Sommelier Q + A with Carlton McCoy

I met Carlton McCoy, resident Sommelier and Wine Director at The Little Nell in Aspen, when we started bringing our guests to the hotel for our USA Pro Cycling Colorado Bike Tour in 2012, and we have been good friends ever since. He is extremely talented and has a killer instinct for great wines and not bad legs on the bike either. He is young and very impressive, but like a good red wine is aging well and has many years to continue becoming an even more impressive wine guy. He has introduced me to some incredible glasses and bottles in the years since I’ve known him. I had dinner with him during my last trip to Aspen over the holidays and got some great insight into his inspiration and advice for any kind of wine lover, including his list of top wines for 2015!

What has been your greatest inspiration to become a Sommelier? How did you get to where you are?

The people that I have worked with. Andrew Myers was the first person to introduce me to the wine industry. After Andy, Jay Fletcher was by the far the next greatest influence. Working under people that you admire and look up to is important in almost any industry, but especially in the wine industry. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.

Do you remember the first time you had a glass of wine?

I do! I didn’t grow up around wine. To this day, I may be the only person in my family that drinks wine. So for me, exploring wine was like exploring a different country. My first real glass of wine was at The Culinary Institute of America during my wine course. I was so enamored by the whole culture.

You earned the title of Master Sommelier in just over five years. Tell me about the sommelier training and testing. What was it like? How did it change you or your perspective on wine?

I took a very aggressive approach. I put everything else on the back burner. My whole life. I had no hobbies and a failing long-term relationship. People have to know that this is what it takes to be successful. With all that said, I loved the process. I loved being surrounded by like-minded, ambitious people. I think going through the CMS [Court of Master Sommeliers] has helped to expose me to every wine region in the world. It helped me to craft my own opinions about wine and the industry as a whole.

You earned a culinary degree before becoming a Sommelier. How do you think your culinary training and your experience as a chef has complemented your experience as a Sommelier?

My experience in the kitchen has helped me tremendously in my current career. Working in the kitchen helps you to build a strong work ethic. I think this really sets me apart from some others in the industry. On the other side, spending so many years honing my palate for food and strengthening my flavor memory has really helped me to become a better wine taster.

Do you have any advice for our guests who are new wine enthusiasts? Where do they start?

This is my honest and most heartfelt opinion. You must accept the fact that you will never fully understand wine. I have spent the last eight years of my life only focused on wine and I am just scratching the surface. I think to better understand wine as a consumer, learn to profile a wine. Is it light and fresh? Is it full-bodied and ripe? Is it red fruited or black fruit? Is it dry, off-dry or sweet? Figure these things out first, and you can better narrow down what you like to enjoy and know how to communicate this to a sommelier.

What is your best wine recommendation for our guests who consider themselves connoisseurs? Something they might not have tried yet?

Great wine needs age! Stop drinking these collectible wines too early. This is an absolute waste. There is a reason why most regions produce entry-level wines. These are intended to be drank on a daily basis, and great wine should be aged properly and saved for special evenings. With that said, the simple red wines of the Cotes du Rhone can offer enormous value for the daily table.

What do you love about living in Aspen?

The lifestyle and my clients. I have to admit that we are not the only place in the country with a great wine list, but there is no other place in the U.S. where I can spend the morning skiing, come to work, order great Burgundy, and later that night sell the rarest wines in the world. In Aspen, we have coined the phrase “My life is better than your vacation.” I know it sounds pretty ridiculous, but to be able to do the activities that we do on a daily basis and be surrounded with amazingly nice and generous people is where the value lies here.

Our motto at DuVine is Bike / Eat / Drink / Sleep. How do you think that cycling complements good food and wine?

It’s very much a part of the culture here. DuVine’s motto sounds very much like one of my days off in the summer! I can’t explain it, but all these things have always somehow collided.

If you were to go on a DuVine tour, which one would you choose?

Burgundy for sure! Tuscany would be a very close second!

Carlton’s Top Five Wines for 2015

Olivier Horiot La Seve Rose

This is an extremely unique champagne! 100% Pinot Noir, these grapes are sourced from a tiny plot in the village of Ricey in the Aube. The base wine is fermented in oak and richness and sweeter aromatics.

Patrick Piuze Blanchots Chablis

Chablis is at its peak these days. With that said, so are the prices. Allocations of Ravaneau and Dauvissat are more sought after amongst collectors more so than the first growths of Bordeaux. Unfortunately, the same amount of wine exists today as did 20 years ago. Patrick Piuze has stepped in as a perfect third runner-up. These wines have amazing focus, tension and energy matched only by the two kings of Chablis mentioned previously.

Monier Perreol St Joseph

As the wines of the Northern Rhone have become more popular, we are always looking for under-the-radar producers making killer wines at entry level prices. During my recent visit to the Rhone Valley, I had the opportunity to visit Monier Perreol in St. Joseph and was blown away. I pray every morning that they never realize how great their wines are as the prices will surely rise!

Tissot Poulsard

This is a super fresh red wine from the Jura in France. Perfect summer patio red.

Muller Catoir Sheurebe

Sheurebe is sort of like a cousin to Riesling. It tends to be lower in acid and extremely drinkable.