Pinot noir


The days are long gone when West Coast producers planted pinot noir all over the place, hoping they would hit upon the proper soil and climate either by chance or force of will. Time and effort and dedication have winnowed the acknowledged handful of great pinot noir areas to — naming some personal favorites — Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley in California and the tiny appellations of Oregon’s Willamette Valley as not just suitable but frequently superb ground for the notoriously shy and difficult grape. Today, I offer six recently tasted pinot noirs from Willamette Valley, encountered at a wholesaler’s trade event, recommending them without reservation. Two of these producers were new to me, Maysara and J. Christopher; the latter made a particularly strong impression, and I will look for their wines in the future or shamelessly beg for samples. These are quick reviews, not intended to delve into the details of history, geography, personality or technical matters but meant to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!
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Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. Entrancing pale rose-ruby color; cloves and sassafras, red cherries and currants with a hint of plum and rose petal and a slightly peppery briary-brambly undertow; lithe and supple, just a touch of graphite-inflected tannin under red fruit (both fresh and dried), but mainly a paragon of delicacy and elegance, beautifully knit by bright acidity. Nobly done. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Medium ruby color, fairly opaque at the center; a multi-dimensioned, fully detailed pinot noir, broad with ripe and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors, deep with cloves and allspice; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, briers and loam; dense, super-satiny texture, close to muscular and built upon svelte tannins and brisk acidity. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Argyle Nuthouse Reserve Series Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 13% alc. Beguiling medium ruby-garnet color; very clean, pure and intense; red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and plums, cloves, cola and sassafras; winsome high-note of violets; a pinot noir both substantial and lyrical, energetic and expressive; hints of Willamette’s damp leaves and brambles, finely-grained tannins with graphite minerality in the background; finish leans toward cool blue fruit and black tea. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
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J. Christopher Wines Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely tone, weight and structure; clean, spare, elegant yet lively, blooming with red-tinged fruit fringed with smoke and blueberries; the spicy element burgeons from satiny mid-palate through the slightly sinewy finish, adding subtle notes of graphite and loam, all energized by bright acidity. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $28.
The label image says 2011; it is the 2010 under review.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 13% alc. 756 cases. Medium ruby color; this is tighter and leaner than the previously mentioned wine from J. Christopher; red currants and red cherries touched with smoke, graphite and more spice that edges into sassafras-allspice territory, with a note of allspice’s characteristic spare and exotic woody quality; briers and brambles make an appearance, over finely sifted tannins and acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. My favorite kind of pinot noir, honed, burnished, animated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $35.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir 2009, McMinnville. 13.7% alc. Certified biodynamic. Light ruby color with a garnet tinge; spiced and macerated red currants, cherries and plums, a touch meaty and fleshy; quite spicy with cloves and sassafras, hint of pomegranate, but very clean and intense; fairly plush with velvety tannins but lithe and supple texture, acidity lends leanness and energy; a bit earthy and autumnal through the finish, notes of moss and burning leaves. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Grapes for the Elk Cove Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, derive from five estate vineyards, with the addition of a small amount of grapes purchased from trusted growers on long-term contract. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The wine is, in other words, a summation of a house-style or region rather than an individual expression of a single vineyard; as such, it succeeds admirably. The color is a glowing medium ruby hue; aromas of rose petals and violets, red currants and plums are buoyed by notes of cranberry and rhubarb, with hints of briers and cloves. Underlying loam and graphite elements support delicious red fruit flavors in a structure enlivened by taut acidity and just enough tannin to provide a modicum of grip; the texture is supple and satiny, while the finish adds more spice. 13.5 percent alcohol. A real crowd-pleaser for drinking through 2016 or ’17. Try with medium rare roasted duck. Excellent. About $29.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Anyone who has read Rockss and Fruit, the blog written by Lyle Fass, knows that he is enthusiastic, opinionated and articulate. Meet him in person, and you understand what a force of nature he is, a man of seemingly boundless energy and zeal for a particular sort of vinous purity and intensity. A little more than a year ago, Fass, who worked in retail for almost 20 years — a well-known figure at the distinctive Chambers Street Wines in lower Manhattan — launched Fass Selections, an online entity designed to get fine European wines into the hands of consumers at reasonable prices by by-passing the three-tier system. Such a scheme is possible for an importer only because in the state of California, since Jan. 1, 2012, it is legal for an importer to sell wine via the Internet and via direct mail without requiring the importer to maintain a physical retail location or to hold a beer and wine wholesaler license (California Business and Professions Code section 23393.5). So while Fass, a fourth-generation Brooklynite, lives in that borough of New York, the business itself is registered in the Golden State. His take on the three-tier system is that it is “beyond imperfect.”

In frigid mid-December, after a round of delayed flights, I met Lyle Fass at the improbable Michelin one-star Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant in Manhattan’s Garment District (60 West 39th Street), a bastion of retro 60s modernist decor inhabited by legions of lunch-going office workers intent on — I’ll say frankly — some of the most riveting Chinese food I’ve ever encountered. Odd as it may seem, the German and French wines that Fass, 39 by the way, brought to taste were terrific with this spicy and profound fare.

What does he look for?

“Wines that express a terroir, that show freshness and acidity, that show purity.” Fass travels to Europe several times a year, using his contacts to find small artisan producers that embody these criteria. He is especially fond of Burgundy and Beaujolais, several regions of Germany, and now Champagne.

How does his system work?

All it requires in the way of brick-and-mortar presence is a warehouse to store the wines before he offers them on his website. Because inventory is low, he doesn’t need a lot of space. Once the wines are sold, Fass has already moved on to the next offerings. “Inventory,” he said, “is the scourge of the industry.”

“All the business is conducted by email,” he said. “I contact the producer and put the wine on the website. I get the orders from customers and send an invoice to the producer, who gets paid before the wine leaves the winery. We outsource the packing and shipping. I deal with farmers. They don’t know how to do invoices.”

His goal, over the next five to seven years, is to find 35 to 40 producers “that I’ll work with for a long time.” He acknowledged that the first two or so years of a start-up are tough. “We had some unexpected expenses, but we also have low overhead. 2015 or ’16 should be the breakthrough.”

While the wines are sold individually at a bottle price, Fass discounts prices in four or six bottle-groups.

The following wines were tasted at lunch with Lyle Fass. They represent the kinds of wines he sells but might not necessarily be available now.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Ineluctable and ineffable earthiness; peaches and lemongrass and camellia; sea salt and salt marsh; pea shoot and lemon balm; ethereal texture and structure; heaps of scintillating limestone. Absolutely irresistible balance and authority. Excellent. About $27.
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Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. 7.5% alc. Medium gold color with faint green highlights; otherworldly purity, intensity and beguilement; totally fresh and appealing; lemon verbena, thyme, grapefruit and tangerine with backnote of pineapple; layers of limestone and shale-like earthiness yet sun-kissed with leafy hints of apple, lychee and fig; a golden beauty, for drinking through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $20, a Wonderful Value.
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Laible Durbacher Plauelrain “SL” Riesling Trocken 2012, Baden, Germany. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and yellow plum fruit; spicy and savory; offers the energy of bright acidity and limestone minerality with the seductive power of a lovely almost talc-like texture, resulting in a winsome marriage of refinement and animation; pinpoint balance and integration. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $25.
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Irancy is one of those places that you hope never disappears, absorbed into some larger appellation because it’s obscure and little wine is made. Nominally linked to Burgundy but lying southwest of Chablis in a picturesque hidden valley, Irancy produces red wine made from pinot noir grapes and a small amount of rose; the local cesar grape is allowed. Though wine has been made in Irancy for more than 1,000 years, the tiny region was accorded AOC status only in 1999. The Thierry Richoux 2010, Irancy (13% alc.), is one of the purest yet most unusual expressions of pinot noir I have encountered. This is 100 percent pinot noir that sees only old passage barrels, so there’s no tint or taint of new oak. Intense medium ruby color; scents and flavors of mulberries, red currants and blueberries tinged with licorice and cloves and a distinct mossy-loamy quality; this is a lipsmacking tasty wine, for which a bastion of dusty, slightly leathery tannins and brisk acidity provide support. Rustic in the best sense of a country wine that represents its place and grape with style, character and integrity. Now through 2018 to ’22. This was intriguing and evocative with the restaurant’s camphor-smoked duck. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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A different perspective on pinot noir is the Hervé Murat Les Tuvilains Beaune Premier Cru 2010. Murat launched his Burgundian domaine in 2005, not an easy task in a region where vineyards are divided and subdivided and lost and regained through inheritance and where established land is expensive. Les Tuvilains in one of the smaller and lesser-known Premier Cru vineyards of Beaune; it was planted in 1947, and Murat owns half a hectare, that is, about 1.28 acres. This is classic, offering a medium ruby color with a hint of garnet; aromas of macerated and slightly stewed red and black cherries and currants with a hint of lilac and fruitcake and a spare, supple, sinewy structure through which clean acidity cuts a swath. Dark and dynamic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $39.
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The Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen (12.5% alc), is a dry riesling of tremendous tone, presence and character. Radiant medium gold color; replete with spicy apple, stone fruit and yellow plum elements, but fruit is almost superfluous — I think I’ve never said that before — in the face of its dense, almost chewy texture, its resonant crystalline limestone and shale minerality; this is a riesling that comes close to being tannic; huge dimension but real cut, swagger and detail. I mean, holy fucking moly. Now through 2020 to ’25. Exceptional. About $23, practically a Give-Away. .
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Call me a romantic, but I was raised on Keats and Tennyson, Chopin and Brahms; how could I be anything else? So, here I am again, offering a roster of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines for your Valentine’s celebration. Yes, the idea is trite, but it’s also right for the occasion. We hit Italy, Spain, France and California in this post and offer prices that range from a highly manageable $15 to the elusive $100. Whatever the differences in price and character, these are all very satisfying — and in some instances, exciting — products. Pop the cork (carefully) and pour (carefully) into tall flute-style glasses, gaze upon the vivid colors, revel in the effervescence, enjoy the lively flavors and the tingle on your palate. Above all — share with someone you love.

These products were samples for review. Image from clipartguide.com.
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When a sparkling wine bottle comes robed in pink, my first thought is “Gack, sweet!” The Anna Codorníu Brut Rosé, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain, however, feels crisp and bone-dry. Composed of 70 percent pinot noir grapes and 30 percent chardonnay, “Anna” is made is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, as the regulations for Cava dictate. The color is fiery copper; aromas of blood oranges, raspberries and dried red currants are heightened by notes of cloves and orange rind; dry and crisp, yes, but leavened by juicy orange, lemon and strawberry flavors that arrow in to a lively grapefruit zest, lime peel and limestone finish. 12 percent alcohol. This estate goes back to 1659, when Anna Codorníu married Miquel Raventos; their descendants still run the company. Very Good+. About $15, a Distinct Value.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Md.
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Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Penedès. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this crowd-pleaser offers a brilliant ruby-garnet hue and a fount of tiny bubbles; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate lead to a dry, crisp yet juicy and delicious sparkler that provides plenty of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality for body and structure. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16 and Worth the Price.

Imported by Winebow, New York.
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Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011, Lambrusco di Sorbara, is made completely from lambrusco di Sorbara grapes in Italy’s Emilia- Romagna region. The grapes derive from the Cavicchioli family’s original 12.5-acre vineyard; though in the grape-growing business for over a century, the family first bottled its own wines in 1928. For this example, 50 percent of the free-run juice undergoes second fermentation in tank, lending the wine a mild but very pleasing effervescence. Unlike many lambrusco wines, which manifest a dark ruby-purple hue, the color of the Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011 is a ruddy copper-flame color; enticing aromas of ripe strawberries and rose petals open to a background of raspberries and a slight earthy rasp to the texture; the wine is very dry, and a surprising limestone and flint element emerges, as well as an autumnal aura, just a touch over-ripe and mossy. All this adds up to a delightful wine with a hint of seriousness. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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The latest release of the J Vineyards Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it’s made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is a radiant coral-topaz hue, energized by a gentle upward swirl of tiny silver bubbles. Strawberry shortcake in the bouquet is balanced by notes of raspberries, cloves and orange zest with hints of floral astringency and spiced pears. The stones-and-bones structure is both powerful and elegant, dry and crisp, with a halo of dried red currants and raspberries supported by pert acidity and an impressive limestone character. A lovely sparkler. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $38.
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The Ronco Calino Radijan Rosé, Franciacorta, Lombardy, is dedicated to owner Paolo Radici’s father. The color is slightly ruddy, smoky salmon-pink; the bubbles are exceedingly tiny, fine and persistent; first impression is pure strawberry and raspberry but highlighted by notes of orange rind and grated lemon peel, limestone and steel. This is a very lively, spicy sparkling wine, truly effervescent; ripe and macerated red berry flavors are wrapped around a spine of bright acidity and clean flint-like minerality. The whole effect is sensual, charming and appealing yet with dark earthy undertones. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. The image of a piano on the label is an homage to the great pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995), to whom the estate once belonged. Excellent. About $31.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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The Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 49 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 6 percent pinot meunier (slightly different than the previous release), it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Excellent. About $50.
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Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier (see below), and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Don’t worry, though, the Delamotte Brut Rosé is a special brut rosé Champagne priced reasonably for the type. The pinot noir grapes for this blend derive from Grand Cru vineyards at Montagne de Reims; the chardonnay is from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, superior pedigree all round. The color is shimmering copper-salmon, like a deepening sunset; tiny bubbles surge swirling to the surface. This is a high-toned and austere rose, built on strains of steel and limestone wreathed with orange zest, camellia, quince, ginger and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; chiming acidity and an almost crystalline flint and limestone element lend frosty if not glacial elegance, but the effect is more thrilling than forbidding. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Michel Fauconnet, also cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier. Excellent. About $70, though online there’s a wide range of prices.

Imported by Vineyard brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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The entrancing color of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, Champagne, France, is a ruddy copper-salmon color, like tarnished silver over rosy-gold, enlivened by a constant upward froth of tiny glinting bubbles; this is all pinot noir, from 10 Grand Cru villages, presented in an old-fashioned bell-shaped bottle. The initial impression is of raspberries, red currants, orange zest and lightly toasted brioche, quickened by high notes of something wildly berry-like and broadened by bass tones of flint and chalk. The balance between fleetness and suppleness is exciting, and while the whole package is beautifully woven, elegant and sleek, it harbors depths of limestone minerality and bright acidity for resonance. Intense yet buoyant and sophisticated. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 suggested retail price but can be found for far less on the Internet.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Cal.
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Jake and Ben Fetzer are the grandsons of Barney Fetzer, who founded his well-known eponymous winery in Mendocino County in the late 1960s. The family sold the winery and its brands to Brown-Forman in 1992; that company sold Fetzer and related labels to Vina Concha y Toro, the large Chilean producer, in 2011 for a reported $238 million. The brothers, now third generation grape growers and winemakers, have their own label and produce, at least so far, in a winery converted from an old redwood barn, only one bottling of pinor noir. Masút, we are told, means “dark, rich earth,” but we are not informed from which — I assume Native American — language the word derives. People! Details count! Still, I liked their Masút Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir 2012 quite a bit.
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The Masút Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino County, offers a lovely medium ruby-magenta color. The wine aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 33 percent of which were new. Bright aromas of black and red cherries carry hints of cranberry and pomegranate and undertones of briers, brambles and clean loam; the whole effect is of freshness and immediacy yet paying a debt to the earth. Flavors run to cherries and plums, wrapped in an elegant satiny texture and enlivened by pert acidity; a few moments in the glass deepen the mineral and loamy aspects and add notes of plums and graphite and a strain of lightly dusted tannins in the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. Production was 2,450 cases. Drink now through 2016, maybe ’17. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.
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The Artesa Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, hails from a winery founded in the late 1980s by the Raventos family, owners of the giant Codorniu sparkling wine producer in Spain. Originally, the winery turned out a range of sparkling wines, but by the late 1990s, the intention shifted to still wine, particularly chardonnay and pinot noir, yes, natural components in sparkling wine and Champagne, as well as cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. The winery’s name was changed to Artesa — “handmade,” as in artisan; it has not abandoned bubbles entirely, offering a Codorniu Napa Grand Reserve sparkling wine. Director of winemaking at Artesa is Mark Beringer, whose pedigree includes being the great great grandson of Jacob Beringer, a founder of the venerable winery that bears his name, and a long, successful stint as winemaker at Duckhorn. The Artesa Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, aged nine months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new, and that seems just right to me. The color is brilliant ruby-magenta, neither too dark nor too light. Enticing aromas of cloves, cinnamon and sassafras, spiced and macerated black cherries and plums, and notes of leather, loam and graphite waft from the glass. The texture is both sinewy and satiny, with brisk acidity cutting a swath on the palate, highlighting ripe and slightly exotic-tasting black cherry, mulberry and plum flavors; oak offers a rounded, buffed shape to the wine, while staying discreetly in the background. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review. Image from vindulgeblog.com.


Including not merely a roster of pinot noir wines from California but a pinot meunier made as a still wine — it mostly goes into Champagne and sparkling wine — and two pinot gris/grigio wines, one from northeast Italy, the other from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. As usual in these quick reviews, ripped, as it were, from the fervid pages on my notebooks, I eschew the available range of technical, historical, geographical and personal (or personnel) detail to concentrate on immediacy and my desire to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Ascevi Luwa Pinot Grigio 2012, Collio, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; winsome aromas of hay and almond blossom, saline and savory; roasted lemon, spiced pear; a little briery; very dry, crisp and chiseled but appealing moderately full body and texture; a far more thoughtful pinot grigio than one usually encounters. 1,500-case production. Excellent. About $19.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc(!). A Gallo label. Medium gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon and lemon balm, baked pear, all very spicy and intricately woven; attractive supple texture and bright acidity, but you feel some alcoholic heat on the slightly unbalanced finish. Very Good. About $20.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Jackson Family Wines. Medium ruby-violet color; black cherries and currants, cloves, tobacco and sassafras, hint of brown sugar; earthy and loamy, moss and mushrooms; very dry but satiny and supple, with tasty black fruit flavors; the oak comes up a bit in the finish, along with some graphite-tinged minerality. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $23.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. Jackson Family Wines. Lovely limpid ruby-magenta color; sour cherry and melon, pomegranate, cranberry and cloves, develops a hint of smoke and black cherry; lovely and limpid, again, in the mouth, flows like satin across the palate but enlivened with keen acidity; notes of earth and brambles. Drinks very nicely but doesn’t have the heft that La Crema pinot noirs typically display. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $25.
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La Rochelle Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.9% alc. 326 cases. Enrapturing ruby-magenta color; a lithe and supple pinot noir that takes 45 minutes to loosen up a bit; cranberry and cola, dried cherries and raspberries; cloves and allspice, fairly exotic; buoyed by bright acidity and slightly bound by oak and tannin. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $42.
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La Rochelle Deer Meadows Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. 235 six-pack cases. A real beauty. Lovely medium ruby-plum color; black and red cherries, pomegranate and pomander, oolong tea, sassafras and beetroot, slightly earthy and loamy, yes, the whole panoply of sensation; a few moments bring in notes of iodine, mint and graphite; very dry, dense, almost chewy, quite notable tannins for a pinot noir but well-managed and integrated; gathers power and paradoxical elegance in the glass. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Meunier 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.9% alc. 866 cases. Pinot meunier is primarily grown as a minority component in Champagne and sparkling wine production. Entrancing transparent ruby-magenta color with a clear rim; delicate, dry, slightly raspy in the sense that raspberries and their leaves can be raspy; black and red cherry compote, spiced and macerated, with a subtle element of dried fruit, flowers and spices; damask roses, note of violets; dust, earth, a touch of loam, enlivened by swingeing acidity that plows a furrow. Now through 2016. Oddly Excellent. About $38.
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Liberty School Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. The first pinot noir from this label known for well-made and moderately priced cabernet sauvignon. Makes sensible claims and meets them: Medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, hints of rhubarb and tart mulberry; smoke and cloves; reasonably supple texture; a little merlot-ish overall, though. Very Good. About $20.
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MacPhail Family Wines “The Flyer” Pinot Noir 2011, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; quite intense and concentrated for pinot noir, ripe and vivid black and red cherries, smoke, cloves; vibrant acidity cuts a swath, it’s very satiny but with a tannic and oaken core that ramps up the power and somewhat masks the varietal character. Still, it makes an impression. Very Good+. About $59.
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Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; pungently spicy and floral, notes of tobacco and coffee bean, cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb; black cherries with a briery, mossy undercurrent; very satiny, drapes over the palate as it flows; fairly deep and dark aura for pinot noir, with a graphite element and resolutely spicy with cloves and sandalwood, moderately dense tannins. Quite a package. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.
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When I first started trying a lot of wines in the early 1980s, among the most impressive were zinfandels and petite sirah wines from Fetzer Vineyards, launched when Barney Fetzer, who bought acreage in Mendocino County, released a zinfandel and a cabernet sauvignon from the 1968 vintage. Fetzer expanded hugely over the years and was in the forefront of several movements, for example, organic farming on the one hand, white zinfandel on the other. The family sold the winery and its brands to Brown-Forman in 1992; that company sold Fetzer and related labels to Vina Concha y Toro, the large Chilean producer, in 2011 for a reported $238 million. The wine under consideration today is the Five Rivers Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Barbara County; Five Rivers is a Fetzer brand that was created in the early 2000s. I will say right here that the Five Rivers Pinot Noir 2012 is one of those wines that performs above its station in life. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; enticing aromas of black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cola are woven with hints of cranberry and sassafras and traces of smoke, leather and loam. The texture is lovely, lithe and supple and handily supports real presence and personality; vivid black and red fruit flavors are highlighted by touches of cloves and cinnamon, lively acidity and a moderate element of graphite minerality. It’s true that this wine falls a tad short in the finish, but in every other respect it’s worthy of My Readers’ attention. You could sell the hell out of this wine in restaurant by-the-glass programs. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

What I mean is, here are eight wines that I tasted in the last few months of 2013 that I wish I had written about before 2013 turned to 2014. Time, of course and unfortunately, has a way of slipping away from us, so I present these wines to My Readers today, a drippy, dreary, gloomy and chilly day (as well as several other Official Dwarves) in my neck o’ the woods, as examples of wines with total appeal in terms of presence and personality, integrity and authenticity and even, in a few cases, unimpeachable charisma. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes — oops, it’s Monday! — I forsake the technical, historical, geographical data of which I am so fond for the sake of blitzkrieg reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, intended to pique your interest and whet your palates. Five are from California, two from Argentina, one from Chile; prices range from $20 to $120; that’s the breaks. Enjoy!
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Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 10.5% alc. 172 cases. Pale gold color; lightly spiced peach and pear, lime peel, notes of jasmine, mango and lychee; sleek, subtle, crystalline, faceted by bright acidity and limestone minerality, contrastingly soft as a poached peach; highlights of roasted lemon and grapefruit rind. Really lovely. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $22.
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Garcia & Schwaderer “Marina” Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 300 cases imported. A beautifully integrated and harmonious sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; cool, restrained and elegant; grapefruit and pear, pea-shoot and tangerine, notes of lime peel and lemongrass; very crisp with brisk acidity and scintillating limestone element, lithe and supple; finishes with hints of thyme and green apple. Drink through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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MacRostie Winery and Vineyards Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely and softly ripe but lean and minerally with limestone and flint and bright acidity; clean, fresh yet earthy; apple, lemon, spiced pear; touch of mango and jasmine; deeply spicy and flavorful, especially with yellow stone fruit; elegant presentation and poise; always a favorite of mine. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Catena Zapata White Stones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13% alc. Limited production. A stupendous achievement. Medium gold-yellow color; roasted lemon, spiced peach, lightly buttered toast, jasmine and lilac; limestone and gunflint; amazing symmetry, power and resonance; fills the mouth and caresses the palate but not at the expense of litheness and potent acidity; juicy and flavorful but quite dry, a little smoky, with a long finely woven finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $120.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13% alc. Limited production. Medium gold-yellow color; even more intense and concentrated than its White Stones stablemate mentioned above; the roasted lemon and peach but more pear here, a smokier chardonnay, with hints of jasmine and camellia, touch of caramel, quince and ginger; the kind of wine in which you feel the tension and energy of greatness and a white wine that’s almost tannic in depth and dimension; supple and creamy but balanced by chiming acidity and resonant limestone minerality. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Certainly the best chardonnay I have tasted from South America. Exceptional. About $120.
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Lee Family Farm Tempranillo 2012, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. 98 cases. Vivid ruby-magenta color; black currants and blueberries with a pert touch of mulberry, intense and concentrated; batteries of spice and graphite; dense, chewy grainy tannins and vibrant acidity; deep black and blue fruit flavors infused with cedar, tobacco, black licorice and potpourri; very pure and vital, loads of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20.
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Bonny Doon Jespersen Ranch Syrah 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. A remarkable 12.7% alc. 483 cases. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim; lovely, approachable; plums, lavender, violets and leather, earthy but fresh and scintillating; blackberries and blueberries, smoke, fruitcake, graphite with a touch of charcoal edge; beautifully balanced but with burgeoning regimen of tannin, oak and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40, primarily for Bonny Doon’s wine club.
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MacRostie Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby color with magenta highlights; spiced and smoky black and red cherries and plums, notes of classic beetroot and pomegranate, violets and sassafras; a kind of definitively chiseled heft and structure, with acidity that cuts a swath, slightly raspy tannins and a hint of briers and brambles, but seductive balance and integration married to its more serious aspects. Another favorite. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $34.
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“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
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Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
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Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
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Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
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Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
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Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
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Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
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Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
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L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
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Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
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Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
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Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
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Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
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Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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