Malbec



Friday again, so soon, time flies, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and then it’s like why didn’t I drink more wine? So, here’s your chance! Today’s Friday Wine Sips are mainly from California except for an Argentine malbec I threw in to mess with your heads this morning. As usual, I eschew technical data for the sake of brevity, punch, vim and vigor. Seven wines here, arranged by price; six recommended, one emphatically not. These were all samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission.
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Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Bright and bold but not flashy or overdressed; classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors freighted with notes of green apple and cloves, a hint of some floral aspect; very dry but juicy, lively and taut with acidity and a sinewy limestone element but a lovely, almost lush powdery texture; a zing of grapefruit and flint on the finish. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $13.50, a Raving Bargain.
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Conundrum, 2009, California. 13.5% alc. The famous mystery white blend from Caymus, though the grapes are chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat canelli, viognier and semillon. Radiant medium straw-gold color; mango and jasmine, roasted lemon and cinnamon toast; you feel the oak in the presence of a touch of toffee and spicy baked pears; quite spicy altogether, hints of lychee, lemongrass and petrol; lovely talc-like texture balanced by bright acidity and limestone. The best Conundrum in years. Current release is 2010 but the ’09 is still widely available. Excellent. About $18.
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Parley The Bookmaker 2009, California. 14.5% alc. 70% cabernet sauvignon, with zinfandel, petite sirah and petit verdot. From Ramian Estate. Pick up a cheeseburger with one hand and a glass of this robust wine with the other. Black currants, black raspberry and plums; laden with smoke and spice, potpourri, thyme and cedar, a hint of graphite minerality; rambunctious and slightly shaggy tannins wedded to svelte oak; long sleek, dusty finish. 570 cases. Very Good+. About $19.
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Morgan Syrah 2009, Monterey County. 13.8% alc. Blackberry and black raspberry with undertones of blueberry and mulberry; lavender and violets, cloves and sandalwood; a deep exotic core of bittersweet chocolate, moss and smoked Russian tea; quite earthy, a little rustic and muscular but eminently drinkable, balanced and integrated. Very Good+. About $20.
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Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.5% alc. Medium gold color with green highlights; big, rich, bold, brassy; very ripe, very spicy, very toasty; mango, pineapple and grapefruit, buttered toast, toffee, brown sugar, coconut crème brûlée, bananas Foster; full-bodied, rampant ripeness and oak; a woody stridently spicy finish. Who would want to make such an exaggerated “chardonnay”? Who would want to drink it? Not recommended. About $32.
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Colomé Estate Malbec 2010, Calchaqui, Salta, Argentina. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; intense and concentrated; walnut shell and rosemary, cedar and bay leaf, black currants, black raspberry and blueberry; a combination of austere and juicy with deep, dry dusty tannins and huge reserves of oak and dry woody spices. Try from 2014 to 2018 or ’20. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $30.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. 14% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Ripe, fleshy and meaty, intense and concentrated black currants, black cherries and plums; graphite right through the core to the bottom; mint, dried thyme and bay leaf, earthy and loamy; huge power of dynamic fine-grained tannins, vibrant acidity and a great undertow of polished oak, but boy this is lithe and sleek and seductive. A tremendous achievement. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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Today, Friday Wine Sips offers 10 white wines and two reds, the whites mainly chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, mainly California but touching down in Italy, Spain and France, the reds collage-like blends, one from California, the other from Argentina.

As usual, I dispense with matters technical, geographical, climatic, philosophical, historical, anthropological, psychological, heretical and hermeneutic to focus on quick, incisive reviews that get at the essence of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at wholesalers’ trade events.

By the way, I was curious, so I went back and checked through the Friday Wine Sips series, which I launched on January 5, to see how many brief reviews I’ve done, and counting this post today, it’s 86 wines. That’s a lot of juice.
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Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. Very dry, crisp and lively, with pert acidity and a sleek texture; kiwi, celery seed, tarragon; tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit skin, with a touch of citrus rind bitterness on the finish. Uncomplicated and tasty. Very Good. About $11.
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Cortenova Pinot Grigio 2009, Veneto, Italy. (% alc. NA) Clean and fresh, hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm with almond and almond blossom and an undertone of pear; the citrus spectrum in a smooth, crisp, bright package; good character and heft for the price. Very Good. About $13.
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Chateau Suau Bordeaux Blanc 2010, Cotes de Bordeaux, France. (% alc. NA) 55% sauvignon blanc, 35% semillon, 10% muscadelle. A lovely white Bordeaux, brisk and refreshing, bordering on elegance; pear and peach, jasmine and honeysuckle, surprising hint of pineapple; all suppleness and subtlety but in a lively arrangement of balancing elements. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Lake County. 13.5% alc. Crisp and sassy, with tremendous appeal; quince and ginger, lemongrass and peach, lime peel and grapefruit and fennel seed, all intense and forward; animated, provocative in its spiciness, its leafy herbal qualities and alert acidity running through steely citrus flavors. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Valminor Albariño 2010, Rías Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. This boldly spicy and savory albarino offers real grip and limestone fortitude with enticing citrus and grapefruit scents and flavors, whiffs of jasmine and camellia, hints of apple skin and roasted pear; eminently refreshing, spring rain and sea-salt with a bracing punch of earth and bitterness on the finish. One of the best albariños. Excellent. About $20.
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Hall Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. An organic wine. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; nectarine, pear and melon, dried thyme, cloves and a hint of fig, jasmine and honeysuckle; dry, smooth, suave; bright brisk acidity, scintillating limestone element; ethereal spareness and elegance of lemon, pear and grapefruit flavors. Excellent. About $20.
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Benessere Pinot Grigio 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. Pretty exotic for a pinot grigio but super-attractive; pale straw color; apple peel, orange zest, roasted lemon and pear; cloves and clover, touch of mango; nicely balanced between moderately lush texture and zippy acidity, crisp and lively but just an undertow of richness; lemon and tangerine with a touch of peach skin; long spicy finish. 895 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Molnar Family Poseidon’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Uncommonly spicy and savory; deep, rich, full-bodied, yet so light on its feet, so agile, deft and balanced; classic pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, exhilarating feeling of limestone and river rock minerality; smoke, cloves, cinnamon, hint of sandalwood, yeah, a little exotic but nothing overstated, and blessedly avoids any overtly tropical element. Excellent. About $24.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. (% alc. NA) Exactly the kind of chardonnay I would drink all the time: lovely purity and intensity of the grape; exquisite balance and integration of all features; pale straw-gold color; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors highlighted by cloves and limestone; oak lends firmness, suavity and suppleness; there’s a touch of camellia in the nose, and an intriguing bit of resinous grip in the long resonant finish, all bound by acidity you could practically strum like a harp. Sadly only 313 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Morgan “Highland” Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 13.8% alc. Bright straw-gold color; fresh, clean, boldly spicy, apple, pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, just a hint of mango; lovely finesse, balance and integration; rich but not creamy pineapple and grapefruit flavors, touch of cloves and buttered cinnamon toast, all beautifully modulated; limestone and flint come in on the finish. Excellent. About $26.
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And two reds:
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Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red 2009, Lake County. 14.2% alc. 38% zinfandel, 18% tempranillo, 13% barbera, 12% merlot, 12% cabernet sauvignon, 7% grenache. A pastiche of grapes that produced a warm, spicy, fleshy fruity and engaging wine; dark ruby-magenta color; cassis and blueberry, lavender, lilac and licorice; graphite and shale; hint of cloves and vanilla; quite dry, but juicy with black and blue fruit flavors supported by dense chewy tannins and burnished oak. Great for pizzas, burgers and such. Very Good+. About $17.
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Amalaya 2010, Calcahquí, Salta, Argentina. 14% alc. Malbec 75%, cabernet sauvignon 15%, tannat 5%, syrah 5%. Dark ruby-purple color; what a nose: rose hips and fruitcake, walnut shell, black currants, black raspberries and blueberries, cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate, graphite; in the mouth, very dry, very intense and concentrated, amid the tightly-packed tannins and firm oak a deep core of spiced and macerated blackberries and currants, lavender and licorice, briers and brambles. Needs a grateful steak. Very Good+. About $17.
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Sunday is the Big Day, and millions of Americans will gather in their caves around open fires, er, I mean, in their dens, media rooms and home theaters around the hypnotic glow of large-screen televisions to watch Super Bowl XLVI and devour billions of chicken wings, pigs-in-blankets and cheesy barbecue nachos. Many will drink beer, of course, yet there are wines perfectly suited to the hearty, fat-and-calorie-laden snacks that will be crammed into mouths, er, I mean, politely nibbled during the hours when the Giants and Patriots are pummeling each other in Indianapolis. Here, then, are 10 deep, dark, spicy, wild and/or brooding wines that call out to your bowl of chile, your platter of grilled sausages.

As is the case with these “Friday Wine Sips,” I go straight to the brief review and offer no technical, historical of geographical data. What you see is what you get. Unless otherwise indicated, these wines were samples for review. Image from 123rf.com.
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Alamos Red Blend 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. 40% malbec, 18% tempranillo, 14% bonarda, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot, 7% syrah. Very tasty; robust, hearty, deep, dark and spicy; ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors permeated by briers and brambles, dense and chewy tannins and sifted mineral elements, all bolstered by vibrant acidity. Not a blockbuster, but definitely a bruiser. Very Good. About $13.
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Zanthos Zweigelt 2009, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Black as the night that covers me from pole to pole, this one radiates tarry, earthy spicy black currant, boysenberry and plum fruit edged with leather, graphite and wild mulberry jam. These boots were made for drinking. Very Good+. About $14 and Worth a Search.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. Miles better than most cabs at the price; loads of character and integrity; weaves the requisite strands of vivid, fresh black currant, black raspberry and plum aromas and flavors supported by spicy oak and clean, tightly-drawn acidity, all spread over a bedrock of earthy, graphite-like minerality and a bit of forest. Delicious intensity and simple purity. It’ll ring yer bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Real Bargain.
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Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Rio Tinto 2009, Alta Mesa, Lodi. 13.4% alc. Made from Port grapes: tinta roriz 34%, touriga nacional 28%, alvarelbo 19%, touriga francesa 19%. Blackish ruby-purple color; spicy oak, spicy black currant, black raspberry and blackberry fruit; did I say spicy yet? Deep and dark, yet placid, smooth, despite grainy tannins and elements of underbrush and earthy graphite; then, a whiff of violets. Manly but not muscle-bound. 400 cases. Very Good+. About $16.
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Lenore Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Corvidae Wine Co., by Owen Roe) 14.4% alc. Big, shaggy, juicy; black currants, blueberries and blackberry jam infused with Port; smoke, ash, roasted plums, furry tannins set amid earthy, glittering iron filings-like minerality. A fountain of fortitude. Very Good+. I paid $16, but you see it around the country as low as $12.
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Modern Wine Project Malbec 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Sleight of Hand Cellars) 14.5% alc. 100% malbec. A Rough Rider of a red wine, robust and rustic, a bit shaggy in the tannin arena, but bursting with dark, smoky and spicy black currant, blueberry and black plum flavors — a little fleshy, a little meaty — framed by polished oak and dusty graphite. Neither bashful nor apologetic. Very Good+. Prices all over the map, but look for $19 to $22.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anka 2008, Maipo Valley, Chile. (Vina Pargua) 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 57%, merlot 16%, cabernet franc 15%, carmemère 7%, syrah 4%, petit verdot 1%. Wildly floral and berryish; black and red currants, mulberries; licorice and lilac; smooth but dense, chewy texture, full-bodied, sleek and sculpted yet vibrant, something untamed here, woolly and roguish. Luaus and late dates. Very Good+. About $20.
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Maquis Carmemère 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dry, dusty and earthy; blatantly spicy, earthy and mineral-laced; very intense and concentrated; the blackest and bluest of fruit, spiced and macerated, a little roasted and fleshy; lots of stones and bones, bastions of fine-grained tannins. Needs a bowl of chili to unleash its testosterone. Very Good+. About $20.
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Vale do Bofim Reserva 2009, Douro, Portugal. (Symington Family Estates) 13.5% alc. Mainly touriga nacional grapes. Fresh, spicy, another wild, uninhibited wine; penetrating and poignant aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currants and plums with clear tones of blueberry and mulberry, etched with floral elements and leather, vivid acidity and polished tannins; dry, dense, chewy. Excellent. About $23.
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Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 14.1% alc. If deep purple had a smell and taste, this would be it. Rich, warm, spicy, enticing bouquet; black currants, black raspberries and blueberries; deeply imbued with leather, underbrush and forest floor; hints of wet dog and damp moss; ripe, fleshy, meaty; dusty granite and a touch of rhubarb and boysenberry. Cries out for barbecue brisket, ribs, osso buco. “Ex Umbris” means “from the shadows.” Excellent. About $24. (I paid $30.)
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That’s a trick headline. I’m not talking about Rioja, as in one of Spain’s most ancient and notable wine-producing regions, but La Rioja, the oldest of Argentina’s vineyard and winemaking areas known principally for white wines from torrontes and muscat of Alexandria, though recently there have been plantings of red grapes. Lying to the north of the far better-known and productive Mendoza, La Rioja is quite arid and lacks even enough water for irrigation, making grape-growing a challenge. The two red wines I’m going to mention today are not profound or complicated, but they are thoroughly drinkable and enjoyable, besides being priced right. They come from Bodegas San Huberto, the owners of which also have a winery in China, which surely must be the wave of the future, if only producers could figure out what the palates of the people really want. Other than the super wealthy, who spend fortunes on Classified Growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundy, most wine-drinkers in China, according to recent research, seem to prefer sweet wines.

Anyway, the question of Chinese wine-drinkers aside — though it looms over Europe — the San Huberto Malbec 2010, La Rioja, offers a dark ruby-purple color and meaty, fleshy spicy aromas of ripe black currants, blueberries and plums. In the mouth, the blue and black fruit flavors taste slightly macerated; there’s a touch of fruitcake, a hint of cloves, a shy note of bittersweet chocolate. The wine is smooth and mellow, moderately dense and chewy, with enough soft, grainy tannins and lively acidity to lend support and make it appealing. Both of the wines under consideration today are 100 percent varietal; both were made completely in stainless steel. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good. About $11, though often discounted around the country to $9.

The San Huberto Bonarda 2009, La Rioja, also sports a dark ruby-purple color but tinged with magenta. This is rangier, earthier, wilder than its stablemate, opening to layers of briers and brambles and graphite-like minerality; it feels drenched in ripe blackberries, blueberries and mulberries imbued with baking spices and a slightly roasted quality, and it definitely has more edgy tannic grip, though it’s quite approachable. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2012 with burgers, pizzas, braised meat dishes. Very Good+. About $11, a Terrific Value.

Jomada Imports, Lake Zurich, Illinois. Samples for review.

With last night’s pizza, we drank the Clos de los Siete 2009, from Mendoza’s high, dry Uco Valley in Argentina. The number “Siete” refers to master winemaker Michel Rolland, perhaps the world’s best-known consultant, and his six Bordelaise partners and their vineyards in this venture, now in its eighth release. (The version of this wine from 2008 was my Wine of the Week on May 24, 2010.) Clos de los Siete 2009 is a blend of 57 percent malbec, 15 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent syrah and 3 percent petit verdot; in other words the model is a five-grape Bordeaux style blend with syrah substituting for cabernet franc, yet no wine from Bordeaux would feature a majority of malbec. The blend is consistent with the ’08 rendition, with minor adjustments in the percentages. Seventy percent of Clos de los Siete ’09 aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 1/3 new, 1/3 one year old, 1/3 two years old; the rest aged in vats, whether cement or stainless steel is not specified. I don’t mean to make your eyes glaze over by these technical details (which I always find at least interesting if not essential), but I do want you to notice the careful and thoughtful nature of the winemaking process.

A dark ruby-purple color, Clos de los Siete 2009 delivers terrific tone and presence, whether in nose or mouth. Seductive aromas of ripe black currants, blueberries and mulberries are woven with notes of cloves and sandalwood, with smoke, potpourri and violets, with graphite, shale and an intriguing fleck of iodine. The package balances sleekness with robustness; the palate is dominated by polished tannins that feel, by contrast, a touch shaggy, as if lightly roughened by fine-gauge sandpaper, and by a subtle oak structure that lends the wine beneficent suppleness and spice. Slightly macerated, fleshy and stewed blackberry and black currant flavors contain something wild — fecund, floral, fruity — while reaching deep for a core of brambles, bitter chocolate and mountain dust. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $18, One of the World’s Great Wine Values.

Imported by Dourthe USA, Manhasset, New York. A sample for review. Cropped image from strangerandstranger.com.

The pizza was inspired by a handful of lovely locally-grown shiitake mushrooms, mahogany-brown and lustrous, to which I added strips of speck (made in Georgia) and roasted red pepper, chopped green onion and thin slices of the last of the season’s tomatoes; fresh oregano and thyme; mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. The crust was about 3/4s organic white bread flour and 1/4 organic rye flour. The wine was a gratifying match.

A few days ago, I griped on Facebook that too many inexpensive wines taste as if they had been designed by committee and manufactured by robots on an assembly line. Thankfully, not all wines in the inexpensive (or even cheap) category seem that way; here are four versatile examples, two white and two red, each from a different country, that do not. Actually and honestly, lots of expensive wines also feel as if they were designed by committee — “this much ripeness, this much toasty new oak, add 15 percent alcohol” — but that’s not our concern today.

All were samples for review.
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The super attractive Zantho Grüner Veltliner 2009, Burgenland, comes under a new label that’s a collaboration between two of Austria’s best-known winemakers, Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck. ( I previously reviewed the Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008 here.) This grüner veltliner offers delicate notes of orange blossom, roasted lemon, lime peel and lemon balm, with a slightly spicy background; the spice element burgeons in the mouth, along with prominent limestone-like minerality, vibrant acidity and citrus flavors highlighted by hints of ginger and quince. A polished performance, charming in every respect. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through summer 2012. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.
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Cimarone Estate is a small producer in the newly declared appellation of Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara; apparently, there’s a law that everybody who lives in the AVA has to be happy all the time. Made from the estate’s 26-acre Three Creek Vineyards, the wines focus on Bordeaux-style blends, costing about $60, and a series of less expensive wines under the 3CV label. Owners are Roger and Priscilla Higgins; the first vintage to be released was 2006. The 3CV Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Happy Valley of Santa Barbara — the image says “2009″ but it’s 2010 were concerned with — is a sprightly and resonant sauvignon blanc, registering a distinct melon-lime-gooseberry profile that’s given acidic grip by a swath of grapefruit on the finish and the heft of limestone and shale-like minerality; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of lemon balm and baked pear. Fresh, clean and appealing, with a lovely silken texture. 269 cases. Drink through summer 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
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Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, is a true reserve wine in the sense that the grapes derive from older vineyards than the producer’s “regular” label, it spends 12 months in predominantly French oak and the production is smaller. This wine just damn hits the spot where malbec works best as a dark, spicy, briery, deeply scented and flavored wine with a touch of wildness about it; there’s intensity and concentration here, with brambly-graphite-tinged underpinnings to the dense chewy texture and almost sumptuous black currant, plum and mulberry fruit shot with vivid acidity and touches of lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. Thinking Thanksgiving leftovers — as who is not? — then here’s a wine to drink with the turkey and dressing and potatoes and whatever else graced the groaning board. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Möet Hennessy USA, New York.

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Produced by the Antinori winery in Pulgia, the Tormaresca Neprica is one of the world’s great wine bargains. Made from an unusual and provocative blend of 40 percent negroamaro grapes, 30 percent primitivo and 30 percent cabernet sauvignon — you see where the name Neprica comes from — Tormaresca Neprica 2009, Puglia, is a wild, heady amalgam of violets and lavender, spice cake and fleshy black currant, blueberry and plum scents and flavors; the wine is robust, full-bodied, dynamic with rollicking acidity and deeply packed with black and blue fruit that opens to touches of leather, fruitcake, mint and bay, for a vividly savory impression. A great match with pizzas, burgers, hearty pasta dishes and braised meat. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value, often discounted to $10.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.
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Mount Veeder stands at the southern end of the Mayacamas range that separates Napa County from Sonoma County to the west. Though the first wine was produced on Mount Veeder in 1864, made by Captain Stelham Wing, the small, high-altitude region was not granted official AVA status (American Viticultural Area) until 1993. Mt. Veeder, named for a German Presbyterian pastor who lived in Napa during the Civil War period, had long been recognized as a source of top-quality, rigorously-structured cabernet sauvignon wines. Indeed, of the appellation’s 1,000 acres of vines, 513 are dedicated to cabernet sauvignon grapes. These vineyards, based on thin volcanic soil, vary in steepness up to a 30 percent grade, so most of the work is done by hand. The output of the 20 or so wineries that occupy the Mount Veeder appellation is not huge, averaging 40,000 cases annually, less than 2 percent of the Napa Valley production. I wrote about the wines of Mayacamas Vineyards back in August, and mentioned more recently a couple other Mount Veeder wines here and here. Today I look at cabernets and chardonnays from Fontanella, Godspeed, Robert Craig and Y. Rousseau.

These were samples for review. Map from mtveederwines.com.
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Fontanella Chardonnay 2010, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Jeff Fontanella worked for Opus One, ZD Wines and Saddleback Cellars before opening his own winery in 2008 with his wife Karen Kruse Fontanella. His chardonnay, from 2010, is bright, fresh and steely. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of spiced lemon are woven with hints of pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of lemon balm and lime peel; a multitude of citrus flavors dominate the palate in a dense, almost chewy texture enlivened by vibrant acidity and a resonant limestone-shale element. This is a large-framed chardonnay whose finish brings in more oak and woody spice, though the regimen is moderate: nine months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels, and only 12 percent of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. I found this to be a chardonnay of appealing and authentic purity and intensity, though the oak influence on the finish is a little bothersome; a year in the bottle may give this more balance and integration. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 600 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $34.
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Y. Rousseau “Milady” Chardonnay 2009, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The “Y” stands for Yannick, the owner and winemaker of this small winery. His “Milady” Chardonnay 09, made from a vineyard at 1,800-feet elevation, is a radiant pale straw-gold color; in the nose, classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit carry a hint of mango, with touches of cloves, quince and ginger, these qualities replicated with depth and detail in the mouth, where the spicy element expands through a texture that’s suave, supple and elegant. Rousseau uses native yeasts; the wine was barrel-fermented in oak, 20 percent new barrels, and aged for 11 months with no malolactic. Pert ‘n’ sassy acidity keeps this chardonnay lively and vital, while the whole package is deftly balanced between the crispness of the acid and mouth-filling density. The finish is long and finely-spun. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 195 cases. Excellent. About $38, and Worth a Search.
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Godspeed Vineyards Chardonnay 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The winery belongs to Larry Stricker, an architect of resort hotels, who since 1990 has bottled half the harvest, selling the rest of the grapes to well-known producers. The vineyard lies at 1,500-feet altitude. This chardonnay, now three years old, exhibits lovely balance and integration; it’s taut with shimmering acidity yet generously supple, almost silky, almost talc-like. Pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors are permeated by wood-land spices that hint at smoke and pomander buoyed by the limestone and lime peel effect, and while the wine fills the mouth it also displays remarkable delicacy, as well as, from mid-palate back through the finish, an element of scintillating limestone-like minerality. The wine was barrel-fermented, aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels, and did not go through malolactic. The real deal, radiant with the purity and intensity and the hard-earned structure of high-elevation grapes. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases. Excellent. About $25, a Fine Value.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Robert Craig Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Real power and presence and impeccable tone, from Robert Craig’s vineyard, planted in 1990 at 1,800-feet elevation. Intense and concentrated notes of black currants and plums are woven with cedar and sage and hints of lead pencil and bitter chocolate; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of mulberry and smoke. The wine is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot and 3 percent malbec; it aged 18 months in French oak, 70 percent new. The result is a cabernet that’s superbly proportioned, deep and resonant, with an oak presence that’s insistent without being aggressive. Tannins are sleek and finely-milled, and they permeate, with their infinitesimal sifting, every molecule of ripe and spicy black currants and black raspberry flavors, all chiming with the tracery of whip-lash acidity. Yeah, this is good. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 846 cases. Drink from 2012 or ’13 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
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Godspeed Vineyards Trinity 2005, Napa Valley, and Godspeed Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The Trinity 05 is a whole-hearted, two-fisted blend of 42 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent malbec and 33 percent syrah; it carries a Napa Valley designation because only 67 percent of the grapes — the cabernet and malbec — come from Mount Veeder, the syrah deriving from the Oak Knoll district on the valley floor. This is about structure now, being a tightly woven fabric of wheatmeal and walnut-shell, dried porcini, graphite and iron that allows a glimmer of intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and mulberry fruit, tinged with dried spices and mocha, to shine through. The immense tannins, dense and fine-grained, need several years to soften, so try this from 2013 or ’14 through 2020 to ’22. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Production was 600 cases. Very Good+ with the potential for an Excellent rating. About $40.

A bit more accessible is the Godspeed Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Mount Veeder, a 100 percent cabernet wine. Classic touches of cedar and black olive, bay leaf and sage are etched with traces of spicy black currants, black cherries and plums. This is a real mouthful of wine, characterized by scintillating acidity and shale-like minerality and by layers of leather and moss, dried porcini and fruitcake, iron and iodine. You could happily and, I hope, thoughtfully, drink this wine with a steak tonight or cellar it to try from 2014 to 2020. Alcohol content is 14.1. Production was 250 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Fontanelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. The blend is 91 percent cabernet sauvignon, 9 percent merlot; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 80 percent new, and it soaked up that oak like a sponge and turned it into a thing of sleekness, suavity and inherent suppleness. The color is deep purple-black; aromas of very intense and concentrated cassis, black cherry, plums, lavender and potpourri, cedar, fennel and black olives circle a packed core of briers and brambles, iron and iodine, all accumulating in an extraordinary bouquet. For a cabernet that’s drenched in dry, foresty, granite-tinged tannins, this displays amazing succulence and richness of ripe and spicy black currants and plums with, deep down, like some dark bell-tone, a note of blueberry tart. Mainly, however, the Fontanelle Cabernet 08 is for now a wine for tremendous structural integrity and gravity, and while it could doubtless be served tonight with a veal chop grilled with rosemary and garlic, it also doubtlessly would benefit from a few years in the cellar, for drinking perhaps from 2013 or ’14 through 2020 to ’24. Alcohol content is 14.9 percent. 750 cases were made. Exceptional. About $52. If you are a collector or at least a devotee of Napa cabernets, this remarkable quality at such a price represents a bargain compared to the $150 to $300 that the Big Name Cult Cabernets command, so in that sense, it’s Worth a Search.
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Y. Rousseau “Le Roi Soleil” Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Rousseau’s “Le Roi Soleil” 08 is a 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged 18 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The vineyard, at 1,800 feet elevation, is sustainably farmed. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; aromas of cassis drenched with graphite, blueberries, smoke, cedar and dried thyme are intense and concentrated yet totally seductive. Black and blue fruit flavors tinged with mulberry, bitter chocolate and lavender are cushioned by dry, dusty, finely-milled tannins and burnished oak for an impression that’s suave and sleek yet powerful and resonant, even a little unyielding. Some foresty, brushy austerity on the finish dictates a year or two in the cellar — or that box in your coat closet — for trying from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 or ’20. Alcohol content is 14.3 percent. 109 cases were made. Excellent. About $65.
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Hélène and David Barrault bought Chateau Tire Pé, in Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers region, in 1997. The couple had no experience growing grapes or making wine, and their families were not involved in those trades either, so by what means except trial and error and hard work and luck did David Barrault manage to produce that rarity in Bordeaux — Bordeaux the encompassing idea and Bordeaux the specific A.O.C. — a 100 percent malbec wine which to describe I am now overdrawn at the bank of the word “beautiful.” It sells in the United States for $25 to $28.

The central part of the house was built in the 1750s; identical perpendicular wings were added soon after. It’s a large but simple two-story edifice, plain and dignified, a sort of glorified farmstead; its rosy salmon colored plaster reflects the early morning and late afternoon sun with a confidential glow. The view from the long wide knoll upon which it stands, 80 meters above the Garonne river, provides a spectacular panorama of the countryside.

The couple converted one wing of the chateau to bed and breakfast accommodations in 2007, a practice that many of the old properties in Bordeaux are taking up, for the same reason that the grand manor houses of England nowadays often include petting zoos and miniature railroads; bills must be paid, banks must be satisfied. The artistic Hélène Barrault designed the labels for Tire Pe’s wine bottles, she makes and glazes pottery, and she decorated, if her elegant intuition allows that word, the three B&B rooms and the downstairs kitchen-parlor in a spare, timeless manner that evokes an ideal of childhood country life, a kind of austere yet inevitable Eden, well, if the WiFi connection were more reliable and if towels were delivered in a more timely fashion. Still, if the proximity of ancient beamed ceilings and the soft luminosity of ambient light in wooden cupboards send you into a nostalgic dither — guilty as charged! — this is the place for you.

The estate’s vineyards slope in well-tended rows down the hills from the focal point of the chateau. Cultivation is along sustainable practices, with no chemical fertilizers or herbicides. The production varies from 40,000 to 50,000 bottles a year — about 3,300 to 4,160 cases annually — of which more than half is sent to the U.S., imported principally by Jenny & François Selections in New York. Barrault, seen in this photograph, allows natural yeasts to start fermentation and limits the use of new oak to 10 to 12 percent, “depending on the vintage, never more.” He employs a few Bordelaise barrels (the standard 225-liter or 59-gallon size) but also 400-, 500-, and 600-liter French barrels “with little toast,” he said, “or between medium and low.” Chateau Tire Pé’s wines carry a Bordeaux designation (and, yes, I promise that I’m preparing a post about the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur A.O.C.s. Soon, maybe not tomorrow, but soon …)

Here are quick evaluations of the wines:

*) Chateau Tire Pé Diem 2010. The estate’s basic wine, 100 percent merlot from young vines; no oak, aging six months in concrete vats. Bright, ripe and vibrant; black currants, blueberries and mulberries; lively, dense and chewy, touches of briers and walnut shell; great presence, personality and length for the price. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $8 in the U.S., said Barrault, so let’s say under $10, and even if it were a few dollars more it would represent Great Value.

*) Chateau Tire Pé 2009. This is also merlot, made from older vines with lower yields; it spent one and a half years in concrete vats. There’s more acidity here, more structure, more grip, grit and give, more sense of earthy, graphite-like minerality and briers and brambles; this is quite dry, yet very ripe, wild almost, bursting with notes of blueberry and mulberry lashed with dense, chewy yet supple tannins. Begs for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the coals. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12, perhaps $14 depending on the state. Another Terrific Bargain.

*) Chateau Tire Pé La Côte 2007 is a blend of 60 percent merlot and 40 percent cabernet franc; it was fermented in concrete vats and aged in barrels. The year was not an easy one, but Barrault liked it; “it made me pay attention,” he said, “and make progress in my job.” As winemakers say, you delight in the easy vintages and learn from the hard ones. The most rustic of the Tire Pé wines, La Côte 07 is very earthy, loamy and mossy, with tremendous tannic grip and almost fierce acidity bolstering intense and concentrated flavors of deeply spicy black currants and blueberries. A wine to chew on with braised short ribs or venison and best from 2012 to 2015 or ’16. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.

*) Barrault is justly proud of his 100 percent malbec wine. Chateau Tire Pé Les Malbecs 2009 is frankly riveting in its seductive mulberry-magenta color; its beguiling aromas of blueberries, briery black currants, crushed violets and gravel; its combination of dusty-mossy-graphite tinged depth (there’s a touch of intense bitter chocolate and lavender there) and paradoxically balletic, elevating acidity and spice. A warm, stylish and immensely appealing expression of the malbec grape that doesn’t sacrifice structure for accessibility. Best from 2012 through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $25 to $28.


When you’re on a wine tour, you never know what the next visit is going to bring. On our schedule for the last day of this trip to Entre-Deux-Mers, the entry said merely: “9h30 – 11h00 — Visit Chateau L’Escart in Saint-Loubés with Damien Laurent.” Sounds pretty low-key, but we had a terrific time at Chateau L’Escart and encountered the two wines mentioned in the title of this post, which are available in the U.S. but with geographical limitations.

The chateau, built in 1752, sits in the middle of the village of Saint-Loubés. It’s not a true mansion — we saw some of those — being more of a large and refined stone farmhouse whose center block holds the family quarters — strewn when we visited with children’s toys and scooters — and whose wings encompass barrel-aging rooms and other winemaking necessities. As you can see from the aerial photograph, the estate includes various other outbuildings and sheds, a small park and then the vineyards beyond. Proprietor and seventh generation winemaker Damien Laurent is personable and articulate and clearly loves his work. “Wine is human,” he said, as we sat outside tasting through the wines of Chateau L’Escart, “vineyards, soil, what goes on around here. You cannot sit down for an hour and get the whole picture. It’s more complicated. We don’t have the same tools as the big chateaux. We are small. I am on the tractor. I’m in the tank room, on the phone, I sell the wines. We do it all alone.” And then — because the day feels perfect and the harvest is almost complete — “September is the tender month. I love September. It’s beautiful.”

Chateau L’Escart produces about 220,000 bottles annually — French winemakers always speak in terms of bottles — which means about 18,330 cases. A whopping 80 percent of that wine is exported, to Canada, Australia, the United States, Belgian and, inevitably, China, a huge wine-thirsty country of increasing importance to French producers of any size because there are too many people making wine in the country and more wine than French (or European) consumers can absorb. The output at L’Escart is overwhelmingly red, based on merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; a mere 5,000 bottles of white are made, “a warm-up,” Laurent said, “for the reds.” The appellations are Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur (about which more soon).

The estate is run on organic principles, with explorations into biodynamic methods, though Laurent insisted that he is skeptical of some of the biodynamic movements more esoteric practices.

First on the roster of wines we tasted was the basic-level Chateau Bergey 2009, Bordeaux, a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and
40 percent merlot that sees no oak. (Estates in Bordeaux often bottle their various grades of wine under different chateau labels.) The color is a lovely cerise-magenta, and the aromas are an exquisite weaving of potpourri, lavender, graphite, black currants and blueberries, with touches of wild raspberries, cedar and tobacco. This displays real grip and presence, with vivid acidity, a penetrating mineral quality, plenty of earthy tannins and round, spicy black fruit flavors. Why do wineries in California so rarely deliver such quality for the price? Very Good and perhaps even very Good+. “The price is the U.S. is about $8,” said Laurent, “certainly under $10.” If you live in New York, North Carolina or Texas, run, do not walk, to the nearest retail store and browbeat your friendly wine merchant into procuring this for your house red. Great Value.

But — always a “but” — even better at not much more cost is the Chateau L’Escart Cuvée Eden 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur, a blend of 60 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent malbec from 35 to 45-year-old vines. This is the wine, frankly, that made my colleagues and I cast sidelong glances at each other, giving the nod with raised eyebrows and mouthing the syllable “Whoa!” Here, at an irresistible price range, is a wine of lovely balance and integration, with all elements working in harmony. There’s plenty of tannin, of course, plenty of the gritty briery-minerally-earthy elements we expect from the clay-and-limestone soil that nurtured these grapes — and don’t forget that 2009 was a superb year in Bordeaux — and yet there’s also a surprising sense of delicacy and refinement, along with a factor of resonance that has to be called confidence; the wine is packed with ripe, slightly macerated black currant and black cherry flavors bolstered by taut acidity and permeated by dense spice and chewy tannins. It will drink nicely through 2014 or ’15. Definitely Very Good+ and another Great Value at $13 to $15.

The next step up for Chateau L’Escart is the Omar Khayam label, introduced with the 1998 vintage. The connection is that the great Persian poet, Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), was a mathematician as well as a poet and astronomer, and Damien Laurant’s father was also a mathematician; each vintage of the wine, a beverage about which the poet was fond of writing, features a different verse. The grapes for the Omar Khayam label, as it’s spelled, derive from 50 to 60-year-old vines; the wines age in all new oak barrels from 16 to 18 months. About 830 cases are made, depending on what the year allows. The blend changes but is dominated by cabernet sauvignon. The appellation is Bordeaux Supérieur. We tried the 2009, the 2004 and 2003. The 2009 version is well-balanced and integrated for being so young and being influenced by new oak; it would be best from 2013 through 2020 or ’22. The ’04 was smoother and riper, more fleshy and meaty, with spiced and macerated black fruit scents and flavors supported by sufficiently lively acidity and dense tannins; it’s a warm, spicy, earthy wine for drinking through 2015 or ’16. From the extremely hot year of 2003, Omar Khayam offers fleshy and roasted black and red fruit, heaps of graphite and gritty tannins but feels a bit hollow in the middle and finish, lacking the balance of the ’09 and ’04, which I would rate Excellent, while the ’03 would rate Very Good. The price is about $35.

The last wine was the estate’s top-of-the-line Agape 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur, a 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged 15 months in new Burgundy barrels (which are slightly larger than the standard 225-liter or 59-gallon Bordeaux barrel.) Not marketed in the U.S., the wine is certainly well-made for the type but at $50 a bottle seems no more interesting or compelling than hundreds of similar wines made all over the world.

Today’s a twofer in this 900th post on BTYH, a rosé wine and a red that will serve you well throughout this week.

These were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the FCC.
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First is the versatile Clayhouse Adobe Pink 2010, Central Coast, a blend of 38 percent mourvèdre grapes, 32 percent syrah and 30 percent cabernet sauvignon. The grapes derive from the Red Cedar Vineyard, an estate property of Middleton Family Wines outside Paso Robles. This rosé is not made in the saignée method of bleeding off lightly colored juice from the vat of red grapes after crush but before fermentation; it is, instead, produced as if it were a white wine, the grapes gently pressed and taken off the skins after just enough contact, in this case, to lend the wine a lovely, glowing coppery-melon color. Twenty-three percent of the wine aged two months in what are called neutral oak barrels, that is, barrels previously used for aging wine so that they no longer impart a dominating woody, spicy element. Enough with the technicalities! The Clayhouse Adobe Pink 2010 offers a delightful bouquet of strawberries and watermelon, with dried red currants and pomegranate in the background. A touch of rhubarb comes into play among the strawberry and melon flavors, with a slight briery element and hints of dried herbs and damp limestone. The finish, buoyed by crisp acidity and that limestone element, offers a bit of silky sweetness. This one goes down all too easily, and I mean that in the best sense. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this as aperitif and with a vegetarian pasta dish; it would also be appropriate with omelets, seafood salads and fried chicken. 450 cases. Very Good+. About $15.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The red is the Colomé Estate Malbec 2009, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina, a blend that to 85 percent malbec grapes adds 8 percent tannat, 3 percent cabernet sauvignon and 2 percent each syrah and petit verdot; that’s what you call fine tuning. One-fifth of the grapes came from vineyards that at 50 to — are you ready? — 150 years old truly qualify for the status of Old Vines. The vineyards of Bodega Colomé lie at elevations from 5,500 to 8,500 feet, qualifying for among the highest, if not the highest, vineyards in the world. As for aging, the wine matured 15 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I’ll come right out and say that this is a pretty darned special malbec. It’s deep and rich and full-bodied, though its power is nicely muted by a welcome sense of spareness and reticence, so it’s juicy, but not jammy. The color is dark ruby, fairly opaque at the center, and with a violet rim. Aromas of black currants and blackberries and a touch of mulberry are woven with lavender and licorice, sandalwood and cloves and a whiff of mocha. Plums enter the equation amongst a flavor range of blackberry, blueberry and fruitcake, threaded with brambles, underbrush and slightly earthy graphite-like minerality. Tannins feel well-honed and knit, almost obligingly holding themselves back from full-throttle power, while the finish brings in elements of dried spice a bit of austerity. Director of winemaking for Colomé is Randle Johnson. We drank this with pork chops dusted with ground cumin and chili powder, seared with garlic and lime juice, and then roasted for 10 minutes, sprinkled with chopped cilantro and served with roasted sweet potato “fries.” All good, all the time. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $25
Imported by The Hess Collection, Napa, Ca.
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