If Perrier is the Fancy Water of the French Bubbleverse, then without a doubt San Pellegrino is its Italian corollary. San Pellegrino even goes so far as to call its sparkling water Essenza, which is as silly-sounding as it is awesome. Essenza.
We can’t help but feel more refined and cultured when that word is tossed our way, so, yes in fact, we’re totally down to chug some Roman-descended Essence.
San Pellegrino hails from springs in the Lombardy region of Italy, nestled in the foothills of the Dolomites, basically living the life we all wish we were living.
Dating as far back as the 1100s, reports of people visiting these springs pop up, weary Italians braving pilgrimages to the source in order to soak up San Pellegrino’s famed healing properties.
In 1901, the San Pellegrino Bath Facilities and Refreshment Hall were erected near the springs, a monument to the Victorian Mineral Zeitgeist, and the bourgeois flocked from far and wide to soak in the spas and pound bottle after bottle of mineral water.
It was also around this time that someone had the bright idea of carbonating the water, and San Pellegrino as we know it was born unto the world.
San Pellegrino’s first advertisements touted its healing minerality, and people to this day swear by drinking the plain stuff for its health benefits.
What purportedly makes these mineral waters so special? The mineral in question is Sulfate. Sulfates may be involved with a huge variety of various processes in your body, from metabolism to transporting neurotransmitters, but the research is surprisingly sparse. There are some fascinating think pieces on sulfate deficiency, and some wild-eyed biohackers appear to be mainlining San Pellegrino. If you’re in one of these sparkle cells, reach out. We’re fascinated.
Rumor has it that even Leonardo da Vinci trekked out from Milan in 1509 to bask in the healing properties of the San Pellegrino waters, and if that’s the case, then surely we finally understand what was giving Mona Lisa that beatific smile. It just makes sense. Was Mona Lisa the original Bubblebabe?
Either way, we do imagine that sparkling water is what fueled the Italian Renaissance, and this entire digression has confirmed a theory we’ve long held, now etched into the Halls of Fact: there is no divine creativity without consuming a ton of sparkling water.
But today we are here to try the Tangerine and Wild Strawberry, something Leonardo sadly never got to experience, so let’s slide into the soothing Pellegrino waters and see if we can conjure our own healing via essenza. Besides, Citrus and Berry are perennial bedfellows, and almost every brand offers a combination of some tart and sweet fruit, so we’re eager to see how this one stacks up against the rest.
Let’s crack this can open.
After slicing our finger open peeling off the foil on the top of the can. Ok, we get it, you’re fancy, but do we really need to do this little ritual every time?
The nose on this is profoundly strawberry, wild in the brambles, resting on a bedrock of tart citrus. All of this is painted in the ephemeral watercolor of essenza, nothing too heavy or clumsy, just inviting and evocative.
This is essenza in every sense of the word. From the flavor to the mouthfeel, there is something airy and ethereal, like a dream of strawberry-hued Dolomites has floated into your mouth to heal and uplift your spirit.
Our main note here is that this is mostly pure, ripe fragola (that’s Italian for strawberry, for you philistines).
But that’s not exactly a compliment, considering we were also promised tangerine. It could be that the San Pellegrino minerality undercuts the citrus aromatics, allowing the sweeter flavors cloy and dominate. But either way, this could be better executed with a subtler strawberry and a much more prominent tangerine.
That said, this is an incredibly enjoyable sparkling water, if you don’t get too attached to the Tangerine part, and if you like a BIG fragola. The minerality is intense, the mouthfeel round and slippery.
For a mineral water, the bubbles are gentle and the saltiness is minimal, unlike Perrier or the Mexican salt fest Tehuacan, where salinity is part of the flavor profile and bubbles arrive like tiny little hammers to the back of your throat. San Pelligrino, as noted above, carbonates their water after the fact: it’s not sparkling out of the spring. And their approach is to use a minimal amount of carbonation, while making the minerals the star of the show.
If you’re used to more aggressive carbonation, the Essenzas might seem a little on the flat side to you.
But we do love how lightly and deftly the San Pellegrino sparkling waters are executed, even if we wouldn’t mind a few more bubbles and even though we’re missing a solid note of tangerine in this lilting melody.
And total confession: we feel a little late to the game on Essenza. It may have taken us a little while to catch on that San Pellegrino also offered a pure flavored sparkling water, because their sparkling water “beverages” (i.e. sweetened) like Limonata and Aranciata are pretty ubiquitous and often shoved right next to the Waterloos and AHAs. We’d trained our eyes to gloss over their label for a while.
But shame on us, because this Essenza is amore, and we’re pretty sure what Dean Martin was singing about.
As for the eternal question: which is the supreme Fancy Sparkling Water? Perrier does have the seniority over San Pellegrino, quenching the thirsty mouths of French bubblenauts all the way back in 1863. San Pellegrino on the other hand didn’t enter the conversation until 1899, and we imagine when it did, it was with a lot of hand gesturing.
When you find yourself reaching for Fancy Bubbles, you must ask yourself, do you want to travel to Provence or the Italian Alps? For today at least, we’re firmly in camp italiano, though overall we think Perrier’s minerality is beyond compare.
We are huge fans of these European mineral waters, and try to keep them stocked alongside the plebian, New World brands like LaCroixs and bublys.
We believe that Perrier and San Pellegrino should co-exist in the fridges and on the shelves of bubblenauts everywhere, a sparkling detente, peaceful luxury united. Let’s certainly not repeat something like the French-Italian war of 1494, the conflict that tragically sparked the decline of the Italian Renaissance.
Instead, all the European sparkling waters should harmonize to contribute to the current Sparkling Water Renaissance.
Although, we would be remiss not to note that both San Pellegrino and Perrier are currently already “harmonized” under the aegis of Nestle, a corporation apparently hell-bent on privatizing all the water in the world. Just a note.
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