By Amiee White Beazley | December 11, 2015 | Food & Drink
Explore The Nell's multi-million dollar wine cellar with master sommelier Carlton McCoy.
Follow the red light to what Carlton McCoy calls his “cave”—and what we call his wine mecca—underneath Element 47. below: Says McCoy: “We drink great Chablis and listen to hip-hop... What else could a man want?”
I met master sommelier Carlton McCoy in the dining room of The Little Nell hotel’s Element 47 restaurant. It’s here, in Aspen, among the peaks, the power, and all the beautiful people, that McCoy holds court, opening a bottle of the Nell’s private label Champagne produced by Robert Moncuit.
“You’ve had this before, right?” he asks in his signature almost-too-quick-to-understand cadence before handing me a glass. This is the Champagne McCoy had a hand in creating two years earlier—a dry Blanc de Blanc style, easy to drink, with notes of brioche and roasted apples.
Aspen’s peak season is when the highest rollers are in town, and everyone looks for an audience with the hotel’s resident master. An anomaly in the highbrow, often snobbish industry of fine, high-end wine, McCoy is approachable, sincere, and always ready with a story at hand—making him a beloved personality in the wine world.
We pass through the dining room, and McCoy holds open a door leading us to two fights of concrete stairs, where we descend to The Little Nell’s parking garage housing a collection of Audi, Range Rover, and Porsche SUVs. One more door and we’re in the belly of the building, “Carlton’s Cave,” also known as the “Red Light Lounge”—so nicknamed for the room’s artificial lighting and the way, once inside, time seems to pass so rapidly.
With Biggie blaring from the stereo, McCoy says from here he has access to 22,000 bottles from the adjacent Little Nell wine cellar—a collection worth an estimated $5 million, including some of the best wines from the best regions in the world, with a heavy emphasis on France.
Once an office space for previous Nell master sommelier Bobby Stuckey, the 10-by-12-foot long “cave” was turned into the ultimate wine tasting room by McCoy. Crystal decanters and hundreds of bottles line the shelves. A beetle-kill table sits center and the oak ceiling and walls are decorated with black Sharpie signatures of those fortunate enough to have found themselves here, such as celebrity chef José Andrés and winemaker Joel Gott.
During the Food & Wine Classic— when the industry’s big guns come to town for three days of excess— Carlton’s cave becomes the most exclusive speakeasy in the land, with McCoy pulling, for starters, a 1993 Giuseppe Rinaldi “Brunate-Le Coste” Barolo ($597) and a 1998 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage ($1,000). It’s not uncommon for a guest to drop $100,000 in one night inside the Red Light Lounge, though access to McCoy’s time, knowledge, and wine only requires a $500 minimum buy.
“This is my haven, this is who I am,” he says. “It’s sort of a secret-wine-club, not a cookie-cutter cellar tasting room. It allows me to express more of my personality. We drink great Chablis and listen to hip-hop… What else could a man want?”
PhotograPhy by Jessica grenier/asPen snowmass