Make Mine A Double

Lidl Valentine’s Wine Sale [Make Mine a Double #41]

The Irish wing of supermarket Lidl kicked off their Valentine’s Wine Sale on Monday 11th February.  Like their French and Italian wine sales which I have covered previously, these events aren’t price reduction but rather the introduction of a number of wines for a limited time, usually until such time as the finite stocks run out.

The Valentine’s range consists of five sparkling, eleven white and eleven red; the vast majority are Italian with a sprinkling of new world representatives from the USA, Canada, South Africa and Chile.  Below I review a sparkling and a white from

Disclosure: both wines kindly supplied as samples, opinions remain my own

Gewürztraminer Südtirol / Alto Adige 2017 (14.0%, RRP €12.99 at Lidl)

Gewürztraminer Südtirol DOC €12.99

If you aren’t familiar with the geopolitical landscape of northern Italy then this wine might be a touch confusing, but in reality it makes perfect sense.  Alto Adige is the Italian name for the Alpine province which borders Austria – and was indeed in Austria (and predecessor entities) from the 9th century until 1919.  The German name Südtirol makes perfect sense when we consider that the Austrian state immediately north of it is  Tirol, divided into Nordtirol and Osttirol.

One of the municipalities in Alto Adige/Südtirol is Tramin, the birthplace of the Traminer grape (aka Savagnin) which mutated to become Gewürztraminer – the grape we have here.

Aroma-wise, this shows rose and elderflower with a suggestion of sweetness, and yes there is a little Turkish Delight if you go looking for it, though the nose isn’t overblown compared to many (phew!)  The palate is surprisingly dry, though not when the abv of 14.0% is taken into account.  There’s plenty of texture and soft stone fruit; in fact, this wine is not a million miles away from a white Rhône blend.

My preferences when it comes to Gewurz are off-dry or sweeter, so this isn’t my favoured style.  However, for those who prefer a dry style this is well worth a try.

Nure Moscato d’Asti 2017 (5.5 %, RRP €11.99 at Lidl)

Nure Moscato d'Asti DOCG €11.99

Piedmontese wine is best known for the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco plus supporting acts Barbera and Dolcetto, but the Muscat-based sparklers Asti (Spumanti) and Moscato d’Asti also show a lot of character.  It’s the latter we have here, with very low alcohol and lots of sweetness.  In Piedmont it’s often drunk as a palate-cleanser after savoury food and then with dessert.  Of course Muscat is one of the few varieties that smell or taste of grapes, but there’s also a spiciness or muskiness to it.  When well made there is acidity to balance the sweetness, and that makes this example absolutely delicious!  It’s not the most complex Moscato d’Asti I’ve tried but it’s fantastic value for money and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Splash of Refreshing White in an Ocean of Red [Make Mine a Double #40]

Although red wine is the king in northern Spain – especially going west / south west from Navarra, Rioja, Ribero del Duero, Cigales and Toro – there is an outlier: Rueda and its refreshing whites.  Established as a Denominacíon de Origen (DO) as recently as 1980, Rueda is now established as an ultra-reliable source of easy-drinking white wines.  There are four permitted white varieties:

  • Verdejo (indigenous to Rueda, not too dissimilar to Sauvignon Blanc in profile)
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Viura (the white grape of Rioja, aka Macabeo in Cava)
  • Palomino Fino (the main Sherry grape, also used for Sherry-style fortifieds in Rueda)

SuperValu Ireland recently won Best Supermarket Wine Outlet 2019 in the Sunday Business Post Gold Star Awards.  Below are two contrasting Rueda wines which are on special promotion from 14th Feb to 6th Mar 2019.

Disclosure: both wines kindly supplied as samples, opinions remain my own

Blume Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €11.99 down to €8.00 at SuperValu)

Blume Rueda Sauvignon Blanc

This is a very green style of Sauvignon – which is neither criticism or praise, simply an observation – with gooseberry, grapefruit, grass and green pepper notes.  It has striking acidity which make it great for pouring at parties or acting as a foil for shellfish.  Tasted blind it could be taken for a Loire Sauvignon such as a Touraine, so goat’s cheese would be another great pairing (I’m speaking hypothetically here as I don’t do cheese!)

Viña Albali Rueda Verdejo 2017 (13.0%, RRP €11.99 down to €8.00 at SuperValu)

Vina Albali Rueda Verdejo

From 100% Sauvignon Blanc to 100% Verdejo, the autochthonous grape of Rueda.  The label shows the herons which famously nest in the area – another indigenous species. This is a clean, unoaked wine with a little more body than the Blume above, and is somewhat softer in nature – the acidity is less obvious and the fruits are more rounded – some juicy peach and pear in among the citrus.  This would also be a great party wine but could partner well with a range of dishes, from salads or seafood to poultry.

 

Conclusion

Both these wines are inexpensive at their regular price and are fair value.  They show two different sides to the Rueda region and so are interesting to try together.  On a warm day (perhaps difficult to imagine in Ireland right now) I’d take the refreshing savvy, otherwise I’d chose the Verdejo.

And at the reduced price, they are both a steal!

 

 

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Song For Whoever [Make Mine a Double #39]

The Beautiful South’s debut single was released almost 30 years ago and has been a subversive classic ever since.

Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane
I wrote so many songs about you
I forget your name, I forget your name
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name

It recently came to mind when I was tasting some Italian wines from the Fontanafredda (Freddie) group – their Gavi (Gavin) and Raimonda (Raymond) Barbera (Barbara) d’Alba!

Raymond, Freddie, Barbara and Gavin aren’t subversive, however; they are easy drinking wines that serve as a great introduction to their regions if you aren’t already familiar with them.  Rather than “Wine For Whoever”, their song is “Wine For Everyone”!

Fontanafredda Gavi 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15 at Martins Off Licence, Hole In The Wall & Jerry’s In Skerries)

Fontanafredda Gavi

Gavi is a Piedmontese white wine of some renown, hailing from the Province of Alessandria which has the Commune of Gavi at its heart.  Made from 100% Cortese, the speciality grape of the area, it’s a very flexible and appealing wine; soft fruity flavours with some body and enough acidity to remain fresh without removing the enamel from your teeth.  Locally it is paired with seafood, but it would also be a great aperitif or a simple sipper with good company.

Fontanafredda also make a Gavi di Gavi which has increased concentration, slightly higher alcohol (12.5%) and a heftier price tag (€25).

Fontanafredda Raimondo Barbera d’Alba 2017 (13.5%, RRP €18 at Martins Off Licence, Hole In The Wall & Jerry’s In Skerries)

 

Fontanafredda Raimondo Barbera dAlba

Barbera is the unsung hero of Piedmont, making some great wines in Alba, Asti and especially Nizza, the new Barbera-only DOCG.  Far more approachable than Nebbiolo in its youth, this is what Barolo producers drink at home.  The Fontanafredda Barbera d’Alba shows red fruit and lots of dark spice on the nose.  It’s soft and supple on the palate, with redcurrant and cranberry surrounded by blackberry and hints of tapenade – fruity and savoury at the same time.

 

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A Tale of Two Châteaux [Make Mine a Double #38]

chateau-de-sancerre-630x417

Does the word “Château” as part of a wine name impress you or leave you indifferent? Here are a couple of excellent Château-monikered wines from regions which are not synonymous with that word on the label:

Château de Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28 at independent wine merchants)

chateau de sancerre bottle

The Loire Valley is probably home to the most celebrated châteaux in the country, if not Europe as a succession of French kings tried to outdo each other in their weekend retreats.  To my shame I became very bored of the them and didn’t even try the local wine on my last holiday there – but in fairness I was only ten years old.

As experienced wine drinkers we try to discipline ourselves not to judge books by their covers, but we can at least admire beautiful covers like this one.  Thankfully, the contents live up to the label’s promise.  it has typical Sauvignon Blanc freshness, but isn’t hollow, like some Sancerres.  It has a touch of richness and body which elevate it above the hoi polloi – to be honest you would expect refinement in this price bracket but you don’t always get it.  Regular readers will know that cheese isn’t my thang, but the classical match of Sancerre with goat’s cheese would work well, or alternatively a lightly spiced stir fry.

Chateau discussion

Château d’Orschwihr Alsace Pinot Gris Bollenberg 2010 (14.6%, 9 g/L RS, RRP €20.95 (2014 vintage) at Karwig Wines)

Pinot Gris Bollenbeg

A quick flick at any tourist guide will tell you that there are lots of châteaux in Alsace.  However, unlike the palaces of the Loire, many were functioning fortified castles – and bear the scars of countless battles.  This is the only one I know of which is a wine producing entity in Alsace – and it’s a beauty.  The Château d’Orschwihr make some excellent Grand Cru wines (watch this space) but this particular bottle is from the lieu-dit of Bollenberg – perhaps a future Alsace Premier Cru?

Both the 2010 and 2014 were tried at a DNS Wineclub tasting earlier this year and the differences were an excellent illustration of how wines can change from year to year – vintage variation.  Age itself is a factor, of course, but the particularities of each vintage and how the producer adapts to them in the vineyard and the winery are part of what makes wine so interesting.  2010 was a very warm year and so the grapes had lots of sugar at harvest time – much was turned into alcohol (14.6%!) but a little was left as residual sugar (9 g/L).  The resulting wine is rich but not flabby – the alcohol doesn’t stand out and the slightly off dry finish is the perfect compliment to the ginger, pear and honey notes.  Cries out for Thai!

 

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Super Value Whites from SuperValu [Make Mine a Double #37]

Irish supermarket chain SuperValu is probably the best in the country when it comes to wine.  There won’t always be the oddities that you’d find in an independent wine merchant but for good wines at good prices it’s hard to beat.

The current SuperValu wine sale runs from Thursday 6th to Wednesday 26th September and includes some customer favourites at 3 for €25, plus the Duo des Mers Sauvignon Viognier which I reviewed in June down from €11.99 to €9.00 in the sale.

Here are another couple of whites which I highly recommend:

Disclosure: samples kindly provided for review, opinions remain my own

Guy Saget Sancerre 2016 (13.0%, €22.99 down to €15.00 at SuperValu)

Guy Saget Sancerre

This is textbook Loire Sauvignon – reminding us why it became popular here in the first place – and definitely a fruit forward style of Sancerre.  There’s lots of grapefruit and gooseberry, giving both lip-smacking tartness and fruit sweetness at the same time.

The back label suggests the usual food pairing of goat’s cheese and seafood, but interestingly also tandoori chicken skewers (where the aromatics and fruit sweetness balance the spices and chili) and sushi & sashimi (where the acidity and clean finish come to the fore, but the fruit sweetness can also counterbalance the heat of wasabi).

For the avoidance of doubt, this wine is also great on its own!

André Goichot Mâcon-Lugny 2016 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Goichot Macon Lugny

Wines from Burgundy-proper’s most southerly region, the Mâconnais, are often great value as they don’t have the prestige of the big guns from the Côte d’Or.  There’s a local hierarchy that’s handy to know if you’re navigating the area:

  1. The “Crus” – Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Loché, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Saint-Véran, Viré-Clessé.
  2. Mâcon + Village name: over 20 villages can add their name, many for red, white or rosé, some for just white and one for just red or rosé.
  3. Mâcon.
  4. Regional Burgundy Appellations: Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté, Coteaux Bourguignons, Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains, Crémant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne Mousseux.

Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran are probably the most celebrated of the “Crus” (a term I have appropriated from Beaujolais), but there are plenty of very good wines elsewhere in the hierarchy.  As always in Burgundy, the producer is very important.

This Mâcon-Lugny from the very consistent André Goichot is a winner, even at the usual price of €15.  100% Chardonnay, there’s lifted citrus on the nose which continues on to the palate, but then broadens out into melon and peach.  The texture and body of the wine – despite not being oaked at all – differentiate it from the more linear Chardonnays of Chablis.  There’s a clean, crisp finish to round it off.

 

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A Pair to Stock Up On! [Make Mine a Double #36]

Ahead of the O’Briens Wines annual wine sale (30th Aug to 23rd Sept) I’ve taken the opportunity to check in with a couple of my favourites from their range.

Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €22.45 down to €16.95 at O’Briens)

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc

The Awatere Valley and regular Province Sauvignon Blancs from Astrolabe have been firm favourites of mine for close to a decade now.  The Province is a great all-rounder while the Awatere is more subtle, refined and food friendly.

I’m not one of those Marlborough Savvy haterz, but one of the downsides to such an aromatic and expressive wine is that it can overpower any delicate dishes it is paired with.  Awatere is the answer!  Instead of the typical tropical fruit notes we are greeted instead by light citrus, flowers and herbs.  It’s recognisably Marlborough but doesn’t have the usual overt fruitiness which is often perceived as sweetness – even if the wine is actually dry.  Treat yourself to an elegant Sauvignon!

Gaia Estate Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment

This is another perennial favourite of mine from – in my not so humble opinion – the best white wine region in Greece, Santorini – which happens to be a collapsed volcanic caldera in the Aegean.  Assyrtiko is the king of grapes here, and Gaia do a straight up version called Monograph which is a great introduction to the variety (and is a total steal at the current price of €11.95).

However, the Wild Ferment is on another level entirely.  A quick sniff after opening is enough for the wine to start showing its colours – fermentation with indigenous yeast gives it a wonderfully funky and exotic nose (not dissimilar from Kevin Judd’s Greywacke Wild Sauvignon).  This continues onto the palate where it’s joined by fresh lime and lemon.  This is a wine that deserves a BIG glass for extended swirling, or even decanting for half an hour before serving.  Perfect with mushroom risotto.

 

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Indian Wines for an Indian Summer? [Make Mine a Double #35]

Akluj

Ten years ago my (now) wife took me to India, specifically Kerala in the far south. After finding that a few of the hotels on our itinerary were Muslim-owned – and therefore dry – it was a pleasant surprise to be given a bottle of Indian wine by the local representative of the tour operator. It wasn’t fine wine, but it was drinkable. A decade on, Indian wine is being taken more seriously, so I jumped at the chance to try these wines which are being imported into Ireland by Liberty Wines.

M/S is a joint venture between Fratelli owners Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri and Italian Piero Masi and Englishman Steven Spurrier. They were obviously unable to use their initials joined by an ampersand as retailer Marks & Spencer already have that moniker, and simply reversing the order could have led to all sorts of misunderstandings…

Among Piero Masi’s former roles, the acclaimed producer Isole e Olena stands out. Steven Spurrier is probably best known as a writer and former merchant, but also has his own Bride Valley vineyard in Dorset and founded the Wine Society of India

Akluj in Maharashtra
Approx location of Akluj within Maharashtra (credit: Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa))

I wonder what a wine map of India will look like in another decade or two…

M/S Akluj Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_WHITE NV FS

The challenges of making a wine in a sub tropical climate are countered through planting at altitude and blocking malolactic fermentation – of course it could be argued that adding 20% Sauvignon Blanc also helps.

It’s unusual to find these two grapes blended together, either in their home country of France or in the new world countries where they have also prospered – but perhaps the key here is the Italian influences on the wine, as Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc blends can be found in northern Italy – viticultural colonists from Napoleonic times.

As well as avoiding MLF the winemakers also eschew oak barrels, though there’s an overt tanginess which I suspect comes from some lees work. In fact, if this is tasted straight from a domestic fridge the tanginess ramps up to tartness – pour it into a big glass and swirl away, or even decant the bottle if you can, and the wine really opens up. There’s a refreshing fizziness on the tongue from the acidity, with lemon and quince flavours to the fore.

M/S Akluj Sangiovese / Cabernet Franc / Shiraz 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_RED NV FS.jpg

If Italian influences on the white had to be deduced then they are writ large on the M/S red – the champion black grape of Tuscany is still very much linked to that region.

The Sangiovesi is present from the attack to the finish, with notes of leather, tobacco and smoke. It’s soon joined by juicy blackberry and plum from the Shiraz, followed by blackcurrant and a touch of green pepper from the Cab Franc. Then the Sangiovesi has the finish to itself. There’s plenty of acidity and tannin – no fruit bomb here – so medium rare rib eye steak straight off the barbie would be just perfect!

Given the paucity of Indian wines available in this part of the world I don’t have any others to compare this pair to, but they seem quite Italian in sensibility to me – which is no bad thing! Both are worth a try, with the red shading the white in my view.

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Magic from Marsannay [Make Mine a Double #34]

Sylvain Pataille trained as an Oenologist in Bordeaux but applies his knowledge and skills in his beloved Marsannay, both on his own rented vineyards and as a consultant to a dozen or so other producers.  His vines are in conversion to Biodynamic and yields are low, so his wines are a rare sight!  Here are two of his whites that I tried and loved:

Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €30 at Baggot Street Wines)

Pataille Aligote

The second coming of Aligoté continues unabated.  So long relegated to the lowly fate of a house carafe (and usually unnamed at that) or even more demeaningly with crème de cassis as a Kir, when treated with respect Aligoté can produce quality, interesting wines.  Sylvain Pataille makes this one that is clean as a whistle but has a wonderful herby and smoky nose. The palate is fantastically mineral and fresh with a lot of character.  Drink as an aperitif, with shellfish and smoked salmon, or just as a vin de plaisir.

 

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €52 but mainly available in upscale restaurants)

Pataille Marsannay Blanc

Although this wine is hardly “cheap”, Marsannay is one of the Burgundy appellations where value is to be found, an increasingly rare phenomenon. Everything’s relative, of course, but this wine is seriously impressive at the price.  Pataille takes a hands off approach; the vineyards are organic, he follows Biodynamic methods and sulphur is only added (very lightly) at bottling.

This cuvée is a blend from five separate  Marsannay parcels which are lightly pressed and fermented, then mature in oak for 18 months.  Only a third of the oak is new, and even then it’s not overt on the palate; it does add to the body and texture of the wine. There’s a very pleasant spiced pear aspect and a bracing, zippy lemon finish.  Proper white Burgundy!

 

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Monsoon in the Sahara [Make Mine a Double #33]

The Muscat family of grapes is one of the oldest known extant grape families, and has made a home all the way round the Mediterranean and beyond.  Muscat wines come in a variety of styles, from bone dry through to very sweet, from light in alcohol to fortified, from subtle to all-guns-blazingly aromatic. n In the end, whatever their style, most are recognisable as the grapey grape, Muscat!

Here are two very different expression from Top Selection’s portfolio, one very dry (the “Sahara”) and the other quite opposite (the “monsoon”!)

Terra Tangra Thracian Mountain Wine Tamianka 2016 (12.5%, RRP £14.77 from Top Selection)

Tamianka

Tamianka is regarded as a Muscat-like indigenous variety in its home of Bulgaria, but a little digging through Wine Grapes (Robinson, Vouillamoz, Harding) reveals that Tamyanka (and various alternative spellings) is a synonym for Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, and so it truly is Muscat!

This is a rather aromatic wine, with lots of grape and floral notes on the nose.  The palate shows citrus – particularly grapefruit – and a distinct chalkiness.  It’s pithy, with only a little weight, but a lot of texture.  This is more of a food wine than a sipping wine.

Top Selection recommend pairing it “with white meats with a bit of spice heat – for example, spicy marinated chicken served on a bed of black Thai rice and bok choi.”

 

Cereto Santo Stefano Moscato d’Asti 2015 (5.5%, RRP £13.92 (375ml) from Top Selection)

ceretto moscato dasti

There are three main ways to make sweet Muscat:

  1. Pick the grapes late, i.e. a late harvest style, so the grapes have more sugar when picked;
  2. Fortify the wine before fermentation has finished, thereby killing the yeast and leaving plenty of sugar unfermented (like the Vin Doux Naturel style);
  3. Stop fermentation early by chilling, without the addition of grape spirit, so the resulting wine is sweet and fairly low in alcohol.

Moscato d’Asti goes for the third route, with some bubbles for good measure!  “Moscato” is now a popular style in Australia and the US due to its eminent drinkability, but Italy still produces the best examples.  This example from Ceretto is sweet but not sickly, lithe, alert, aromatic, heady and refined….just bloody gorgeous!!

The folks at Top Selection recommend partnering Ceretto Moscato d’Asti with Ceretto’s own Panettone – or alternatively a fresh fruit-based dessert.

 

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The sheep’s dangly bits! [Make Mine a Double #32]

I don’t know if its use is common outside the UK and Ireland, but the phrase “that’s the dog’s bollocks” is for some reason very high praise – as opposed to “that’s bollocks” which means that something is nonsense or useless.  So, when doing a bit of research into the Bocksbeutel of Franconia (Franken) I found that one of the purported origins of the name is due to the bottle’s resemblance to a ram’s scrotum (read more here) – who’d have thought it?  The bottle shape is protected under EU regulations, though is probably better known in these parts for Portuguese rosé.

Anyway, onto the wines – a pair of aromatic whites from Horst Sauer

disclosure: samples were kindly provided for review, opinions are my own

Horst Sauer Esherndorfer Lump Riesling Trocken 2016 (12.0%, RRP €23.60 at Karwig Wines, Carrigaline and karwigwines.ie)

 

Horst Sauer Escherndorfer Riesling Trocken 2

Even though Franken is better known for its Silvaner (it’s the best region in Germany for Silvaner) of course there’s great Riesling grown here as well.  Classed as a Trocken, this is definitely dry, though far from austere – I’m pretty sure there are a few grams of residual sugar balancing the fresh acidity.  There’s plenty of ripe fruit and minerality; it’s a well balanced and delicious wine with all its elements in perfect tension.

Horst Sauer Esherndorfer Silvaner Trocken 2016 (11.5%, RRP €20.90 at Karwig Wines, Carrigaline and karwigwines.ie)

Horst Sauer Escherndorfer Silvaner Trocken 2

So here we have Silvaner (with an “i”) rather than Sylvaner (with a “y”) as in Alsace, but it’s just the same grape.  I have previously described the grape as having characteristics in between Pinot Blanc and Riesling, but the additional minerality of this Horst Sauer Silvaner also brought to mind some aspects of Burgundy’s white grapes:

Silvaner (1)

Of course this is my personal interpretation but I’d be interested to hear other people’s take.  It’s a fairly subtle wine but it really grows on you.  With clean, fresh notes it makes a great aperitif or as a match for salads, fish and shellfish.

So which is the better wine?  I really enjoyed both, but, although the Silvaner is one of the best I’ve tried, I narrowly preferred the extra intensity of the Riesling.  Try them both and see which you prefer!

 

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