(Corrects name of bottled water in 10th paragraph)
By Lisa Baertlein
LOS ANGELES, March 2 (Reuters) - Water sommelier Martin Riese has seen the eye-roll and heard it before: "Water tastings? Only in L.A."
Los Angeles, birthplace of many food trends, may prove the perfect setting for the next phase in Riese's campaign to make people think about water in the same way they think about wine.
U.S. consumers spent $18.8 billion on bottled water last year, more than any other nation, according to Euromonitor International. And, the residents of drought-stricken California are obsessed with all things water.
"For me, it's about taste," said Riese, who adds that the flavor and character of water also is determined by terroir, which covers such things as geology, soil and climate.
Water has been a decades-long fixation for German-born Riese, who as a child loved traveling with his parents and tasting the tap water at each destination. He parlayed that singular interest into a career.
Riese debuted his first water menu in 2006 at First Floor restaurant in Berlin. The public response: "Water tastings? Only in Berlin."
He published Die Welt des Wassers (The World of Water) in 2009 and a year later earned his water sommelier certification from the German Mineral Water Trade Association.
Riese, who may be America's only water sommelier, moved his fine water campaign to sunny California in 2011. His 20-item water menu, with selections ranging from $8 to $20 per bottle, debuted at Ray's & Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art two years later. Patina, a sister restaurant, got a similar menu last fall and now offers a series of $50 per-person water tastings.
Selections at a recent tasting included Iskilde, Danish glacier water that evokes childhood memories of tasting raindrops, and Roi, a high-magnesium water from Slovenia that has a metallic flavor reminiscent of old-fashioned aspirin and is used as a dietary supplement.
Also in the mix was Beverly Hills 9OH2O, a "lifestyle" mountain spring water brand that Riese "crafted" with added minerals to be an ideal water for pairing with wine and food.
Tasting attendee Colin Brown, 40, said he lost a big part of the dining experience when he stopped drinking alcohol. He hoped Riese's water menu might give some of that back by prompting other restaurants to offer a selection of higher-end waters.
In the short term, though, he said the exposure to rare, high-quality mineral waters had raised his bar.
"You can't go back," Brown said. (Editing by Eric Kelsey and Diane Craft)
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