Master Sommelier and CNN ‘Nomad’ Host Carlton McCoy Shares His Most Memorable Drinks

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

CNN Originals’ “Nomad with Carlton McCoy” will air this Sunday, May 1 at 10 p.m. ET.

Carlton McCoy’s favorite ritual is as old as human memory: sharing a meal and a drink to understand a person or place more intimately. This exercise is part of the master sommelier’s latest attempt – CNN’s original “Nomad” series – in which McCoy explores what he calls “pillars of culture” through the less visible sides of different destinations, including Seoul. , Paris and his hometown of Washington, DC.

McCoy became a force in the wine industry when he achieved the hard-earned title of master sommelier in 2013 – he was among the youngest, at 28, and only the second African-American to do so. He is now the first black CEO of a Napa winery, heading the historic Heitz Cellar. But rather than hosting a show about wine, which he says doesn’t film very well, McCoy wanted to explore “what makes a culture stand out,” he explained. “Nomad” is about “understanding how quickly the world is changing, being able to revisit places we all thought we knew, and… how the people who occupy the spaces are changing those cultures.”

Watch the trailer for the new series “Nomad with Carlton McCoy”

McCoy experiences art, architecture, fashion and food scenes from around the world, but primarily through the deep connections he forges with people in every place he visits – and often around food or drink. In Saint Denis, France, he spends an afternoon with gallerist Mariane Ibrahim in artist Raphaël Barontini’s studio, during which Barontini serves food from his mixed European, Caribbean and African heritage. In Wonju-Si, South Korea, he hosts a soju tasting with Korean-American rapper Jay Park and brewer Kim Won-ho, who have collaborated on a new brand of soju.

Drinks aren’t always the focus of “Nomad,” but McCoy’s experiences in the world of wine are ever-present, as he speaks to others who are equally passionate about their careers and have often encountered obstacles to reach their level of success. McCoy entered the culinary world after learning to cook from his grandmother, who raised him and ran a restaurant business. He won a citywide cooking contest in DC that paid his way through the Culinary Institute of America and led to his first wine class, setting him on his path.

McCoy and Matt Taylor at the Ink Grade estate. Credit: wildly simple

Winemaking is largely generational, with families passing down expensive vineyard land, and McCoy didn’t have the same kind of access as many of his peers. But he sees essential changes taking place.

“You can actually build your own brand for very little money to start with, I think that’s becoming more and more obvious,” he said. “You don’t need a winery anymore to have a cool, super-successful wine brand. That narrative is changing.” He believes that with the world of wine – like all other important markers of culture – facilitating access to underrepresented perspectives will only be for the better. “When the fashion industry, the music industry, the visual arts really started opening the door to people of color, the industries (became) one, more successful and two, much more exciting,” a- he declared.

Instead of doing a wine show, McCoy wanted to show

Instead of doing a wine show, McCoy wanted to show “how fast the world is changing”. Credit: CNN

McCoy has a lifetime of memories of sharing drinks with people, including the corn liquor he drank with his family patriarchs in the South and rare vintages steeped in vintners he most admires.

“It’s really about connecting people,” he said. “Do people sit at home and have a tequila on the rocks or a glass of wine? Absolutely. But it’s almost always best shared with someone else.

“It’s a ceremony of sharing (a) drink together,” he added. “That, to me, has always been the most valuable part.”

With that in mind, McCoy shares four bottles that mean the most to him.

The most memorable drinks

1978 Hubert de Montille Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens

In 2011, while McCoy was studying to become a master sommelier, a friend said his exceptional knowledge of French wine must have been the result of regular trips to his home country. But McCoy felt a sense of shame at the assumption.

“I had never been (to France) at that time. I studied books, I drank all the great wines of the world”, he recalls. “It was a bit of an embarrassing moment.”

That night, McCoy booked a flight to Burgundy and before leaving he discovered this “absolutely exceptional” vintage from Hubert de Montille – de Montille is “one of the godfathers of modern Burgundy wines”, notes he – thanks to a good friend who was generous with his wine collection.

Fast forward to his trip to France, and McCoy found himself unable to visit many of the wineries on his list because it was Easter weekend.

“I ended up sitting in that yard,” he said. “I’m on my own. At this point, I’m wearing flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt. I look very American.” A few beers later, he realized to his surprise that de Montille himself was in the same yard. McCoy showed up and they shared wine together; the winemaker was so confused that he was alone on Easter weekend that he invited him to join his family that evening for dinner.

“He asked the chef for a leg of lamb for a traditional Easter meal,” McCoy said of de Montille, who died in 2014 aged 84. “We had an amazing night. There’s a picture of me standing next to him smiling. It was like a dream. I didn’t sleep that night, it was just surreal.”

Lobos 1707 Tequila

Lobos 1707 is the joint venture of several famous basketball personalities, including LeBron James, but McCoy is closest to the premium tequila brand’s founding partner, Maverick Carter. McCoy and Carter met a few years ago while drinking wine with friends and discovered that their paths had grown closer but never crossed until then.

“We had so much in common. We were raised in almost identical neighborhoods (in DC), in similar situations – he was raised by his grandmother, (had) issues with (his) parents and we really connected on a human level,” McCoy said. During their meeting, the ‘Nomad’ host keenly felt the concept of probing – the realization that your life is small and that “billions of other people have their own reality”, as he put it. . “I’m here in my little world and it’s a mile away. And now we end up meeting years later,” he said.

He watched Carter fully immerse himself in Mexican tequila culture to bring Lobos 1707 to market in 2020, and says it’s been a “bliss” to see how his life has changed because of the beverage industry.

“We both live and work in a circle with people who had much more access … to wealth and education, and what we call healthy families and safer neighborhoods,” McCoy explained. “(We have a) ability to connect on a plane that very few people in our worlds, in our circles, would ever understand.”

2017 Ink Grade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine brand with winemaker Matt Taylor was the first McCoy had been involved in creating after investing in a vineyard, but at first McCoy was unfamiliar with the history of the land.

“I hadn’t really heard of the vineyard,” McCoy said. “And I started researching the vineyard and found that it had actually been developed in the 1870s. And that was part of this whole movement before and after the ban on building a wine industry. wine in Napa Valley.” Walking through the woods, he could still see the copper stills used to make hooch – a homemade liquor – when alcohol was banned in the United States.

“It’s one of those wild, crazy, high-altitude terraced vineyards that you really feel completely off the grid, and you’re there, there’s no sign of life, you don’t see any houses. , no roads, nothing like you’re in the woods of this vineyard,” he said. “And having the opportunity to create a single winery from start to finish from a very historic site like that one – very few people in the world have the ability to do that.”

1996 Dalla Valle Pietra Rosso Napa Valley

When McCoy started dating his girlfriend, Maya Dalla Valle, who is, as he described, “an exceptionally intimidating winemaker,” his parents and father were dead. He knew they both understood that kind of grief, but he had never asked her in depth.

“It’s not something you usually want to sit down and talk about,” McCoy explained. “I think when people want to share things, they will, and it will happen just in time.”

Dalla Valle had traveled the world working for different estates, but had returned to Napa to take over her father’s winery alongside her mother. When McCoy and Dalla Valle were out for dinner one night, she saw this bottle on the wine list – it was a vintage her Italian father had made that was dear to her as it was the only one in which he used a specific grape variety from Tuscany, harvested in Napa.

The grapes “weren’t good for this site,” McCoy said, so “it was never the best wine they made. But it was the one he was very proud of because it’s a little piece of Italy here in Napa.”

Incredulous that the restaurant carries the wine, Dalla Valle and McCoy ordered it and shared the bottle and she told him the whole story over dinner.

“Listening to her talk about the history of this wine – and how proud it made her – (there was) a connection that she would always have with her father through this wine,” McCoy said. “It was really special.”

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