Leo Bortolotto learned a thing or two about life while spending the better part of seven years living throughout Italy (with a two-year stop in Amsterdam). It led him to opening a nifty wine shop in LoHi with a bike rack out front.
During his blissful European stay, he figured out just how he wanted to live life. It needed to include an urban existence reliant on bicycles, public transit, and of course food and wine.
Tuscany will do that to a person.
So it shouldn’t surprise that shortly after his fulltime return to Denver in 2008, Bortolotto embarked upon a business (ad)venture that captured all of that. He opened Amendment XXI (2548 15th St., Denver, 303-477-5646) just a just a block from his house — even closer than where he parks his car, which gets used so infrequently that a layer of dust on the hood is commonplace.
“I’ve always striven to have that ... riding a bicycle, walking, taking public transit,” Bortolotto says. “To me, that’s quality of life, and I want to hold onto that as long as I can."
It’s a feeling shared by the LoHi neighborhood that has blossomed into a live, work, play mecca featuring some of the best nibbles in the city such as Bortolotto’s favorite, Linger (which serves Bonacquisti wine off the tap!). “It’s the first restaurant in Denver that makes you feel like you just walked into a restaurant in New York City,” he says. “It’s hip, it’s happening, it’s busy, all the beautiful people are there.”
And that spills over to his wine shop, of course. He caters to the foodie community, with a careful selection of wines that he handpicks, mostly from tiny operations. He says the biggest compliment you can give him is to mention you don’t know any of the wines in his store. “I try and stay away some of the bigger known brands you see stacked to the ceiling at some of the big-box liquor stores,” Bortolotto says.
This selection includes the neighborhood winery, the Bonacquisti Wine Co. (scroll down for Bortolotto’s food suggestions for [d] Red and Vinny No Neck; find other shops selling our wine). “You go up to 46th and Pecos, and it’s in this industrial park and you got a couple of tanks – but it's still wine,” he says. “That’s what’s fun about it.”
And what's fun about Amendment XXI is the fact that it's more than just a wine shop; it's designed to fit the urban LoHi food and wine community.
Bortolotto envisions his customers riding a B-cycle (those baskets can fit a few bottles) to his store or, gasp, even walking to pick up their Wednesday night bottle. Heck, one of Bortolotto’s first orders of business when opening the store in 2009 was to install bicycle racks.
How very European.
In the 17 years since relocating to Colorado from Detroit, he’s worked his way through the Denver restaurant scene, including, most notably, a stop at the esteemed Barolo Grill on Sixth Avenue. Working in the tourism sector in Italy interrupted his stay here, but when he got back, it didn’t take long to figure out he wanted his own business.
“I’ve always wanted to do something, and I always thought that something was going to be a restaurant, but I never had the courage,” he says. "I finally did it, and I love it.”
So the idea to open a high-end boutique wine shop named after the law that allowed Americans to libate again came to fruition. He hasn’t looked back. Beyond the creativity that comes with setting up the retail space and selecting music that accents the mood of his wines, he simply loves interacting with costumers.
“I deal with every single person who walks through the door. People come in, and I engage right away," he says. "I start to recognize them. I start to understand what kinds of wines people like, and I can turn them on to things.”
So next time you walk through the Amendment XXI door, make sure you chat Leo up; it’ll make his day and might open your eyes to a wine you’ve never tried before. Vinny No Neck, perhaps?
Leo’s Food and Wine pairings:
Vinny No Neck
Sangiovese/Merlot blend ($16.99 at Amendment XXI)
“Any kind of grilled meats, any kind of roasts, any kind of gamier type. We eat a lot of bison in Colorado. I’d serve it with a bison burger or a bison meatloaf,” Bortolotto says.
Blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot ( $16.99 at Amendment XXI)
“It's got a good fruit-forward style people like with the cooked or stewed red fruit aroma that I would pair with tomato sauces. I’d go toward the red sauce pasta, things like that,” Bortolotto says.