With summer in full swing and many eager to return to in-person gatherings, we’re here to talk about the new considerations for outdoor entertaining.
In this episode, Associate Managing Editor of Print Layla Schlack talks to two sommeliers about crowd-pleasing bottles that go with anything you might be serving at your barbecue or picnic, as well as what to bust out to make any summer gathering feel like a party.
Joining Layla is Cory Holt, a sommelier with Union Square Hospitality Group and founder of Bridges Wine Culture consulting, and Tahiirah Habibi, founder of Hue Society and a previous 40 Under 40 honoree. They’re both serving up bubbles, magnums and more this summer, so grab your glass and get ready for all the pro tips to making this summer wine sensational.
For more tips on summer-ready selections, check out these fun pét-nats to sip in the sun, or consider these liter-sized bottles for a little extra something in that bottle shared between friends. If you’re keen on a theme for your gathering and love to think pink, read up on how to organize a six-bottle masterclass to rosé to get your drink and learn on.
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of drinks culture and the people who drive it. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the managing editor at Wine Enthusiast and in this episode, we’re looking at how to make summer entertaining extra special this year. Associate managing editor of print Layla Schlack talks to two sommeliers about crowd-pleasing bottles that go with anything you might be serving at your barbecue or your picnic, as well as what to bust out to make any summer gathering feel like a party. Joining Layla is Cory Holt, a sommelier with Union Square Hospitality Group and founder of Bridges Wine Consulting, and Tahiirah Habibi, founder of The Hue Society and a previous 40 Under 40 honoree. They’re both serving up bubbles, magnums and more this summer. So grab your glass and get ready for all the pro tips to making this summer wine sensational.
Layla Schlack 1:02
Hello, I’m Layla Schlack. I’m the associate managing editor print at Wine Enthusiast. And I’m here today with Tahiirah Habibi of The Hue Society and Cory Holt of Bridges Wine. Tahiirah, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Tahiirah Habibi 1:15
Hi, I’m Tahiirah. I’m the founder of Hue Society and one of the cofounders of the Roots Fund. A lot of my work is in equity building for Black and brown communities. And I’m excited to be here for a regular conversation.
Layla Schlack 1:34
Yeah, this is like working wine in the summer. And Cory, why don’t you tell us about yourself and Bridges Wine and your background as a somm and how it’s relevant to all of this.
Cory Holt 1:43
Yeah, thank you for having me. It’s really great to spend some time with both of you today. My name is Cory Holt, I am a sommelier in New York, originally from Boston. At the beginning of pandemic I was a beverage director at Maialino in Gramercy Park. And then over the pandemic founded Bridges Wine Culture, which is kind of, for lack of a better term, a consulting side hustle for the moment that hopefully it takes a little bit of a different approach and tries to make that process more accessible and fun for everyone. And reprioritize some of the, you know, wine as an additive to everything else that makes things things like culture better, and more fun. So that’s what I’ve been up to the last year. And then now back to Union Square Cafe for the time being, actually looking for a brick and mortar space for a winebar.
Layla Schlack 2:46
Oh, that’s very exciting. So tell me a little bit about just kind of how and what you guys eat and drink in the summer when you’re entertaining. You know, for the last two summers, it’s kind of been like, it’s warm enough to be outside so we can see people again, because we haven’t necessarily been able to be indoors. So tell me a little bit about what you’re eating and drinking outside, with whom, what the vibe is.
Cory Holt 3:12
You know, I think in the summertime, we my wife and I generally eat a lot of seafood and that’s kind of like the approach. But anything that’s not going to be hot. We just moved into a place with central air and a grill, so we’ve been relying on that pretty heavily. But yeah, I think just trying to do things that are simple and light and quick and herb forward—this is also the first year we started a CSA program. So, eating a lot of salad. Like an unbelievable amount of salad. And, you know, drinking, obviously, it goes white wine heavy. I think we drink a lot of Champagne in the summer—or all year. Yeah, I always think of like island wines being really, really good for summertime. Sicily is like one of the most exciting wine regions in the world. So leaning on that we had a Etna Bianco by the lake this weekend. So that’s been fun.
Tahiirah Habibi 4:21
I grew up in the city so I live in Atlanta, there’s just certain things that I like miss about being up north, like sitting on the steps eating crabs. But like crabs down here already, like prepped for you. So it’s just like usually like the Dungeness legs or something like that. I’m talking about like hardshell crabs, you got to have like newspaper, water and whenever I go home in the summer, that’s one of my favorite things to do with my family is just like, get a whole bushel of crabs and, you know, get some bubbles. I like cava with crabs for some reason. Like I do love Champagne—who doesn’t love Champagne? But you know when you’re really going at that capacity you need, you know, quick things. So, I think Cava is a really great option when you don’t want to keep busting out Champagne. And just like the light white wines, like really high acid wines are my thing in the summer. I like to stay cool. You know, we have all four seasons and so food is very seasonal for me even though I don’t live there anymore. It’s still like, it was a part of my upbringing. So food is very, very seasonal. I feel like in Atlanta, it goes from winter to hot summer, there is no real spring here. And so, it’s a weird dynamic but I definitely think bubbles are, you know, to your point, the move. Yeah. You can make spritzers and all that stuff. There’s lots of things you could do with bubbles.
Layla Schlack 6:02
Okay, so it’s your first big gathering party cookout barbecue of the summer. What are you busting out to let your guests know like, ‘Hey, this is a party we’re celebrating.’
Tahiirah Habibi 6:12
The first barbecue, because we do a lot of barbecues, is a magnum. I kind of don’t even care what kind of magnum it is. A magnum Gamay is really good, you know, like a good Beaujolais or, obviously, bubbles. Again, go back to Cava, something sparkling. I just think it’s just like magnum is a rule for me. It just paces your somewhere out like this is where we’re going, just so we’re clear. So that’s my thing.
Cory Holt 6:45
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. You stole my answer on that one. One of the things I’ve learned. And I know it’s different in restaurants. I’ve worked in retail and restaurants a lot. And I think that one of the things I’ve learned is that people maybe don’t know how much a bottle of wine is like in terms of quantity. And they think even more so for a magnum that it says this insane amount of wine and I think more than what it is the biggest thing with summer especially and celebrating and gathering is have plenty of wine. You know, just having abundance. It doesn’t have to be anything super fancy. People are gonna love it. You’re outside. It’s funny, this weekend, I brought up a magnum of Beaujolais from Foillard, I brought up an Etna Bianco, like I said, from Salvo Foti, one of my favorite Etna producers and a mag of Champagne. That basically should have lasted the weekend and lasted a day. And it’s like, you know, there’s a lot of people. It’s not just me. But this has been like kind of the one of the big get togethers that we had in in almost two years. And yeah, I think it felt like the right the right approach. And again, I don’t know, I almost don’t care sometimes what it is specifically, it’s just something crisp and refreshing and big.
Layla Schlack 8:07
Are there any bottles that you’ve been saving for when you’re able to share with people
Tahiirah Habibi 8:11
I actually just wrote about this. I had a ’96 Margaux that I’d been saving. And I opened it for Roots Fund’s first anniversary. So it wasn’t necessarily a summer thing. It just happened to fall into summer. And it was perfect. Like it was so good. It took like five minutes to open up because I was nervous at first and I was like, man, I can’t believe I held it because that’s the thing about like, vintage wines. But it opened and it was just it was perfect. And I always say wine is about memories. So I think that’s like a really important part of it if you’re saving something like that it should be memorable. But also, you know, wine is juice. Like, drink it. I just don’t like drinking with people who don’t appreciate it, right? So I had to get the right set of people who would appreciate that bottle of wine. But just like popping it open at my mom’s house and she does not care about wine. I will be upset about it.
Cory Holt 9:13
Yeah, I usually err on the side of drinking things too young I think I decided I just like the younger wine a bit more. I love old wine, but you know the again sometimes it just doesn’t show and when it when it does it’s amazing. But I think the moment the people around and you know again the memory the connection of the wine are really important. But yeah, I’ve been sitting on a couple of things that I’m trying to wait out the right moment for one is a 2010 Gamay that I got in Paris, like wine shop digging around and Gamay and, you know, we’ll probably wait until the fall to actually get that together, but Besides being ya great wine, it’s a great producer—all that stuff. But it’s more just like, it was a special moment. You know, I was on an anniversary trip with my wife and we were digging through a shop and found it. That’s why it matters. But summer summer wine, there’s a bottle of Laval that I’ve had for a couple years, Georges Laval Champagne, it’s one of my favorite producers. And I love Champagne with a couple of years of Herzog Port lineage, so we’ll probably crack that open sooner than later.
Layla Schlack 10:32
And excuse the pun, but do you find yourselves thirsty for kind of a more celebratory experience around wine and entertaining?
Tahiirah Habibi 10:40
I’m naturally a host so it’s a weird dynamic for me. I’m very much an introvert I love being in my house. I love being alone. But I’m also very much a host so any opportunity that I get to like bust out some bottles and you know, have events and stuff like that, I’m absolutely into entertaining and that’s just my natural thing. So COVID did not bother me that much in that way. You know, like being alone I was perfectly okay with it. So I’ve got definitely not busting out bottles to celebrate. You know that the world opening back up—a little too early for me—but I will bust out a bottle. Like if you came to town, I’m coming to find you with the bottles. I do love that. So it’s it’s a it’s just a natural setting secondary thing for me, honestly.
Cory Holt 11:35
Yeah, it hasn’t changed my drinking, in terms of what I’m drinking so much or, you know, digging sort of deeper. I feel similarly in that wine has always been a way for me to extend hospitality to people and whether it’s at work or at home. Yeah. So it is part of hosting and getting together and I think those get togethers have certainly felt different now. And I almost feel like celebratory isn’t quite the right word, but they’re they’re like, heavier. There’s sort of like all of this… It’s a bit of a release, and there’s all this, you can’t sort of avoid reconnecting in reconnecting, talking about kind of how the last year has gone. And there’s so much baggage with that, frankly, it’s hard. I mean, it’s not. It’s not easy conversation, always. And I think that that’s, you know, with people that you really care about, it’s, it’s a relief, for sure. It’s super fun. But yeah, just again, magnums are the move. Just having a lot of conversation over a delicious wine. I wouldn’t change what it was, as long as it’s there.
Layla Schlack 12:52
Can you share any wine buying advice for people who are getting ready to host to be reunited with friends and family who are looking for that kind of party atmosphere?
Tahiirah Habibi 13:01
It’s almost like dating, right? Like, wine is very much like dating, especially if you’ve been out of the game for a second. And then you come back, there’s all these new producers and all these new rules, you know, all of this stuff. It’s like, ‘Whaaa?’ I think you know, allow yourself to be vulnerable. And it’s probably the same thing I would say about dating. Be vulnerable and ask questions. Because here’s the thing, nobody knows everything about wine. It is always changing. It is consistently changing. You can stay up on your specialty. There’s so many other things going on. Go to wine shops, make them do their jobs. You know, ask them questions. It is okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to say I don’t know. It’s okay to say, I used to drink this, but I kind of feel like I want to transition out of that. And I’m ready to take the next step to the next level. What would that next level be for me? You know, I used to always drink high acid whites, I kind of want something a little bit more full body. What’s the transition from that? Make people do their jobs. That’s always my thing. That is my number one tip is to make people do their job. That is why they’re there, it is why they work on the floor. It is why they work in the wine shops. And they should not be giving you any problems with it. Ask them. That’s what they’re getting paid for.
Cory Holt 14:26
To kind of jump off of that, I think that sometimes there’s there’s different reasons why people sort of avoid that vulnerability. And sometimes I think it’s a skepticism sometimes I think it’s a lack of confidence, or a lack of trust. But I do think it’s the only way to learn and grow and again, you just know have to know if you like it or not and it’s it’s our job to steer you to the right thing and we want to do that. So I think if someone’s excited about something in a good shop, it’s worth trying. And I think even having a conversation with them about how to maybe find a language or talk to them about what you like, is a good way to start. This is a wine I love, how do I describe that? How do we translate that to something else? I think that’s super helpful. And honestly, with with summer in particular, and you know, getting together and hosting, I really think sometimes we focus too much on buying a specific wine or the right wine or pairing it or whatever. And I really think that’s over complicating it to an extent. Is it served cold if it’s hot out? Can you keep it that way? Is there enough of it? Is there maybe a variety but not too much? Is it confusing? How many lines there are? Is that going to like, mess with people, you know, who are your guests? I think those are the things to pay attention to. And I think, you know, the exact bottle of wine often won’t matter.
Layla Schlack 16:02
That’s a great point. So if I just wanted to pick up something that’s easy, that’s going to go with everything I’ve got on the grill, my veggie burgers, my chicken, my burgers, my hot dogs, whatever. And it’s going to let my guests know like, Hey, this is a party. What do you recommend?
Tahiirah Habibi 16:16
Oh, definitely a magnum of sparkling. But this is the thing, though. We can go back to the magnum thing, but you can get, for instance, Trader Joe’s has some pretty great magnums of Cava for like $9.99 or Prosecco. It’s magnum and it’s delicious. And it’s easy for everybody to kind of get around it. And like I said, you can turn bubbles—I would never do this with Champagne—but you can turn bubbles into other drinks. But that’s the great part about it. So that’s why I always say bubbles, because they have a quality that you can kind of just, you don’t have to stick to it just being that. You can add stuff to it. You can add ice to it and a little bit of club soda and turn it into a spritzer. You can add all kinds of purees to it. Like you could do lots of fun things with bubbles. And I think that’s cool. But you can also drink them by themselves. And then another great wine would be Chenin Blanc, I don’t think gets enough respect. Because it’s so versatile, right? But then there are other ones they’re like super versatile, but they’re more difficult to pronounce, so that’s the part that start scaring people off. You know, like, Gewurstraminer is great with certain things for barbecues, or whatever. Big, long name, very difficult to pronounce. But then we’re talking about like Gruner Veltliner is probably the most food versatile wine in the world, tied with Riesling. But people used to saying Riesling now people are not used to saying Gruner Veltliner. So they shy away from it, so I think, you know, some things just making your guests comfortable if we’re talking about guests, right, like making sure they’re comfortable. And don’t make fun of them if they pronounce it wrong, or they really like the wine. Being conscious of those kinds of things, but also I think that people will really drink whatever you put in front of them. If it’s at the right temperature. I do believe that people will drink… because people were there for the company and the intimacy, not necessarily, ‘Oh, you’re opening up this fantastic bottle of wine.’ It’s like, yeah, wine’s good. As long as it’s not like, filled with arsenic and wood chips. Like, I think you’ll be okay.
Cory Holt 18:45
Yeah, I agree. I think we need to drink together sometime. I think we’re on the same page. I was trying to think of like a great all purpose, you know, like three things. And Chenin Blanc immediately comes to mind because so often there are two things that that Gus are comfortable saying they want or don’t want. And it’s either I really want Chardonnay or I really want Sauvignon Blanc, which is I think for a lot of people the opposite. And it’s just about do I want crisp white or do I want a rich creamy white? And I think if you have to choose one and often you should just choose one, Chenin Blanc kind of bridges that gap really well more than almost any other thing. And it’s something that at least people probably have like heard the word before. So again, making people comfortable. I would also say like, you know, unless it’s like 100 degrees and even then, particularly if you’re outside and you’re barbecuing and stuff, have a light red. Don’t serve it in the whatever the outside temperature is but just throw it on ice for a few minutes and have a like fruity but dry red. For some people that’ll feel like Zinfandel, for some people that’ll feel like Beaujolais, for some people it almost doesn’t— there’s a lot of good options. But I think just something easy drinking in that world is is a good idea and yeah, sparkling mags. The point about like, the versatility. There’s a reason why something like Prosecco or Cava or even to some extent Cremant tend to work better in say a spritz than Champagne. It’s not just that it’s cheaper, but they’re softer, a little bit. And I think that that does well. And it does add that layer of versatility and you don’t have to spend a ton of money. But yeah, people just want to have a drink and relax. And I think the more you overcomplicate it, the more it’s going to be weird and annoying for everyone, including yourself, and I think just relax and have enough wine at some sort of semblance of the right temperature and you’ll be just fine.
Layla Schlack 21:03
So I’m noticing a conspicuous lack of rose in this conversation. Are we still drinking rose in the summer?
Tahiirah Habibi 21:11
Oh, I love rose. But I don’t care that your rosy summer wine. Technically, I don’t believe they’re like summer wines. You know, like, but I don’t really consider rose summer wine, like, I love rose, I think you can drink it from the most serious dishes to like waffle bowl. You know, I call them patio pounders. You can definitely throw them back. I just think that when we’re talking about like education, like rose is kind of given for the summer, so I felt like if we’re moving along to try to expand people’s palate or their mind, stepping outside of the realm of rose. Because rose is easy, right? Like it’s pink a lot of times, it has some great fruit so it tastes a little bit more sweet to people. You know, all of those things. Rose’s an easy sell just because it looks pretty. When we’re talking about like trying to get people out of their comfort zone, but still having them to be a little bit comfortable with what you’re serving them, we need to talk about other things. Because everybody whenever you equate summer to rose that’s just it, right? I feel like it’s just a given you don’t have to like really go in depth about it. I think usually you start going in depth about rose in the fall and in the winter and start saying these this is when these are roses, you should be drinking that are a little bit more heavy, they have a little bit more structure. They can really kind of stand up to some of these heavier dishes. Then, you know what? Rose summers easiest? Second thought.
Cory Holt 22:50
Yeah, spring and fall are my favorite seasons for rose. I think because they’re so versatile, because of the fruit, and some of the structure on some of them, they go really well with things like spring vegetables and can be kind of tricky to pair with. They go really well as like, kind of skirting in between difficult dishes, and they match a lot of things really well. So I’ll just plug Italian rose for a second because I love it. I don’t know, I just maybe the context I’ve been in, I’ve kind of talked about it a lot, but I think people haven’t explored Italian rose to the full extent and I think they’re thrilling. There’s so much diversity and style. I tend to like kind of fuller, richer roses. We certainly drink a lot of them, but I would say that’s true all year as well. And I think, again, even like a year or two extra bottle can be really exciting. And that’s kind of where I go back to sometimes spring being a good time to be drinking last year’s or the year before’s wine in the spring is fine. Specifically, like there’s this wine, you know, and they’re not terribly expensive, but Bonavita Faro is a North Sicilian wine. That’s like, just unbelievable. It’s like chai spice and all this fruit, but it’s still really dry. I love that wine. It would be great in this summer, but it’s not necessarily a summer wine. So yeah, I tend to stick more towards really, really high acid whites. But I think that, you know, it’s all fair game.
Layla Schlack 24:34
Great. Well, thank you both so much. Before we go, are there any projects or events you have in the works that you’d like to share with our listeners?
Tahiirah Habibi 24:43
Yeah, so we have the the Wine & Culture Fest happening here in Atlanta in the last weekend of August, August 27 through the 29th. It’s going to be amazing. Everyone is traveling into Atlanta. It’s like the event of the summer. No, it is not exclusive to Black people. I get that question a lot. Everyone is welcome to go and enjoy it and indulge. And it’s just gonna be a big love fest, you know, we finally get to see each other after a really difficult year that just passed, and we get to celebrate each other and be in that kind of company, so I hope that people will book a flight or you know, hop a plane, book a car, boat, however you need to. But, yeah, come have some fun.
Cory Holt 25:42
Sounds awesome. Yeah, I’ve been getting back to work, trying to figure out what’s next for. For me, I’ve tried to take a step back from some of the Instagram stuff and just refocus and rejigger. But I think going forward, there’s going to be a bit more activity, there, trying to kind of re-engage the Bridges community and try to build on that. And so I just asked people to check out the website, Bridgeswineculture.com and check out the Instagram, which is the same, and just kind of keep an eye out for what’s next. I’m going to start doing some interviews, hopefully, with artists again, and talking to different kinds of people about what they like to drink. And, you know, I just think consulting, for me, isn’t something that needs to be for a wine collector or wine somebody who takes it really, really seriously. I think a lot of just regular people who like to drink wine could use a little bit of help and someone to reach out to and I want to be able to make that both financially and conversationally accessible. And hopefully, sometime next year, we’ll have a space.
Layla Schlack 26:56
All right, well, I don’t know about you two, but I’m ready for a glass of Chenin. Thank you both for sharing your thoughts and expertise with us. And I hope everyone has a happy summer with lots of great wine, food and company.
Lauren Buzzeo 27:12
So there you have it, nothing left to do but fire up the grill and pop open a bottle of Cava or, near to my heart, Chenin Blanc, and raise a glass to family and friends coming together. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or wherever you find your podcasts. If you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too. You can also drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for more wine reviews, recipes, guides, deep dives and stories. Visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers