Looking to take a walk on the wild side? Meet bad boy turned Master Sommelier, Carlton McCoy Jr, MS, wine director of The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado. Carlton grew up in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Washington D.C., subjected to a future that he didn’t deem bright. He found his escape by enrolling in a Careers Through Culinary Arts Program class at Anacostia High School, winning a full-tuition scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. It was at the CIA that Carlton found his passion for wine and service.
Carlton went on to work at some of the country’s most renowned restaurants, including New York’s Per Se and Aquavit, as well as CityZen at The Mandarin Hotel in Washington D.C. He then passed the extremely rigorous Master Sommelier Exam, receiving titles such as Best New Somm (Wine & Spirits), Forbes 30 under 30, and W&S 40 under 40.
Carlton has been at The Little Nell since November 2010 and is the youngest person in the history of the hotel to hold the establishment’s esteemed wine director position. In his free time, Carlton loves outdoor activities, such as fishing, camping, and skiing.
Carlton McCoy MS / The Little Nell / Wine Director
What was a wine that changed your life and why?
I’ve never had a bottle of wine that changed my life. As much as I love wine, it is the people and places involved with wine that attracted me to this industry. The person in this industry that changed my life would be Andy Myers MS. He was the first person to take me under his wing and tell me that I may have a future in this. He approached wine with such a casual an irreverent manner. It was the first time that I had ever met anyone like that. I try to approach my staff the same way.
What is your go-to region/variety and why?
I absolutely love Sangiovese. Sangiovese offers the full package. It’s super aromatic and structurally perfect. Great acid, but not too acidic, good tannic structure, but not too astringent, and the texture is soft and round with ripe red fruits.
What is your favorite food and wine combination?
Salty French Fries and ice cold bubbly-- no doubt!
How do you decide which wines to add to your list?
There are a number of reasons a wine will end up on the list. We look at products that already sell and have a big following and we try to keep them on the list. Sometimes we taste something that is off the beaten path and we really want to introduce it to our guest. Sometimes we buy a wine for a specific guest. With 22,000 bottles in the cellar, we have the opportunity to play a lot!!
Is there a person you especially admire within the wine industry (producer/sommelier/)? Why?
I have an enormous amount of respect for Kermit Lynch. He was doing this before it was cool. He was passionate about the styles of wines that he wanted to sell and he has changed the way that sommeliers consume and discuss wine.
What do you love most about your job?
My Team, no BS. These guys work super hard and have no ego. Head down, all business!! Erik, Chris and Jesse are all rockstars.
Name one short-term goal:
I would love to win a James Beard Award for my team. We have been nominated a few times, but never brought it home. That would be huge.
If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?
I would want a meal prepared by Chef Xavier Leroux. He worked at old classic NY restaurants Le Pavillon and La Côte Basque. I worked under him at The Escoffier Room at the CIA and to this day, he is the most naturally talented chef I have ever worked for. Super old school with a crazy work ethic and an unbelievable palate.
If you could go back in time, what would your senior superlative be?
Ex-Most likely to go to prison. I wasn’t the same person in high school that I am today.