Skip to main content

Unpretentious Palate


Suggested content for you

share on facebook Tweet This! Email
January 30, 2024

Anthony “Wes” Wesley McNinch House sommelier passes away

Beloved wine expert lost his cancer battle on Saturday

by TM Petaccia

Anthony “Wes” Wesley passed away on Saturday. Kara Daly/UP

Anthony “Wes” Wesley, the longtime sommelier of The McNinch House, passed away on Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

Originally from Libera, Wesley lived in Philadelphia and New York before moving to Charlotte in 1987. He landed a job at Charlotte’s iconic The Lamplighter before moving to McNinch in 2002. His wine lists have won several awards from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. Last March, he launched The New School For Wine, a series of informal classes geared toward wine enthusiasts.

His coworkers and McNinch patrons remember him for his warmth, humor, and completely unpretentious approach to wine. “Wes was an amazing member of the McNinch House family,” says McNinch general manager Tracy Webb. “He had such a passion and dedication for wine, unlike anything I have ever seen. Everyone who visited the restaurant always remembered Wes, the wine guy, his stories, his knowledge, and his passion. I feel honored and blessed to have been able to work alongside him for the past 7½ years. He will be greatly missed.”

Built on Hospitality partner Chris Coleman, whose current restaurants include Haymaker and Old Town Kitchen and Cocktails, worked at McNinch House in 2003, becoming executive chef in 2005. “Wes was truly one of a kind. He was African in the (mostly) white world of sommeliers. He was always curious, kind, jovial, and opinionated without being arrogant. And in the 10 years I worked with him, I saw him angry maybe twice. He introduced me to the world of wine, but enjoyed an ice-cold lager as much as a Duckhorn or Caymus. He loved his family, loved his adopted home of Charlotte, loved to talk sports, and loved hospitality. He was active in local politics, taking a seat on the transit community board. He introduced me to sweet potato leaves, oxtail, cassava, and goat curry.”

“I remember Wes doing a blind tasting with a Chef’s Table one evening,” Coleman says. “He poured a $200 a bottle Cab-Syrah blend next to a cheap, grocery store find (Apothic Red) and had the guests select the better pairing, knowing well in advance what the outcome would be. Once the guests had selected, and he revealed that their choice was the Apothic (much to their shock), he led a discussion on finding value in hidden places and never judging juice by the label or sticker price alone.”

“Our hearts are broken as we miss him terribly in the house,” McNinch co-owners Mitch and Dee Dee Clark share in a joint statement. “He was more than just a sommelier to us. He was a friend. He was the other half of McNinch House’s success. He always had a kind word for us. He was also quite the prankster. He kept a bottle of Boone’s Farm to ‘present to diners’ at night. He also enjoyed a cloth ghost he would hang over our sleeping porch and shake at the ghost tour groups.

“He was such a people person and lived life with his own unique zest. He relished the opportunity to tell our guests the many stories of the house. As we walked through this last year of his illness, he kept his attitude of not hiring a new sommelier. He was coming back and working into his 80s. We so wish that would happen.”

Wesley’s death is the second to impact McNinch House in the past year. Original owner, Ellen Davis, passed away on January 13, 2023.

“The house is much quieter without Wes. Our hope is that he is enjoying a glass of wine with Aunt Ellen again,” says the Clarks.

This story has been unlocked as a tribute to Wes. Our reporting is supported by Unpretentious Palate Members, who believe food writing is critical to the city’s restaurant scene. Consider becoming a UP Member today

Posted in: Latest Updates, News