Drop into Bacchus Wine in Manhattan Beach on a Friday afternoon and you might find Sarah Tilton behind the front counter answering the phone, helping a customer find a prime rib-worthy cabernet, or setting out glasses for the daily flight tastings. She's also the tiny Manhattan Beach wine shop's executive chef.

Why would a small neighborhood wine shop without a kitchen need a chef? “I do a lot of catering and food-wine pairing events, also private events at the shop or in homes.” The places is so tiny she has to do all of the cooking off site.

Chefs typically leave it to the sommelier to find the perfect wine for their beef bourguignon. “I start with the wines, the types and how many different wines does the customer want to serve, then find the right dishes.” If the party budget is tight, Tilton might suggest passed appetizers so she can choose an inexpensive wine that will pair with a variety of food. Deeper pockets will get you wine “stations,” say a Cabernet station with meatball sliders and chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano in one corner, a Chardonnay station with platters of prosciutto wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese in another.

Of course there's always the do-it-yourself party route during the impending college football season. Tilton says a dry sparkling cava like Castell Roig Brut is a must-sip with cheese paninis stuffed with Campo de Montalban, a nutty Spanish cheese similar to Manchego. The panini press, and whether you enjoy the game, are both optional.

Bacchus Wine Shop: 1000 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach (310) 372-2021.

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