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Half-bottles have a place at the table

By Dave Buchanan
tony%27s%20half%20bottles.JPG When I called Tony Bartkus this morning at his shop Tony B’s Wine List in Centennial, he was next door at Tony’s Meats, the very upscale delicatessen/catering business operated by Mick Rosacci and his three siblings. Bartkus’ store is at 4991 East Dry Creek Road, just north of C470 between Holly and So. Colorado Blvd., in case you’re headed to Denver over the holidays. At one time the two stores were connected by ownership, not just initials, but since Bartkus purchased the liquor end about 18 months ago, the shops are separate albeit symbiotic businesses. Bartkus was helping someone pick out a gift basket and you probably couldn’t ask for anyone much better, since Bartkus not only is a trained sommelier but also has years of experience around fine foods, which makes pairing wine and foods one of his specialties. But this call wasn’t about pairings, or at least food, anyway. It was about wine, and specifically Bartkus’ affection for half-bottles, those 375-ml bottles that seem to be making a bit of a comeback in stores and restaurants. When I stopped at Bartkus’ shop last week, I stocked up on a case of half-bottles, ranging from a 2003 Saint-Veran white Burgundy to a 2001 Chianti Classico and a 2005 Chateau Hureau cabernet franc from the Loire Valley. Bartkus has a personal affinity to half-bottles and carries upwards of 20 different half-bottle selections, none of which will break your bank. Bartkus, a sommelier who has delayed his study for Master of Wine certification while dealing with a 5-month-old son, says he has customers who come in just to stock up on the halfs. “I have a lot of customers who know it’s a good way to try a lot of wines without committing to a full bottle,” Bartkus said. “Also, people (buy half-bottles) when they’re having a wine tasting and that way don’t have to have so much at the table.” He also said when only one person in a couple has wine with dinner, a half-bottle is perfect. “When my wife was pregnant and couldn’t drink, I drank half-bottles,” Bartkus said. “It’s sort of a personal thing for me, I think a half-bottle of Champagne is good any time. “I guess I have an Old World, European palate, and my selections sometimes reflect that,” Bartkus said. “I like some of the smaller French appellations and of course I love Bordeaux.” His half-bottle distributor isn’t afraid of lesser-known, more-adventurous wines that “challenge the every day palate, and I can hand-sell every wine that comes out of the shop,” Bartkus said. A recent glance through his half-bottles revealed wines from France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, New Zealand, Australia, the U.S. and several other countries. “If it’s out there and I can get it, I’ll carry it,” Bartkus said. Recently, restaurants have found its sort of chic to offer half-bottles for adventurous clients curious about trying new wines. Plus, since some of those wines are so pricey, a half-bottle lets you try one without signing for a sub-prime mortgage, and you know where that leads. You might find some half-bottles scattered around Grand Junction, but in some ways their popularity was hurt when Colorado moved into the 21st Century and updated its liquor laws to allow diners to take home unfinished bottles of wine. Antediluvian liquor laws (they're still out there, don’t fret) forced diners to either drink an entire bottle of wine or to relinquish it to the kitchen staff (which isn’t always a bad idea, since most wait staffs aren’t well-trained in wine). With a half-bottle, the only person who gets anything after dinner is the recycler. *A couple of Tony Bartkus's half-bottle selections. There has been some discussion on the Internet whether half-bottles age faster than the traditional 750-ml bottles.