Water is the new wine” and the Rhone-Alpes region has plenty of it. Apart from snow and ice, numerous lakes and innumerable streams and rivers the region has over 30 sources of mineral water both still and sparkling.

If you thought water had no taste then think again. I spent time discovering some of the sources and was introduced to the water tasting in St Galmier, home of Badoit mineral water. To read more about it visit France Unpacked’s sister website www.travelunpacked.co.uk

I discovered that in Rhone-Alpes alone there is such a variety of tastes; from the salty, slightly bitter Badoit though the meadowy sweet Thonon to the almost neutral Evian.

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The following is a brief summary of the tastes and aromas of some of the better known and more readily available mineral waters of the Rhone-Alpes.

The still waters:
Thonon: Slightly lemony with a fresh meadowy scent; sweet taste
Evian: Light marine aroma; a neutral balance between salty and acidic taste
Aix: Dry earthy scent: no dominant taste, well balanced
The sparkling waters:
Badoit (verte): Little discernible aroma; salty, sweet and bitter, well balanced taste between the three
Badoit (rouge); A hint of woodiness; taste is salty and slightly bitter
Vals: Little discernible smell; salty and bitter in taste
Saint Alban: Lightly metallic scent; sweet and salty, well balanced
Cesar: aromatic notes of almonds and lemon; an acidic and bitter taste
Vernet: Slightly metallic aroma with an earthy note; an acidic and salty taste
Parot: Complex scent, flowery, vanilla with a note of leather; a dominant salty taste

If you think it is beginning to sound a lot like the terminology used by wine tasters you would be right. Much of the vocabulary and the classification of taste and feel is borrowed from wine-tasting. Water, just like wine, can be paired with different foods. Of course it is all down to personal taste but the characteristics of the different mineral waters pair well with certain meals or courses.

Mineral water from Aix-les-Bains is great for an aperitif
Mineral water from Aix-les-Bains is great for an aperitif

The light but aromatic Aix is ideal as an aperitif as its slightly woody scent would be lost during the meal.

The more intense scent of wood and almonds and the slightly lemony bitter taste of Cesar would go well with a salad particularly one with a vinegar based dressing.

Arcens has a lively effervescence with an acidic salty taste and pairs well with more exotic spicy dishes. However its high sodium content (290mg/l) makes it unsuitable for people on a salt-free diet.

For any fish dish the slightly salty Parot with a nose reminiscent of the sea is ideal. It has a smooth silky texture and fine effervescence. This water is popular with the Lyonnais restaurateurs.

Badoit (verte) and Evian pair well with cheese
© RA Tourisme/P. Fournier

Evian, with its astringent flavour, is best paired with any dish in sauce. It helps to balance the the fattiness of many sauces. It also goes well with cheese.

Badoit (verte) with its sharp astringent character and its balance of saltiness, sweetness and a hint of bitterness also goes well with cheese.

Thonon is lightly mineralised and is the sweetest mineral water due in part to its low sodium content. It has a fresh, light feel with a vegetal meadowy nose. As such it goes well with desserts and, because of its sweetness, is enjoyed by children.

Fruit dessert
For fruit based deserts St Alban pairs well
© RA Tourisme/M. Kirchgessner

Saint Alban with a note of sweetness and a hint of saltiness is better for desserts that are fruit based.

Badoit (rouge), a newcomer to the market, has a stronger effervescence and a real freshness. Its astringent properties clean the mouth and “wake you up” after the meal. It is marketed at the younger fun loving diners.

Vernet is a popular water to drink throughout the meal as it has a well balanced taste.

Water is ideal for alfresco meals too. Evian goes well with the grilled meat of a barbecue. Aix is best paired with a fondue or raclette and Vals is ideal for summer picnics.

My own voyage of discovery through some of the 30 plus waters of the Rhone-Alpes was a real education. I find it impossible to have a meal with a glass of water when I am eating out without analysing whether it is the right choice or not. For me a selection of French cheeses with a glass of Badoit verte remains my favourite. What is your favourite pairing?

Links: Rhone-Alpes Tourisme

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