As shown herein, selectivity of aerobic oxidation of benzyl alcohol with gold nanoparticles dispersed on Al2O3 support is solvent-controlled. Using different solvents, the reaction was directed toward a variety of products: benzaldehyde, benzoic acid or benzoic esters were selectively produced from benzyl alcohol depending on the conditions. In toluene, benzaldehyde was produced with high selectivity, while quantitative conversion to benzoic acid was achieved in alkaline water. In methanol, methyl benzoate was produced with very high yield. Moreover, activity of the catalyst was dramatically improved without loss of selectivity in biphasic media; with a toluene/alkaline water system the highest TOF for benzoic acid synthesis was close to 5200 h−1, selectivity being 98%.