the world and in 2009 wrote a book called The World of Water about his various experiences. In 2010, he joined the elite group of about one hundred experts worldwide certified as professional water sommeliers by the German Mineral Water Trade Association.
Eager to educate more people about water, Riese applied for, and received, the prestigious O-1 visa to the US that is awarded only to “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.” In 2013, the water expert, who works for the Patina Restaurant Group, curated the first water menu for Ray’s & Stark Bar in Los Angeles, CA. The 44-page list, which features bottles ranging from $8 USD to $20 USD, was an instant success. According to Reise, water sales at the restaurant jumped 500 percent and have remained strong since. The success resulted in a similar list at the group’s namesake restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles, and there is one currently in the works for the Hollywood Bowl, a concert venue which serves Patina Group food.
Riese’s job is similar to that of a wine sommelier. The water expert begins by chilling the liquid to a perfect 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything colder and the flavor is lost. When recommending a certain bottle, the expert takes into account the origin of the water as well as its TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), which can range from 10 to 7,400. The higher the TDS, the greater the amount of minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium, all of which give each water a distinct taste that ranges from smooth and fruity (low TDS) to complex and extremely salty and metallic (high TDS).
Just like wine, there is no perfect water to suit every occasion. The sommelier himself keeps five or six different kinds of bottled water in stock for various purposes. He likes to chug down high mineral content waters, such as Gerolsteiner, when exercising and a natural artesian water, like Fiji, to help lower the taste of tannins while drinking red wine. Cooking and coffee require an entirely different kind of water. As for tap water? The only time you’ll catch Riese near it is when he is brushing his teeth.
The next time you drink a glass of water, see if you can detect any unique flavors. Who knows — you might be on your way to becoming America’s next water sommelier!
Resources: eater.com, cooksscience.com