Our 9 Favorite Sparkling Waters
Apparently, we're all really thirsty. Bottled water has become a huge business—it’s been the number-one beverage category in the United States since 2016, and it has continued to grow every year since 2010. (We drink more than 13 billion gallons of it every year.) Strange thing, in a country where the tap water is relatively pristine—some well-documented cases aside—and in a world where single-use plastic bottles are an environmental plague.
So for this column I put a couple of filters, so to speak, on our water test. First, we limited ourselves to sparkling waters. (If you’re thirsty for still water, just drink filtered tap water out of a reusable bottle; the Earth will thank you.) The second restriction was that we only tasted naturally sourced waters—those from identifiable springs or aquifers. No “various locations throughout the U.S.,” as one colorfully canned sparkling water brand’s website says, more than a bit vaguely.
And as for “we,” for this tasting I convened a small panel: Master Sommeliers Pascaline Lepeltier and Sabato Sagaria, chef Diego Moya of Racines in New York City, myself, Associate Restaurant Editor Oset Babur, and Caitlin A. Miller, our stalwart wine assistant. My worry was that the exercise of tasting all these waters would be pointless; they’d all be, basically, water and taste more or less the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong. First, the samples varied wildly simply in terms of carbonation. Fizziness levels ranged from softly tingly to appealingly pinpricky to all-out tongue assault, and our tasters’ preferences were equally diverse. The mineral content of the waters also distinctly affected both taste and mouthfeel. Overall minerality in bottled waters is measured in total dissolved solids, which in our favorites ranged from a modest 62 milligrams per liter to a whopping 2,900 milligrams per liter (for Vichy Catalan). In layman’s terms, what this means is some waters we tasted were salty, some faintly bitter, some seemingly citric (though none were flavored), some weirdly metallic (ding—you’re out), on and on. Here are our top picks, in alphabetical order.
Our second-favorite water overall, Castle Rock comes from cave springs located 3,000 feet up on California’s Mount Shasta. It’s low in mineral content, gently bubbly, lightly acidic rather than alkaline, extremely refreshing, and deeply gluggable.
Sourced from the Ölfus spring in Iceland, which bubbles up through layers of volcanic rock, this naturally alkaline water is fairly low in mineral content, with lively bubbles. It has the lowest dissolved mineral content overall of the group.
A local doctor popularized the thermal springs in this small Galician town back in the 1800s. It’s modestly minerally (as compared to Vichy Catalan, from the other side of Spain), with crystalline purity.
On the moderate side in terms of minerality, this easy-drinking, “softly persistent” water comes from a natural spring near Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. Although it was no judge’s top favorite, it scored well across the board.
San Pel’s restaurant popularity makes sense because it isn’t polarizing; we found it seamless, with sommelier Sabato Sagaria commenting, “Great balance of minerality and bubbles.” Even Leonardo da Vinci supposedly liked it—legend has it he traveled to the town of San Pellegrino Terme specifically to try its waters.
Saratoga Spring Water
“Good balance on this one,” chef Diego Moya said regarding this water from Saratoga Springs, New York, with its distinctive cobalt-blue bottle. Founded in 1872, the water was once known as “Saratoga Vichy,” a nod to the famous springs at Vichy, France.
Topo Chico Agua Mineral
This water’s once-local-to-Texas popularity has rocketed up nationally, thanks to its retro packaging and glass bottles (as well as new owner Coca-Cola’s marketing bucks). Sourced from a spring near Monterrey, Mexico, since 1895, it’s unmistakably, ebulliently bubbly; two of our panel members guessed it blind.
Sourced from a Welsh spring, this was the top-performing water overall in our tasting. The bubbles were brisk and invigorating and the mineral content exceptionally balanced. As Oset Babur said, “This is what I look for when I grab a sparkling water out of the fridge.”
This Spanish water was our most polarizing because of its sodium content (1,100 milligrams per liter). It’s unmistakably saline, firmly minerally, and you either absolutely love it (like sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier) or just find it not to your taste at all (me, I admit).
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