Sam and Tina Messina are a pretty good brother-sister team, complementing each other at their Wine ConneXtion enterprise just like the perfect pairing of a grilled veal chop and an elegant 2007 Gaja Brunello di Montalcino.
Sam is the wine director and responsible for tasting and selecting all 700 kinds of domestic and foreign wines sold at the store.
Tina is the business and marketing director and keeps tabs on inventory and promotes unique tasting events to attract a host of loyal customers and new ones.
But any and all job distinctions end with their titles. That's because Sam and Tina are of one mind when it comes to selling quality wines at value prices.
"We've got a simple concept
From left, Lindsey Roy of Billerica and her friend Tia Downing of Salem, N.H., are served by Sara Ferenchick of Cambridge, who works for M.S. Walker wine distributor, at a wine tasting at Wine ConneXtion in North Andover.
and that is to sell name-brand and unique wines at the very best prices," said Sam.
The Messinas exude energy, passion and a flavor for la bella vita. It's characteristic of the store they run. It's a huge wine cellar and there's nothing snobby about it; in fact, they and the staff encourage people to come in and browse, browse, and browse for good buys.
At the front of the room is a tasting station, where special events are held most Saturdays featuring wine and food pairings. On April 20, when I visited, the great Tuscan wines from the House of Antinori were presented.
If you know about wine or want to learn about it, the Wine ConneXtion in the First & Main Marketplace is an excellent starting place.
Jeanne Baylies of North Andover, left, and her friend Patricia Hogan of Andover, enjoy a wine tasting event at Wine ConneXtion in North Andover.
For experienced wine lovers, it's a place to compare knowledge with the tasting notes attached to each selection. For novices like me, it's a no-pressure way to learn what can be expected from an adventurous purchase.
And the Wine ConneXtion is an adventure, especially if you are a value shopper like me. Discounted prices are everywhere, with row upon row of comparisons made to prices found at New Hampshire Liquor Store Outlets.
As Sam Messina says, "Why pay $25 for a wine when you can get one that is just as good for $7 or $8 dollars? That's my wine tip to anyone interested in learning about wine."
The House of Messina
In a tour of the large, one-floor wine cellar, Tina Messina showed off row after row of gleaming bottles from nearly every top wine-region of the world. Many of the selections were "tagged" with bright yellow cards screaming out an urgent message: "N.H. Price Buster." The Wine ConneXtion's savings run anywhere from $3 to $10 on special deals, sometimes more on rare, premium selections that are cellared in a refrigerated room called "The Vault."
The yellow cards stand out like a field of sun flowers.
One of my favorite California Cabernets, Napa Valley's Chateau Montelena (2009), sells for $39.95 -- $4 less than New Hampshire's sale price and nearly $8 less than the CellarTracker community average.
"We've got customers who travel from New Hampshire to buy their wine here. Now that's a nice twist, isn't it,' said Tina.
The Messina Family has been in the liquor and wine business for nearly seven decades. After a longtime package store closed in 2008, Sam and Tina merged interests and launched the Wine ConneXtion in 2008-09. "It was the height of a down economy and people were cutting back but we had to make a decision and we did," said Sam. "We're doing what we like to do and I think our customers are happy too."
The wines from the House of Antinori are considered some of the best in the world, and for good reason. The family's been experimenting with grapes grown in their Tuscan vineyards for more than six centuries. Present day leader, Piero Antinori, has not been shy about blending Cabernet Sauvignon and other grape varietals with Italy's blessed Sangiovese to make superb, long-lasting red wines.
At the Wine ConneXtion, 10 Antinori wines were presented -- eight reds, two whites -- and here's my tasting selections:
1. Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva, $28.99 -- As the Italians say, this is il vero cuore -- the true heart of Tuscan wine, a sumptuous, intense red that sings for big beef dishes and salami antipasto.
2. Guado al Tasso Bruciato (2011), $22.99 -- Wine Enthusiast rated the 2010 version 91 points, and this Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot blend from the prestigious Bolgheri region merits high marks too. Nice full fruit flavor with a clean, spicy kick. Think of thick, meaty pasta sauces or a big steak.
3. Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo, $13.99 -- Here's what Sam Messina is talking about. This wine sells for as much as $25 but is offered for $13.99 at Wine ConneXtion. It's grown at Antinori vineyards in southern Italy, and is an equivalent to California Zinfandel. The taste is rich in black berries and pepper, anise. I loved the dryness on the palate and second-sip finish.
4. Guado al Tasso Vermentino, $17.99 -- The varietal used to be a nondescript dry, white served in local Italian cafes with fish. But modernists like the Antinoris have given Vermentino a decent makeover, with floral aromas and a citrusy taste for all occasions.
5. Castello della Sala Bramito del Cervo Chardonnay, $13.99 -- Imagine kissing the young and beautiful lips of Italian actress Sophia Loren in her 1960s heyday, and that's what I got from this creamy, apple-pear sensation. I'd love to fill the Trevi Fountain with this stylish wine and accidentally fall in.
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