Best New Sommeliers of 2013
Carlton McCoy, Jr., MS, The Little Nell, Aspen
"Not only did he just become a Master Sommelier, he is one of the most engaging, customer-oriented sommeliers and all around great guys ever to walk the floor of a restaurant." —Laura Werlin, wine & cheese consultant, Aspen
"I come from a family where no one drinks wine," says Carlton McCoy, "so it seems normal for me to speak to guests who don't know much about it." McCoy's route to wine came through food. Working beside his grandmother in a catering business from the age of 12, his interest and experience in the kitchen led to a scholarship at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. After school, he headed to NYC, where he staged in some pretty impressive kitchens—Daniel, Alain Ducasse and Jean Georges—before heading back to his home city of Washington, DC, to take a front-of-house job at CityZen.
It was here that McCoy's wine career began to take off. He credits wine director Andrew Myers with setting him on the wine path. Myers poured him his first blind taste and encouraged him to enter the Court of Master Sommeliers program. His next big break came when he took the Court's Advanced-level exam, and met Dustin Wilson (a W&S Best New Sommelier of 2009). Wilson was leaving The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado, and suggested McCoy apply for his job. McCoy was skeptical—"I'm a city kid. I'd never even seen a pair of skis or a road bike," he says. Somewhat reluctantly he flew out for a series of interviews, and fell in love with the hotel and the wine program. He got the job in November of 2010, and has now fully embraced life in the Rockies as an avid runner, road biker and hiker. Earlier this year, he attained his Master Sommelier certification, and the restaurant promoted him to wine director this past summer. —Stephanie Johnson
A Montessori Approach
Staff education is important but I don't like talking in front of a group. I try to involve everyone by assigning each person a different region to research and present. That includes runners, back servers, front servers, maître d's and line cooks, as well as sommeliers. Twice a week we get together and train each other. By the end of the year, each employee has been exposed to every major wine region at least twice.
Wine of the Moment?
I scored a small allocation of Ganevat wines from the Jura and wanted to share one with some visiting somms from New York—Patrick Capiello of Pearl & Ash and Michael Madrigale of Bar Boulud/Boulud Sud. Each of them had also brought a bottle to share. Both were Ganevat.
Hot Spring Refresher
One of my favorite hikes is Conundrum Creek Trail, climbing to over eleven thousand feet in elevation. I take a bladder sack of cru Beaujolais, chill it in a mountain-fed stream, and enjoy it while relaxing in one of the nearby hot springs.
Our clientele is similar to that of New York or DC—lots of wealthy people who know quite a bit about wine. The difference is that when they come here, they're calmer and in a better mood. That's even true of our staff, who enjoy a great outdoor lifestyle and tend to be less stressed at work. It's hard to be uptight in Aspen.
Advice to Aspiring Somms
Pay attention to everything you drink. Stay humble and realize that in the end, you're just a wine server. Find your own style and figure out what regions you're really excited about, but don't neglect other areas, because your guests are going to ask about everything.
Words to Live By
Mike Tilch, the legendary DC wine retailer [of Silesia Liquors] who passed away a few years ago, used to say, "People who don't understand wine open a great bottle and hoard it for themselves. Real wine lovers open a great bottle and look around for people to share it with."