Like any true addict, I began searching for the purest sparkling mineral water on the market. Late nights, I would scour the market shelves to discover the exotic names of Perrier, Sanfaustino, Apollinaris, San Pellegrino and the more American sounding brands such as Calistoga and Crystal Geyser. Then I learned that some sparkling mineral water, such as Calistoga and Crystal Geyser, are “artificially” carbonated whereas others, such as Perrier and Sanfaustino are “naturally”carbonated. As any true addict would, I began to fret. I wondered, does the carbonation source matter? So, I commenced a new quest to discover the truth. After assembling a team of family members who didn’t mind enabling my addiction by helping me sample a counter-full of sparkling mineral water, we narrowed down a favorite from the naturally carbonated and one from the CO2 added sparkling mineral waters. The decision came down nearly unanimously for the naturally carbonated, Perrier, versus, the carbonated, Calistoga.
The epitome of French je ne sais quoi, Perrier is a formidable competitor. Since the time of Caesar, people enjoyed soaking in mineral baths in a spring located south of Paris, France. At this spring, limestone mineralizes the water, and a major fault carbonates it. The history of the Perrier spring, as a place to draw the elixir of minerals we delight in today, didn’t get shaking, or should I say bubbling, until 40 years after Napoleon III decreed it to be a mineral spring. At that time, the owner, Dr. Louis Perrier, sold his beloved mineral water estate to a Brit named Harmsworth. In 1908, only five years after his acquisition, Harmsworth was selling nearly 5 million bottles a year. By extolling the unique quality of his product, he marketed nearly 19 million bottles a year by 1933. The mystique of Perrier has never waned. Called “The Champagne of Water” and savored by the wealthy and famous, it has sold for up to $10 a bottle in some New York restaurants. It is hard to beat the charm of the Perrier legacy, and the fact that it only contains 11.5 mg/l of sodium, but I needed to look next at the competitor: the American cowboy, Calistoga.
Long after Caesar’s demise and that of the Roman Empire, the Wappo Indians called the Calistoga spring, formed just below Napa Valley, “the land of health-giving springs.” In 1920, long after the age of gold digging, a soda-shop owner, Giuseppe Musante, accidentally struck “gold” in the form of a hot-water geyser than flung him off his scaffolding and landed him in the hospital for severe burns Not one to fear a near-death experience, the intrepid soda seller soon began marketing his discovery. Today, in the town Musante named his water after, towers a 14-foot, six-ton replica of the truck Musante and his dog, Frankie, would transport his famous sparkling mineral water, Calistoga.
Both Perrier and Calistoga Sparking Mineral Water share local lore infused with the unique histories of their regions. On their histories alone I could not make my choice. I would have to choose by taste. After several bottles – consumed only in the name of research, mind you – this is what I have discovered. Both contain that subtle texture of taste that only mineral water exudes. Both refresh and feel very clean in my mouth. If, however, you like a softer, more refined taste, then Perrier is your water. However, for those who enjoy the kick of more bubble and a bit of a sodium bite then, Calistoga, bursting with bubbles and infused with 40 mg/l of sodium is for you. It appears that the carbonation did add more bubble, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your mood. Calistoga weighs in as the wild west of water while Perrier remains the quintessential Parisian aristocrat.
Here’s what I now do. On a daily basis, I stick to my Calistoga. But, when I need to pamper myself with a little French attention, I turn to my Perrier. Finally, when I hear of a sale, I stock up on either, as any good sparkling mineral water junkie must. In the end, if you’re under some delusion that I’m supporting one company over another, just be aware: they both are bottled under Nestle Water.