Serving and Entertaining Tips from the Pros

Hosting a gathering, whether large or small, is always a bit stressful. Planning for other people’s preferences and anticipating their needs takes lots of thought, especially when it comes to serving alcohol. How much is enough? What should be served? How should it be served? 

Take it from the pros and see what a few of Benson’s clients have to say about their experiences in serving at a a variety of occasions. 

Pieter Ferreira – Graham Beck  

An expert in crafting South Africa’s iconic Méthode Cap Classique wines for almost four decades, Graham Beck’s Cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira, knows the best ways to serve, style and preserve sparkling wine for the best experience.    

Ensure proper storage from the beginning  

It’s lovely to have a beautiful bottle of sparkling out for everyone to see, but long term this can damage the quality of the wine. Prolonged exposure to light or temperature changes affects the chemistry and the result is a spoiled wine. Make sure it’s stored in a cool, dry area that does not get direct sunlight. It’s also best to store the bottle upright instead of lying down because the cork seals much better that way and for much longer.  

Take control of the cork   

Sometimes the cork has a mind of its own and people do not realize how dangerous it can be. When you remove the cage, anything can happen. It can dislodge on its own and seriously injure someone, ruining an otherwise great gathering. Make sure you place your hand over the cork immediately, while maintaining a solid hold on the bottle.  Twist the bottle rather than the cork and hold the cork as the pressure slowly forces it out with a gentle pop. When you pour it, the “beer pour” or 45-degree angle is best for retaining the bubbles and filling in one go. The Graham Beck Brut Rosé NV makes for a beautiful pour if you enjoy a bit of pink!  

Consider 375ml bottles   

Demand for bottles smaller than the typical 750ml has increased, especially for small groups of people. If you want to start the gathering with a great sparkling wine as an aperitif and move to still wine for dinner, a 375ml bottle is a great option. Graham Beck sells its Graham Beck Brut NV in 375 ml bottles, and it is one of the few wines that is fermented in this smaller bottle, just like it would be in a 750mL. 

 

Sharon Fenchak – Biltmore Winery  

 

Leading the Biltmore Wines team with more than 20 years of experience at the winery, Sharon Fenchak is head winemaker and vice president of winery production, overseeing a wine program which pays homage to George Vanderbilt’s legacy of hospitality. 

Pairing wines with meals 

It’s important to always have a sparkling wine on hand to open at the start of the evening or day such as the Biltmore Estate Blanc de Noir, which is very versatile. A medium bodied red wine is also great to have, such as the Biltmore Estate Pinor Noir since it’s easy to drink and goes well with a variety of foods. For those white wine drinkers, the Biltmore Estate Pinot Grigio is a classic go-to and has been for many Biltmore wine lovers. If you’re eating something spicy or have guests who enjoy something a bit sweeter, the Biltmore Estate Riesling works very well.  

Wine glass charms, yay or nay? 

For a gathering with multiple people, wine charms can be useful to help people identify which wine glass is theirs. Instead of giving out a glass with it already on, it’s nice to keep them out should someone want to use them and pick one that they’ll enjoy all evening. 

The importance of temperature 

It’s crucial for wine to be served at the correct temperature so that it is showcased with the best potential. White, sparkling, and rosé wines should be chilled, while reds can be served at room temperature. Of course, if you have nice crystal that is always a bonus!   

 

Linda Trotta – WX Brands 

With a career spanning three decades and four continents, Linda Trotta joined the winemaking team at WX Brands in 2017 and in 2021 was named Director of North Coast Winemaking. Linda is responsible for the winemaking of all of WX’s Napa Valley wine programs, including Bread & Butter, Silver Spur, Double Lariat and a number of Napa Valley exclusive brands. 

Linda says there is no need to overthink which wines to serve at your next gathering when you can trust they are made to be simply enjoyed. The classically styled Bread & Butter Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are consistent crowd pleasers. She just recommends buying a few bottles of each because they are usually gone before you know it. 

 

Dave Smith – St. George Spirits 

Named “one of the mad scientists of American whiskey” by GQ magazine, Dave Smith (master distiller for St. George Spirits) distills spirits with the intention of sharing. 

Spirits storage, what works 

Relative to wine, follow loosely similar rules with spirits storage. However, store spirit bottles upright as you don’t want it to be in contact with the cork the way wine should be. Spirits are inherently higher proof than wine and the alcohol is strong enough to slowly degrade the cork, unlike wine which helps to preserve the seal of the cork. Skip the fridge or freezer and keep spirits in a cool temperature stable spot out of the sunlight. 

Upgrade your garnish game 

Garnish can make a great cocktail more memorable both aromatically as well as visually; it’s essentially the invitation to the drink. Rule one for garnish is to have things on hand that can keep for a while. Brandied cherries, olives and cocktail onions are all simple garnishes to keep in the pantry as essential for emergency cocktail opportunities when there’s no time to go to the store. 

Should there be time to go to the store, citrus is the go-to as it’s garnish 101. Also, fresh herbs are ideal, even better would be to have an herb garden with mint, basil and lemongrass. It’s important to match the aroma of the garnish to the cocktail so that it’s in harmony with the drink and adds another note to the song.  

On the spot cocktails to impress 

Well-executed classics are great which means starting with great spirits, like Baller Single Malt Whiskey and St. George All-Purpose Vodka, and adding select mixers along with great ice and glassware. Be precise with your proportions.  

Pre-batched cocktails are also a great way to share a drink with friends as the prep work can largely be done before anyone arrives. In fact, some drinks are better if they’ve been batched a few days or weeks in advance, though this only works with cocktail recipes that don’t require fresh ingredients. The recipes need to be spirit forward to work. Dave says, “We usually have a Manhattan as well as a negroni pre-bottled at my house so that we can stir over ice, pour into a glass, add garnish and get back to sharing time together.”