Two wine connoisseurs named Carlos pair up to serve the ultimate tasting program through Aspen Hospitality Group.
Wine dinner presentation at Acqualina
It is one of Aspen’s best wine pairings. Last October Carlos Solorzano-Smith, the well-known wine director at Matsuhisa Aspen, left his position to forge a new path as founder and managing partner of the Aspen Hospitality Group. The group quickly acquired Duemani, which means “two hands,” and Acqualina restaurants, both known for their vibrant wine programs. At the same time, another well-respected Aspen wine guy, Carlos Valenzuela, was winding down the Italian wine program he had helmed at the beloved L’Hostaria, which was shuttering after 25 years.
Presented at a wine dinner at Acqualina, Heitz Cellar winery specializes in Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons
The first Carlos said to the second Carlos, “Want to come aboard?” Kismet. A relationship was formed, and now the two wine professionals with the same first name (“Carlos Squared,” the staff calls them) work together to put their passion for wine on display nightly at the two Aspen hot spots. “The timing was perfect for us both,” says Valenzuela, who is now wine director for the AHG restaurants. “Hospitality is a lifestyle… you need to live it,” says Solorzano-Smith, “and I know Carlos [Valenzuela] shares my long-term vision of building something for locals and the community.”
In addition to the vision, the pair also share their Latino backgrounds. Solorzano-Smith immigrated from Guatemala at the age of 21 and first came to Aspen in 2009, where he worked as a back server at The Little Nell. He tasted wines there for the first time as a 28-year-old and discovered his calling. Working to learn wines and the culture around them, he found mentors in the Aspen wine community. He took a second job at Matsuhisa and in 2012 was offered the position of wine director. Now, a decade later, he helms the AHG restaurant partnership, which is dedicated to offering incomparable dining experiences.
Carlos Solorzano-Smith and Carlos Valenzuela.
Valenzuela grew up in East L.A. as the son of an owner of Mexican carnicerias. Aft er working for the wine-centric Valentino in Las Vegas, he accepted the prestigious position of wine director at L’Hostaria in 2009 at the age of 23, a position he held for a dozen years.
While the two Carloses both love wine, their palates have gravitated in diverse directions. “My passion is for Piedmont and the wines of Italy,” says Valenzuela.
“Our love for wine is the same,” says Solorzano-Smith with a laugh, “but we like it from different places. I fell in love with French wines, especially those from Burgundy.” A perfect pair. And pairing.
Photography by: PHOTO COURTESY OF ASPEN HOSPITALITY GROUP