A Cheap Bottle of Wine: Villa Cerrina’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

May 26, 2010 at 3:06 AM (Musings) (, , , )

While reviewing the recipe for a “Quick Ragù Bolognese” (details in next post), I saw that I would need some red wine.  Given that I’m a college graduate who is still surviving off a part-time hourly wage, I was in no way going to waste any of my precious $10+ wine on an experimental recipe.  Clearly I would have to buy more wine for this particular purpose.  You know, a two-buck chuck deal.

It wasn’t that simple, though.

I easily could have bought a box o’ wine and called it a day, but given how little I cook with wine (where I actually use it in the food, anyway), most of it would likely go to waste.  I wanted to find something that would serve as both an ingredient and as a palatable beverage.  As much as I love the kind people of Best Cellars, I knew I would have to sojourn elsewhere to find a wine within my budget of $6.00, so I went to Trader Joe’s (home of my favourite $4 bottle of wine, but unfortunately, it’s a white and therefore useless in this scenario).

Villa Cerrina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red wine labelI walked into Joe’s not entirely sure of how I would select my first bottle of cheap wine.  Luckily, the store sorts its wines by region.  I figured that since it was an Italian recipe, what better place to start?  Apart from that the search was uneventful.  I went with the second cheapest red I found: Villa Cerrina’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 ($4.99+tax – score!).

I brought it home and used it to make my bolognese, which turned out tasty enough.  After I got the stove fires under control, I poured a small glass to see if I had found my “best of both worlds” wine.  The verdict?

I’m going to keep looking.  It wasn’t awful, but if I plan on an extended wine night, this won’t be the first bottle I open.  It’s pretty light, a little juicy at the start, and I’m not crazy about the dryness that hits me in the back of the throat.  In addition, I don’t really notice any really distinct flavours. Granted, I am far from having wine connoisseur taste buds, but even I notice when the wine is lacking in such a defining characteristic.

On the bright side, I did find an interesting-looking site looking for the picture of the label. CheapWineRatings.com may hopefully save me the effort of making a bigger mistake in the future.  Regardless, the search continues . . .

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New York Times: Still Pro-Blogger

May 25, 2010 at 6:28 PM (Happenings) (, , , , )

Last January, The New York Times took a bold step: announcing the plan to charge frequent readers of its online edition beginning in January 2011. NYT logo Site visitors will be able to view X number of articles monthly (“X” having yet to be determined) before NYT asks that they subscribe in order to read more.  Folks who subscribe to the printed paper automatically enjoy full access to the site.

WebProNews recently highlighted one particular concern: being one of the four most linked-to sites by bloggers, how would this decision affect blog-based inbound links for the news source?

Folks who find their way over to NYT via blogs more often than not are in luck.  As it turns out, that method of reading NYT articles doesn’t go against the monthly allotted article credits.  According to a spokesman, “The pay model will be designed so readers that are referred from third party sites such as blogs will be able to access that content without hitting their limit, enabling NYTimes.com to continue being a part of the open web.”  Not only would a casual reader be more likely to go elsewhere for his news if he had to pay to read the article, but bloggers also don’t like linking people to things they have to pay for (outside of product endorsements, but that’s different).  Smart move, NYT.

That’s all fine and good for the lovely people who read our blogs, but what about us actual bloggers?  If we’re driving traffic to the site, shouldn’t we receive some kind of credit?  Granted, The Times has several months before it will implement this new strategy, and I think they have a good idea so far.  A thought regarding the bloggers: if one can determine how many times one computer has accessed NYTimes.com, I imagine that computer can also get linked to a blog.  Suppose for each link back to the site, the reader/blogger regains one article credit.  Again, The Times has a long way to go, and I am not the one to determine the mechanics, but I bet it’s doable.

Today’s Tunes
“So What,” Miles Davis
“In the Waiting Line,” Zero 7

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Today I Learned . . .

May 25, 2010 at 4:48 PM (Musings) ()

Today I learned that I am incapable of “eyeballing” standard measurements.  While not a life-threatening weakness, it did result in a lousy pot of rice last night (I thought it was impossible to mess up, too).

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Good For You, Twitter

May 24, 2010 at 4:58 PM (Happenings, Musings) (, , , )

This morning, TechCrunch posted an article about Twitter’s decision to prohibit all third parties from advertising within the tweet-stream.  My response?

Yay!

twitter birdOne of the aspects of Twitter that I really appreciate is the lack of adverts that I can’t control interrupting my feed.  If I decide to follow someone who turns out to tweet only in spam or product promos, that’s my own fault and it’s my job to either live with it or un-follow the account.  I could grow used to banner and sidebar adverts (because let’s face it, if you want to use the free version of anything, chances are you have to see an advertisement somewhere on the site): eventually I just learn how to ignore them.  However, if one shows up in the middle of a game, page-load or – gasp – tweet stream, it becomes a lot tougher to overlook.

TechCrunch linked to the Twitter blog as well as highlighted a key passage outlining the reasons for the decision (emphasis added by yours, truly):

First, third party ad networks are not necessarily looking to preserve the unique user experience Twitter has created. They may optimize for either market share or short-term revenue at the expense of the long-term health of the Twitter platform. For example, a third party ad network may seek to maximize ad impressions and click through rates even if it leads to a net decrease in Twitter use due to user dissatisfaction.

Secondly, the basis for building a lasting advertising network that benefits users should be innovation, not near-term monetization. Twitter is uniquely dependent on and responsible for the long-term health and value of the platform. Accordingly, a necessary focus of Promoted Tweets is to explore ways to create value for our users. Third party ad networks may be optimized for near-term monetization at the expense of innovating or creating the best user experience. We believe it is our responsibility to encourage creative product development and to curb practices that compromise innovation.

It is important to keep in mind that Twitter bears all the costs of maintaining the network, protecting the Tweet stream against spam, supporting user requests, and scaling the service. Indeed, Twitter will bear many of the support costs associated with any third-party paid Tweets, as Twitter receives support emails related to anything a user sees in a tweet stream. The third-party bears few of these costs by comparison.

Granted, as a non-advertiser, my opinion isn’t exactly unbiased, but as a recreational user, I’m pretty happy about the announcement.  Good for you, Twitter.

Today’s Tunes
“Quiet Times,” Dido
“Mediocre Bad Guys,” Jack Johnson
“December Baby,” Ingrid Michaelson

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The Dilemma of the Internet at Starbucks Query

May 20, 2010 at 5:15 PM (Miscellaneous, Musings) (, , )

Relatively frequently, customers come into Starbucks and ask about Wi-Fi.  How do they connect?  Is it free?  The simple answer is yes.  Ish.  It depends.

Okay, perhaps simple, but definitely not clear.  And herein lies our problem, mused the baristi of a busy Starbucks on Boylston St.Starbucks logo siren Cue informative blog post, courtesy of yours, truly (or so I hope).

There are two methods of accessing the internet at Starbucks: for free* or not for free.  Easy decision, right?

But wait!  What’s that asterisk??  Note:

*Free with a registered Starbucks card.

This is where the confusion kicks in.  What’s a registered Starbucks card?  How do I get one?  Does that cost money?  Usually by this point in the conversation with our patrons, my ability to put together a coherent phrase goes out the window – along with any hope the customer has of figuring out how to get internet access.  However, now I have the chance to answer all those questions clearly, and for everyone to see.  Huzzah!

What’s a registered Starbucks card?Starbucks card You know those little gift cards you see in front of the register when you’re paying for your caramel macchiato?  It’s those guys.  After a couple easy steps, anyway.  A registered Starbucks card is a gift card that you have tied to an online account at Starbucks.com.

How do I get one? Pick whichever card you like most and hand it to your friendly barista.  You can buy a Starbucks card for as little as $5.00.  Afterward, use the unique information on the back of the card to register it online.  Once you have registered your Starbucks card, you can access the internet for two hours everyday.

Uhm, Brittany, you just told me I have to spend money on a gift card in order to use the interwebs.  What happened to it being free, you sleazy scam artist? This is where our customers get cranky and confused, too.  The $5.00 on the gift card you purchased does not fuel your time online. That $5.00 can go back toward your caramel macchiato.  Or a CD.  Or a bagel with cream cheese.  Or a French press made out of recycled material.

If you think this is just a rouse to get you to give Starbucks your money, I must ask you: is this going to be your one Starbucks visit ever?  I can almost guarantee that you’ll be in at a Starbucks again at some point in the not too ridiculously distant future, and that you will eventually spend $5.00 there.  Now you can do so and take advantage of our erratically functional wireless internet!  However, if you’re determined to never again set foot in the third place environment, you are of course welcome to purchase an AT&T Wi-Fi day pass.

And so our ambitious blogger attempted to explain the Wi-Fi access at Starbucks.  I hope it was useful.  Questions?  Comment!

Today’s Tunes
“Swallowed In the Sea,” Coldplay
“The Best Is Yet To Come,” Frank Sinatra
“This Ole House,” The Brian Setzer Orchestra
“Selfish Ways,” Timmy Curran

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Re: “Real Men Drink Rosé,” via The Second Glass

May 15, 2010 at 7:48 PM (Happenings, Miscellaneous) (, , , )

For those of you who don’t judge a wine by its colour (like you folks who refuse to drink rosés, for instance), the Second Glass has a treat this weekend: 2009 Charles and Charles Rosé.Charles Rose wine second glass best cellars While I do love drinking wine, my wine terminology is pretty lacking, so I’m going to steal their description from the weekly newsletter:

Columbia Valley, Washington State – $14

Who says real men don’t drink rose? And for the record, we’re not talking about that syrupy sweet bastardization of wine called “white zinfandel.” Made from red grapes that only see minimum contact with the skins (which is what gives red wine it’s color) this bone dry wine tastes of the freshest fruit.

So what if rose is currently getting more press than all of Brad and Angelina’s baby’s combined? It’s still our go-to drink for any warm summer evening. And it doesn’t get much better than this wine, made by two of the biggest badasses in the wine industry, Charles Smith and Charles Bieler.

Coming from the Columbia Valley in Washington State, the Charles and Charles Rose assails your nostrils with the smell of ultra fresh strawberries and raspberries. It goes down dry, crisp and dangerously easy. Bring a bottle to beach house, drink too much of this while sitting on your stoop, and sip on it all Saturday afternoon while laying lazily in the grass with your summer fling. It’s time to get serious about your summer drinking so stock up on one of the best roses of the year.

Drink liberally with goat cheese salad, a bowl of fruit or in place of orange juice with smoked salmon on a bagel for breakfast.

. . . That about sums it up.  So now that you have something delicious to drink this weekend, a little about Second Glass:

On the home page, Second Glass touts itself as “your source for unpretentious, baller wine info,” and I’m glad to have such a source.  Every Thursday or so, SG’s weekly newsletter features a wine of the weekend that’s pretty darned tasty and won’t empty the wallet.  It also puts together all kinds of lovely events such as Wine Riot and wine crash courses which not only tell about these tasty sips, but provide said sips for attendees.

best cellars logo boston wine

Along with sharing weekend delights, SG also provides venues that feature each wine of the weekend.  Charles and Charles just so happens to be available at my favourite wine shop, Best Cellars.  The folks at BC offer over 100 wines under $15 (!!) and free wine tastings.  Every.  Day.  Similar to SG, BC believes that wine can be delicious and not pompous or expensive.  Be sure to check them out on Boylston Street.

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A Letter? How Quaint – Yet Effective

May 4, 2010 at 8:18 PM (Happenings, Musings) (, , )

While I was home this past weekend, something in the mail caught my eye – and no, it wasn’t the possibility that I may have already won $10,000.  It was a letter.

Who writes letters [in my age group] any more??Zits Jeremy letter Jerry Scott Jim Borgman

It was from a young woman who currently attends my former high school as a senior.  She and the rest of her Women’s Studies class were writing letters to the ladies of my graduating class.

The author of my letter told me a little about herself and asked me to share about my experiences at Canterbury and how it has influenced the character that is blogging at this moment (okay, she doesn’t know I blog, but she asked about who I am now, and “blogger” would definitely go into that description).  Given the mail I typically receive – bank statements, bills, direct mail advertising, requests to donate to all kinds of organisations, etc. – it was a breath of fresh air to receive a letter just saying an eloquent “hello.”  At the same time, I had no qualms about my attention being drawn back to my time at Canterbury.  After all, it was where I kind of sort of decided I wanted to go into public relations, where I began swimming, and where I fell in love with the performing arts.

I would have loved to have written a full response to this young woman, but my handwriting is so atrocious that a brief thank-you note and the promise of a lengthier E-mail would have to suffice.  That said, I’d best wrap up this post to get cracking on that E-mail.

Today’s Tunes
Whatever’s playing on 103.3 WODS-FM

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The Boston Water Crisis of ’10 . . . Just Ducky

May 2, 2010 at 4:21 PM (Happenings) (, , )

I went back to Connecticut this past Friday to enjoy a night out with my parents (go Brian Regan!) and returned yesterday.  If only we’d bother to check the news for local crises in Beantown before we’d left: I would have remained in CT for another day.

During the last 45 minutes of our drive back to Boston, we tuned into local radio.  Not once did we hear anything about the water main break.  It wasn’t until we sat down for dinner at Atlantic Fish Co. on Boylston when we learned of the city’s state:

“Hi, my name is Brandon.  I’m going to be your server and start things off a little differently tonight by apologising: due to a water main break, I cannot offer you any water.”

Oh.  Peachy.

Even then, we couldn’t quite grasp the magnitude of this issue.  We ate dinner water-free taking solace in knowing that Starbucks was two doors down and we could buy a bottle there.  After buying our one bottle, Mom offered to buy some bottled water at my local Star Market when we got to my apartment.  Dad only laughed, confident that the shelves would be empty by the time we got there.  Unfortunately, he was right.

Customers in Star weren’t hysterical, but they were pretty anxious, hunting down stray bottles of Poland Springs and crowding every available check-out line.  Facing a dark ride home, the parentals and I decided it wasn’t worth it, turned around and left.

Eager to find out more about this inconvenient scenario, I went to the Globe Online, expecting the story to dominate the Breaking News page.  Only there was nothing.  Folks, this is kind of a big deal, and you don’t have anyone covering this hour-by-hour?  There wasn’t even a prominent link.  My next stop was the parent page, Boston.com, where I gathered a little more information.  In fact, here’s the video they have – on the home page:

Good times, right?  The Globe did feature the story on its front page this morning, but overall, I’m a little disappointed in information distribution.  What if my parents and I just went straight back to my apartment and didn’t go out?  I don’t have cable.  I didn’t see anything on Twitter aside from “Boil Water” as a trending topic (I really should get cracking on my lists . . .).  The Globe claimed that BPD had driven through streets using bullhorns to spread the word and that pamphlets had been distributed to public housing venues.  I live near Boston University’s campus and heard no announcement nor received any pamphlet.

Granted, I don’t think a drink or two of the reserve water is going to kill us, but what if it could?  Just a thought.

Today’s Tunes
La Salsa la Traigo Yo!, Sonora Carruseles
Something Else, Robin Thicke

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