It's not always about how expensive or elaborate the packaging may be.
There’s nothing quite like hosting duty looming for a well-heeled, gourmand group of colleagues or friends to reveal just how bare the home bar is, or to let out the secret that you really have no idea how to describe a wine, let alone how to select a vintage.
With summer approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, more opportunities arise for fraternising outside the office. As the days grow longer, the urge to invite colleagues over increases too.
You’ll want to be sure to have a top shelf bar especially if you are entertaining the boss or important clients — and at least the basic know-how to make some impressive pours and talk knowledgably about them.
Before you host your next party, take heart. BBC Capital turned to leading sommeliers and mixologists to get their tips on necessities for stocking a bar apt to impress even the most boastful bon vivants in your circle, whatever their rank. Just remember to stock some non-alcoholic beverages, as well.
Alex Kratena, head bartender at The Artesian at the Langham Hotel in London, ranked first among the World’s 50 Best Bars
A few top picks
Kratena called Tanqueray No. 10 gin the “perfect gin for martinis,” but also, he said, a good liquor for almost any classic cocktail, including the standby gin and tonic.
For sipping and savouring he recommends Calle 23 Tequila Reposado for its full character. And keep bubbly stocked. “’We don’t like great champagne,’ said no one ever!” he said. His choice is Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.
It’s all about ice
Make sure you have the rocks ready if you’re entertaining and tending the bar. “Ice is an ingredient and a tool at the same time,” he said. “We use it to change temperature, but it also becomes integral part of our drinks.”
For cocktails with ice, work in Kratena’s recommended Tanqueray. Try your hand at the Artesian’s classic Negroni, which also includes Campari and Cocchi Vermouth. If your company is looking for something sweet and refreshing, there’s always the margarita, which at the Artesian is made with Ocho Reposado, lime and agave nectar.
Christian Sanders, mixologist of Drummer Hoff Hospitality and principal partner at Evelyn Drinkery in New York City
Sanders knows about getting impressive bars going, as he’s behind the drink menus at two much talked about restaurants, The Wayfarer and The Monarch Room.
“It's not always about how expensive or elaborate the packaging may be,” he said. “It's about the quality of the juice.”
He says you can cover the basics well with Elijah Craig 12-year-old bourbon, Campari, Punt e Mes vermouth, Angostura bitters, orange bitters and Bombay London Dry Gin. About that last one: Sanders warns average imbibers shy away from gin — “shriek at the idea,” even — but he insists on it, adding that gin is essentially vodka re-distilled and steeped with botanicals.
“It’s very complimentary to a lot of the ingredients in cocktails,” he said.
To make some proper cocktails, you’ll need the right weapons. Sanders advises purchasing an ice ball maker, yarai mixing glass, Japanese bar spoons and vintage glassware. You can earn some showmanship points here, too.
“I always like to tap the glass and see if it has a nice ring to it,” he said.
Agustina de Alba, Argentina’s best sommelier 2012 winner, sommelier in Aramburu Restaurante and Bis in Buenos Aires
Moving past Malbec
You can show a more nuanced understanding of the wine world by picking up one of de Alba’s choice appellations for Argentine whites.
“Argentina is famous the world around for its Malbec, but I declare myself a fanatic of our whites,” de Alba said.
Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard White Bones 2009 is a Chardonnay from one of Argentina’s winemaking titans, the Catena Zapata vineyard. Zorzal Eggo Blanc de Cal Sauvignon Blanc 2013, another recommendation, is a reflection of the terroir where it was produced, the Gualtallary in Valle de Uco, Mendoza, which has put itself on the map recently for its standout wines.
“It’s tastes of minerals and you can feel the stones and rivers, she said. “It’s sharp, straight and deep.” Try throwing that into the cocktail party banter.
Rosario Toscano, chief sommelier at The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges
Know your years
While presenting a vintage from a bygone decade will usually elicit approving nods, it’s key to know what wines are best to drink when in order to avoid a tasting faux pas. Toscano says to drink white Chateauneuf young (and if not, then very old). He recommends the complex Paul Avril Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2010.
“This wine has a great nose with stone fruits such as white peach, intermingled with floral notes of honeysuckle, and citrus flavours of lime all laid on top of fresh clean minerality,” he said.
With some wines, though, waiting is worth it. “Modern winemaking has made it so we can enjoy wine sooner, however I strongly believe Riojas, especially at the Gran Reserva level are meant to be laid down for years,” Toscano said. The CVNE Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 was awarded Wine Spectator’s top rank last year, but the 1988 vintage is one of Toscano’s favourites. But it’ll cost you: The 1988 goes for about four times as much as the $63 CVNE Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004.
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This story was amended to correct the spelling of Alex Kretena's name (from Kretana).