A wine match made in Andover

“Tis the season for the big bold brash and vibrant red wines that inspire fall parties and grace holiday tables the toasty tannins of Italian Barolos and Brunellos and the rich complex blue black and red fruits of California Cabernet Sauvignon and French Bordeaux.

Like shortsleeve shirts and Bermuda shorts that are packed away for next summer the Wine Novice bids an appreciative adieu to the lighter white and red wines which brought cool and refreshing tropical fruit flavors to the palate from May to September.
Now I’m restocking the shelves. Where do I start?
Fortunately there are many good wine merchants in the Greater Lowell area. You should get to know them and trust them for their knowledge.

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea DiFiore the store manager at Andover Liquors in Shawsheen Plaza on North Main Street. It’s a splendid store for all beverages but it’s the wine – and Andrea’s hospitable presence – that make this place a great discovery for grape travelers like me.

The spacious store features 3500 wines in all price ranges plus a wine room of premium hard-to-find selections from all over the globe. On my first visit to the special section I was astounded to be eyeball-to-eyeball with a 2007 La Serena Brunello di Montalcino a new release that was rated No. 1 by Wine Advocate magazine. “The 2007 Brunello di Montalcino is beautiful” said the magazine’s review. “A large-scaled opulent wine the 2007 captures the personality of the vintage while retaining fabulous balance and proportion. Layers of dark fruit mocha spices and new leather build effortlessly to the huge palate staining finish. This is a fabulous showing. Anticipated maturity: 2015-2025.”
Andover Liquors was selling this classic for $62.95 barely $2 over the average world market price listed on cellartracker.com.

“I can’t believe you have this” I said to Andrea.
“Why not?” she replied. “I tasted it several weeks ago at a tasting in New York. It’s young and very expressive. It’ll only get better over the next 20 years.”

I’m not waiting until I’m 80 to drink this gem I told her. I purchased a bottle. “I’ll cellar it for two years the most – unless the Wine Goddess tempts me with a splendid osso buco with rosemary potatoes.”
Just the thought made me want to change my first name to Bacchus.
Andrea DiFiore 42 is a remarkable story herself. She was a successful assistant manager at an auto dealership but always had a “fascination” for wine. A trip to Tuscany with her mom visiting vineyards and tasting local wines put her on the path for a career change.

“I found my passion in Italy and it was for wine” she said.
Nearly a decade ago while taking wine courses at Boston University and working at the dealership she visited Andover Liquors and inquired about a part-time job. She was content stocking shelves reading about wine and talking to customers. With her studies progressing and her knowledge growing leaps and bounds – “I attended every wine tasting I could get to in my free time” – she was offered a full-time job as wine manager. She accepted on the spot. That was seven years ago.

“My first day was one of the toughest. It came during the May floods and we had to take every bottle off the shelves and fill sandbags to protect the store. The parking lot was flooding with water. We didn’t make one sale that day. I was shoveling sand. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life” she recounted.

Several months later she got a second test of her mettle. A regular customer of the previous wine manager was reluctant to take Andrea’s advice on her choice for Thanksgiving Day wines. “I picked out Truchard Pinot Noir and he said “You don’t know what I like.’ He left the store grumpy and with six bottles. I didn’t know what to think.”

The day after Thanksgiving the man returned. “I opened the store at 9 a.m. and he was the first customer. He came up to me put his hand out and said “You made the right decision. It was fabulous'” she said.
The wine business is all about “building relationships” explained Andrea. “Each bottle of wine has a personality and I try to match them up with the customers’ tastes” she said.

It sounds simple but it’s hard work. Andrea purchases all the store’s wines and personally tastes 90 percent of them. “I know what we are selling to customers. If I didn’t think the wine is of good quality it wouldn’t be in the store for sale” she said. The next step she said is to know the customer.

“There are good wines at every price point and once I know what the customer likes and how much they are willing to spend the fun part begins. We look for good values and great wines” Andrea said.

Andrea knows the first time a new wine customer walks into a store it can seem overwhelming and intimidating.

“Our philosophy at the store is to give everyone a pleasant experience. I love it when people ask questions about wine. No one should be shy about it. It’s a great learning experience. In fact I have several bottles on the shelves that were suggested to me by our customers. I learn from them too” she said.

As the Wine Novice prepared to depart the store after a wonderful afternoon Andrea turned to survey the racks of bottles in store and said “These are my children. I love them all.”
Knowing Andrea DiFiore the wine is bound to find its way into a nice home and onto a festive holiday table.

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