Tag Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

Wine Notes from Oz – October 2005

Don’t know if many of these will hit the shelves in Ireland, but if they do there are some goodies worth seeking out.
The first batch come from the Riverland, the engine room of Australia’s wine industry therefore not Jack White territory. Nevertheless, amid the big boys there are some boutique producers getting to grips with unusual (for Oz) varieties such as Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Barbera. The interest in Petit Verdot in this region is massive. of course ‘the little green thing’ has its heart and home in Bordeaux where, in good years it adds complexity, elegance and a slightly spicy lift to the produce of many chateaux. In poor years the damn thing doesn’t ripen at all. So unlike ‘the weed’ (as one Aussie winemaker described it to me) Merlot it highly heat-tolerant, important in this low lying sun-baked region.

18-20: Unmissable.
15-17: Stylish wine, some excitement.
13-14: Decent drinking.
10-12: Reliable & value for money.
8-9: You may like it, I didn’t.
Under 8: Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Long Row Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (Angove’s)
Angove’s used to be represented in Ireland by O’Brien’s. They make some fabulous brandies and pretty passable wines. This one, from old vines grown on narrow T-trellises had good depth and a nice weight of clean citric fruit. Personally I thought it didn’t have quite enough acidity to keep things interesting but I should say I was in a minority of one.
Rating 13/20

Kingston Estate Verdelho 2005
Liked this one! Lovely perfumed, waxy nose with a little lime lift coming in on the back end. Quite a substantial wine with, on the palate, apples giving way to an apricot tinge and a long, mellow finish. Easy drinking and at 12.5 ABV, not falling over stuff.
Rating 15/20

Hardy’s Stamps Rose 2005
In the UK this sells for 4.99 so I suppose it’s a 9 euro-odd wine. If so, it’s a bargain. A 60/40 blend of Grenache and Shiraz, cold fermented with an aromatic yeast it was smartly put together with a wealth of strawberry fruit lingering on the palate to quite a refined dry finish.
Rating 14.5/20

Pennyfield Petit Verdot 2003
Low yield – 7-8 tonnes per hectare, basket pressed. Some goes into new oak, some into older barrels, a split of French and American. Critics were split too, some felt the American oak was a tad overwhelming. personally I thought it was lovely with a voiolently herbal nose, touch of beeswax in there and a good weight of plummy fruit and a whiff of black pepper. Acid balance was spot on so the 14.7 ABV wasn’t at all apparent. Loved the lingering finish too.
Rating 16.5/20

Southern Secret Petit Verdot 2004
Of the two, this was the critics’ choice, ‘cept mine. It announced its presence with an impressive herbal nose, then, on the palate, red berry fruit giving way to blackberries and currants. I thought there were some dark caramel tones in there that spoiled the finish but no one else ran with this. Therefore, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and lifted it into the ‘interesting’ category.
Rating 15/20

Omerstown Shiraz 2004
Fragrant nose, good weight of sweet fruit, maybe slightly cloying on the palate, long finish. Definitely better with food. The overall impression was this wine is something of a Penfold’s Koonunga Hill clone.
Rating 13.5/20

McGuigan Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Minty, herbal nose, entirely in charcater with the variety. 85% riveraldn fruit with a dollop of Barossa to beef it up. A very smart well-made commercial wine that punched above it’s weight, selling as it does in Oz for $6.50.
rating 14/20

Nissen Hut Fortified Mataro 2004
All the character of a great port, for bobbins prices! If this wine ever appears in Ireland I will snap some up. I look at my tasting notes and I’d only written one word “Yes!!!”


Sauv B is the signature variety of Adelaide Hills, probably Australia’s Marlborough. Tim Knappstein, perhaps the doyen of the region, summed it up nicely when he introduced the tasting “Sauvignon Blanc makes simple wine. It’s really made in the vineyard. All the winemaker can do it not mess up too badly what was made in the vineyard.”
All the wines were screwcapped.

Hahndorf Hill
Mineral bite on the nose, slightly herbaceous. on the palate, chiefly green apples with a little hint of raisin fruit. Good length, interesting wine.
Rating 14.5/20

citric notes, some balsam and a little tobacco on the nose. Gooseberry and stone fruit on the palate, plus a whack of citrus.
Good long clean finish.
Rating 13.5/20

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Wine Notes June/July 2005

Craggy Range Te Muna Rd Sauvignon Blanc 2004 15.50 16.5/20
Smart as paint bristlingly mineral Sauvignon Blanc with heavyweight apple and citrus fruit framed by the gravelly aftertaste. Distinctive, interesting, hugely enjoyable Cloudy Bay chaser.
Redmond’s Ranelagh,Claudios Georges St Arcade, Thomas’s Foxrock

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2002 c28.99 18.5/20
Hard to imagine that this sensuous, serious wine was made from grapes from vines only a couple of years old! Rich, fragrant, decidedly Bordeaux-busting Merlot made with love and care. Violets, mint and herbs on the nose and subtle silky fruit on the palate plus that star-spangled magic powder aftertaste that copperfastens the authenticity. I could drink this every night.
CGA; BN9; GEL; Bradleys, Cork; RED; LYN

Château de Bastet Côtes du Rhône 2003, ‘St. Nelly’. e11.50 13/20
More organic/biodynamic wine from the sure-footed Mary Pawle. It was only after I’d given this wine a private road test that I noticed it in this month’s tasting. Unabashed, either I got it wrong or I got a much better bottle than the panel! Delicate, beguiling and not too bucolic or ‘in your face’. Excellent value, too.

Oaky Toasty 2003 Bordeaux Blend enot yet available 13/20
Hard on the heels of a stelvinned white Burgundy, of which more anon, came this further example of La Nouvelle France. A bottle that could hold Cologne or posh olive oil; brash, funky labelling and a cosy back label, revealing that this wine was casked in AMERICAN oak. Well, Bordeaux’s Grange it ain’t but it was well-made quaffable stuff, loaded with vanilla, herbs and ripe fruit. I await the price with interest.

‘Vinifera’ Gamay 2004, Touraine AC e16.50 16/20
Henry Marionnet is perhaps the finest Touraine producer and this lovely Gamay, made amazingly from ungrafted vines (how brave is that?), is the sort of wine you could give to a visiting Martian and expect him to return enchanted. Vibrant, rich cherry flavours, so enjoyable and, of it’s kind, unique
Le Caveau, kilkenny

Château de la Negly La Cote, Coteau du Languedoc AC 2003 e12.45 17/20
Grapes from old Carignan vines married to an equivalent quantity of prime Grenache, this stellar wine would eat the face off 9 out of every 10 Châteauneuf du Papes we’ve come across lately. Great meaty whack of fruit augmented by wrinkly black olive overtones and a whiff of clean white pepper. So enjoyable.
LE CAVEAU, Kilkenny

Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru AC ‘Morgeot’ Viellle Vignes 2001 e41.50 19/20
The rise-and-rise of Vincent Girardin continues! Normally I wouldn’t dream of featuring a wine this pricey and esoteric but I just had to tell you about the trippy experience which I see from my notes involved ‘the feeling of sitting in a lemon grove eating freshly-cooked pork crackling’. And that’s only the nose! Huge WOW factor in this wine.

Thelema Ed’s Reserve 2003, SA e21.95 15/20
Gyles Webb was in Europe when we called at his Stellenbosch estate. But we did meet his wife Barbara and her mum Ed – possibly the only mother-in-law ever to have a wine created in her honour! And what a good wine too. Barrel-fermented Chardonnay in a brisk, non-cloying style. At the price, the poor man’s Hamilton Russell and that’s by no means a put down.

Domaine de Saint-Lannes 2002 Cotes de Gascogne e8.99 14/20
Another example of O’Brien’s new-found ability to unearth delicious wines from hitherto unregarded corners of France. Made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat it yields dark brambly fruits with cinnamon and coriander notes and at a nowadays modest 12% ABV it’s as easy on the head as it is on the wallet

Champagne Duval-Leroy ‘La Fleur de Champagne’
e34-35 17/20
With a platoon of relatives arriving from foreign parts the last month has been a bit of a Champfest. Cream and quality biscuits, almonds, hazelnuts and clean fruit, everybody loved this one.

Dry, delicate, delicious with only the faintest high octane whiff by way of signposting the variety, Speckled House Riesling 2001 hails from Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Weighing in at a stripling 10.5% ABV, it won’t have you on your ear while exuding charm and class in every mouthful. The 2002, tasted on Australia Day was just as good. It’s available from the excellent Inis Wines – Tel: (074) 954 2940 and from good independents, guide price e19.49. Rating 16.5/20.

‘Delicate’ is not a word that describes the Paul Osika 2001 Heathcote Shiraz from Victoria. This big, bouncing boyo tips the scales at a colossal 15% ABV. Yet it proved once again that, if the winemaker is skilled enough, particularly with New World Shiraz, humungus alcohol levels are no bar to enjoyment. It has to be said that the two old friends who shared this bottle with me had no sense that the wine was so pokey. Me, I loved it. Karwig Wines (021) 437 2864, around e26. Rating 17.5/20.

From what could prove to be one of the landmark tastings of 2005. Argenina’s Cafayete, the region of origin. has the benefit of high altitude and hence a long ripening season, so this Cabernet, aged a year in new French oak, is not the usual New World blackcurrant fool, it’s a proper wine, subtle and understated with the tannins resolving nicely and all the leather, spice and other tricky bits you can handle. A tasting begged two questions: (a) Why can’t the New World make Cabernet with this much character and restraint? And (b) Why can’t the French give you Cabernet anywhere near as good as this for anything approaching the money? Michel Torino Don David Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, around a heartwarming e12 from Mitchells and good independents (importers Classic Drinks, a new company, appropriately enough from The City of Culture – 021 451 0066). Rating 16/20

Not that the French are sat on their butt smoking Gitanes. A deal of hard work by the guys from Mouton-Rothschild (and a tad more Semillon in the blend) has placed Mouton Cadet Blanc 2003 a lot more class, placing it firmly in the Good Value table. For about e12 it’s more than a match for many of the New World fruitgum fests. Widely available. Rating 13/20

Now for the Holy Grail, drinkable wine for e6.99. At amazing new “that’ll do nicely” contemporary wine palace Eno in Monkstown, Co Dublin, I found Zohak Mendoza the name – the red’s a rough party quaffer, the Chardonnay, in contrast, is quite polished. Rating, Red 10.5/20, White 12.5 I believe it’s a one-off, though, so step on it.

Going upscale, I encountered a lemon-refreshing Piemonte white, San Silverno 2002 that certainly won’t disappoint at e9.99. Rating 13.5/20. In the same emporium, surprise, surprise, I came across a well stylish Italian Pinot Noir. There is a middle path between a bag of over-ripe Southern soft fruit and the vapid offerings of Burgundy in a bad year and these guys have found it. At e29 I won’t be drinking it every night but Bressan Fruili Pinot Nero 2000 will make a pleasing occasional treat. Rating 16.5/20.

I love vertical tastings. Recently we sampled 6 vintages of Zuccardi Q Tempranillo from Argentina. The diversity was immense: the ‘97 all spice, cracked white pepper, morello cherry and orange peel; ‘98, more fragrant, apple and bramble hints coming through; my favourite, the 2000, a broad-shouldered muscular, developed wine of great length. Worth grabbing a few bottles of the hefty 2002 and putting them aside, especially as the suggested rrp of around e18.99 looks a king-size bargain. rating 17/20.

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Bordeaux For Beginners

Appellations d’Origine Controlée, to give them their full title, operate at 4 levels:
Generic regional AC – Bordeaux, covers red, white, rosé and sparklers from the region.
Slightly posher is Bordeaux Superior – to achieve this a grower has to squeeze out an extra half per cent alcohol.
Specific regional AC cover large areas Entre-deux-Mers, Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, Haut Médoc for exmple.
Village ACs – Within a few of the regions a few of the notable villages have their own AC, e.g. St-Estèphe, Margaux, Sauternes.
Blending of Bordeaux wines from their consituent varieties.
Barrique (Bordelaise)
The famous 225l Bordeaux barrel that had replaced the unwieldy 900l Tonneau by the end of the 18th century. Today the word is in use world-wide.
Impressive city on the Garonne river on France’s West Coast. Total area under vines around 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) with around 12,500 producers. Centre of a huge wine trade, rising to pre-eminence in 1152 when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, later King of England as Henry II.
Northernmost area of Bordeaux where wine is part of the mixed agrarian economy. Drink Bertinerie and Haut-Bertinerie, leave the rest alone.
Charming name for the broker who interfaces between the grower and the négotiant for a small commission. Another profit centre in the chain.
Don’t look for any castles (the literal translation). Châteaux are sometimes palatial mansions like Margaux, Lafite, Bécheville, Cos d’Estournel. More often they are simple farmhouses. Some wine estates bearing the prefix ‘Château…’ have no house at all.
Côtes de Bourg
Area of some potential on the right bank of the Dordogne where it flows into the Gironde. Good earthy wines but Bourg growers need to modernise and invest if they are to rise above the mundane.
1855 Classification
The earliest attempt to introduce a pecking order (based on market price) and subsequently revised. Important to remember it was limited to the Médoc.
Entre-deux-Mers Beguiling white and red wine area between the Dordogne and the Garonne. Gorgeous landscape but much of the wine is only of average quality and marketed under the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur labels
Neologism for smart, small-scale producers making fruit-forward wines for early-drinking or good ones for a niche market. Some have been elevated to cult status. Many started in St-Emilion where land was relatively cheap.
Grape varieties All Bordeaux wines are blends. Principally Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc for reds and Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillion for whites. Others such as Malbec, Petit Verdot, Muscadelle and Columbard crop up in small quantities to do a specific job.
Graves & Pessac-Leognan
In the north, a bank of gravel now encroached upon by the suburbs of Bordeaux, disintegrating in the South into sand and clay amid pine forests, meadows and orchards. Produces both red (including legendary Haut-Brion) and white wines. Classified in 1953 and 1959.
A monotonously flat, undistinguished-looking strip of land adjacent to the left bank of the Garonne, that hosts many of the greatest red wines of the world. To view the Médoc is to wonder why. The answer: soil, climate, tradition, all play a part. Incorporates the villages and communes of Margaux, Moulis and Listrac, St-Julien, Pauillac, St-Estèphe, Haut-Médoc and Médoc.
Negotiant (négoce)
There are 400 of them. French term for a merchant, many of whom in Bordeaux own châteaux. According to the CIVB brochure these guys have “a role of regulators with power to smooth the fluctuation prices that can be so harmful to the market” – hmm… we wonder! Some offer a technical service to poorer growers and are frequently abused by the same for bumping up prices. Not so all-powerful as in Burgundy but nevertheless an integral element in the Bordeaux wine trade that inhibits buying direct.
Noble Rot
An amazing process. The grapes shrivel after botrytis spores latch onto and weaken the skin. Farewell water content, hello high sugar, glycerol and acidity. The grapes eventually reach a ‘roasted’, totally shrivelled stage at which point they are carefully harvested and used, in Sauternes, to make dessert wines of explosive concentration.
Other Classifications
Graves had to wait until 1953 for reds and 1959 for whites. St.Emilion’s is revised every ten years. Pomerol has none.The Crus Bourgeois of the Médoc had a revision in 2003 and some are still whingeing.
Tiny, 7.5 sq mile, area NE of Libourne where Merlot is King. Rich, soft-centred wine exemplified by Ch. Pétrus, greatest and most expensive red wine in the world.
Tourist gem town SE of Bordeaux with many vineyards that restore your faith in picturesque sites. Here Cabernet Franc, called locally Bouchet, thrives on the limestone slopes. Best wines are Chx.Ausonne and Cheval Blanc.
Sauternes and Barsac
Another area classified in 1855, for its luscious sweet wines of which d’Yquem is foremost. Until recently when they have staged something of a comeback Sauternes were ludicrously underpriced. Sémillon is the main grape employed.

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Napa Night Out Ruined by "Flunkeys with Attitude"

September heralds the season not of mists and mellow fruitfulness but of blisters and blackened tongues as wine scribes hustle to accommodate a “double shifts and Sundays too” routine of tastings. A veritable host of Spaniards, French, Italians, Kiwis and Aussies flock to town to tout their wares. Argentina and Chile empty as winemakers head for Europe. Raymond, Mary, Martin, John, Tomas, Myles, Liam and the gang spend more time with each other during this month than they do with their spouses.
I suppose the most pleasurable affair of the whole shebang is the annual visit of the winemakers of Napa, a region of California rightly hailed as the USA’s number one location for the noble grape. These worthies arrived under the banner of a Fall 2004 Trade Mission, en route for Hamburg and London. The last two destinations I can understand. Why they come to Dublin, however, is unclear in the main, though some were seeking representation. Napa wine can never be cheap as the microeconomics of the region militate against bulk sales. Real estate is expensive and labour costs high. There’s a fdeal of investment in technology. Ageing and oak casking also bump up the eventual bottle price as does the cost of transatlantic transportation. What’s more the market for premium wines here is not huge and what punters there are tend to be conservative, favouring Burgundy and, particularly Bordeaux.
So it’s an uphill struggle but nevertheless they come and they love coming. I went out to dinner with a group of them, to a private dining club on Stephen’s Green. Ah, I thought, as I climbed the steps, this place must be one of the last bastions of courtesy and civility, pluperfect venue for showing our American friends lashings of Old World charm. In a pig’s eye!
From the concierge who was loath to let me across the threshold until I could be vouched for, through the waiters who confiscated Californian cameras with the zeal of cold war cops, to the charming man who hurled invective at our host (who had contributed 75% of the dining room revenue that night), these were Flunkeys With Attitude.
The wines we drank with the meal were Clos du Val, at the Stag’s Leap end of the valley. The vineyard has an interesting history. In 1970 American businessman John Goelet commissioned winemaker Bernard Portet to find an unmapped territory with potential to make world class wines. Two years and five continents later, Portet wound up in Napa, sampling the microclimate intuitively by driving with his arm out of the window. Taken with the undulating terrain and cool evenings, he persuaded the tycoon to purchase 150 acres. Thus was Clos du Val – ‘a small estate in a small valley’ founded in 1972.
The first vintage of limited release handcrafted wines was one of five Californian Cabernet Sauvignons selected for the now legendary ‘head-to-head’ tasting in Paris, in 1976, an event widely regarded as the coming-of-age of Napa wines. The same wine featured in the rematch ten years later.
Clos du Val wines come in three flights. At present only the entry level Classic range is available in Ireland, via O’Brien’s although the Estates and Reserves, the last made only in years of exceptional quality, are scheduled to follow. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 is balanced and distinctive, the tannins resolving nicely to imbue the wine with smooth, rounded flavours, a good introduction to the house style.
A favourite, again at the affordable end of Napa is St.Supéry who produce an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc and a fine Bordeaux blend, Meritage. Other names to look out for include Far Niente, Duckhorn, Oakville Ranch (gorgeous Chardonnay) and one new to me, Trefethen, whose Riesling particularly impressed. Joseph Phelps are a premium producer and their Bordeaux blend, Insignia and vibrant Chardnnay, Ovation are a tribute to their painstaking methodology. Heitz, another top dog, exhibited several vintages of rich and ripe Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet. Finally, if you have a small legacy to spare, you could do worse than lay down the exquisite Shafer Merlot., good value for what it is at around e50.
A whistle-stop tour of Greater Budapest sandwiched between tasting bouts served to remind me what a great wine Tokaji is. I also found an interesting herbal digestif, Unicum which, for it’s medicinal purposes as well as for the big square cross on the label we christened ‘Ambulance’. Teaming it with with the local dark beer brought new meaning to the term ‘ambulance chaser!’. The trip also convinced me that the standard of erudition amongst wine writers in Ireland is second to none. One Buda bluffer, a Dutch scribe, insisted that Pinotage was the third grape in a particular Tokaji alongside Furmint and Muscat; what’s more, no one seemed to cotton on that Rhine Riesling and Olasz Riesling are not the same thing or even related, though several tasters mentioned that the wine under review was“untypical.” Surprise, surprise.

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Wine Update August

Ch. de BASTET 2003 cotes de Rhone
Cuvee St.Jean
Another winner from Mary Pawle. Lovely fresh flavours. No info on the label but presumably mainly Viognier. Entirely non-cloying & lovely.

Undoubtedly classy, but lost a bit of its zip. Getting away from where I want SB to be, but most people will absolutely love this.

CHABLIS 2002 Domaine William Fevre
The bog-standard base Chablis from a very smart wunderkind, Didier Seguier.
Superb stuff and knocks spots off certain other peoples’ PC and GC. Fragrant, fresh, refreshing, I could drink 3 botts with or without food!

MEDOC 2002. Not much else on the label.
Someone brought this to my party but I’ll get them back one day! Mean as gnat shite, all that’s bad about anonymous Bordeaux chemical plants. Simply awful.

After the previous wine a big hooray for this surprisingly elegant Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pays Catalan. Oak aged, proud and worthy of it, the tannins have resolved to give firm, supple wine with an abundance of cassis fruit. Great value for the money – better than many a Frenchie.
e13.99, Le Caveau, Kilkenny

Fellow ‘Roamin’ Goats’ Petanque Team member Sean Bennett generously sent me this one in an attempt to convince me that 1999 Bordeaux isn’t totally pants. Okay, Sean, you’re right – up to a point. Nice weight of fruit, some complexity, but still a bit green and stalky and personally I don’t think it gets any better than this. My advice for what it’s worth is, if you have a cellar full of ’99 Claret start drinking it now. John D Rockefeller, when asked how he made his fortune, said “By always selling short” – a philosophy wine collectors should try and emulate.

Managed to locate a few bottles of this gem at a supermarket in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan. Wonderful, honeyed, elegant, complex, nuts, nutmeg, cinnamon all sorts of Christmassy things going on as well as spring flowers. Yet with a bone dry finish. Substantial mouthfeel, altogether brilliant wine making and so different and distinctive. I love this style, this wine.
e19.19 and worth every damn cent.

Top dollar price for non “Cru” Chablis but this one is rather good and puts many a Premier Cru to shame. It says “Vendanges Manuelles” , presumably hand-picked. Full, lemony and zesty it would repay keping a year or two. Liked a lot.
e20.99 , The Vintage and various indeps.

e17 from those hardworking lads at Dunnes Stores and worth every penny and a bit more. Weighty, substantial, serious.
Mary’s said it, Raymond’s said it, I’ve siad it. J.M Brocard is A Good Thing.

LABOURE-ROI Chablis 1er Cru 1998
In contrast, all the tired fady nonsense I’ve come to expect from this negotiant-eleveur who needs a bloody good shaking imo. Unsound and unenjoyable. 3/10 could try much harder. Can’t remember where I got it, don’t much care.

Citrus, mangoes and yes…pumpkin pie benefitting from oak ageing. Complex, stylish, all I’ve come to expect from this engaging company who are definitely listed among the talented mavericks of the Aussie wine establishment. In the words of the sage Kevin Keegan – “Simply love it!”

“What!” you say. That’s right a Borgundy, or is at a Burdeaux. No matter, it sort of works, because the wine making’s restrained enough to let the fruit shine through and they had the good sense to call at halt at 12.5% ABV. I’ve learned to expect a lot from Albet i Noya and this combo in no way disappointed, it was soft, sunny and utterly user-friendly. Another organic tour de force from my hero Mary Pawle, available at around e11.50. Try Quay Co-op, Cork; Connemara Hamper, Clifden or Listons, Camden St, Dublin.

An attempt to make a ‘terroir’ wine by selecting grapes fom various plots in the vineyard. A good idea from a top Chilean maker. Unfortunately the grape is “here today/gone tomorrow” Sauvignon Blanc so as it’s four years old it lacks a bit of zip. I’d love to taste the 2003 version. Still, at around e13, very decent winemaking. Oddbins

BON COURAGE NOBLE LATE HARVEST 2002. One of a brace of stickies I picked up at the vineyard in Robertson, SA. Probably drunk a bit young but Paolo Tullio and I both thought it gorgeous. As well as decent Syrah, Bon C make rather good dessert wine. Look for the ‘Weisser Riesling’ too.

Chilean winemaking at its best. Skilful, thoughtful, elegant berry fruit, cassis, mint, violets all fusing nicely as the holding tannins recede. Keeping properties too, I’d say.
Should be readily available, I’ll check price.

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Aussie Rules?

Certain subversive elements in the Irish wine biz threatened to turn up at Croke Park for the Australia Day Tasting clad in rugby jerseys and football shirts of the non-Gaelic variety but, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Perhaps as well, for there’s no doubt that ‘Croker’ is a superb venue for what’s become an annual shindig, one we wouldn’t want to put in jeopardy.
For the critic, the event provides a valuable opportunity to assess current trends in the Australian Wine Industry; to get a handle on progress over the last twelve months; and to find wines that you haven’t tasted before. This year’s event performed well on all three counts.
Trendwise, there’s no doubt that Verdelho is making a bid to become ‘Australia’s Sauvignon Blanc’. Grown in cool climates – the Loire, New Zealand’s South Island – Sauvignon has an appealing lemon acidity and mineral zip that refreshes drinkers as quick as if they’d stood naked under a waterfall. From a warm locale it can be cloying, even sickly, and its appeal fades faster than a e5 pair of jeans. I’ve never waxed lyrical, or anything like, over an Aussie Sauvignon Blanc. Nepenthe, from Adelaide Hills is about as good as it gets, in my opinion. Verdelho, in contrast, offers winemakers the opportunity to deliver a pleasant easy-drinking alternative to budget Chardonnay, whilst at the same time enabling them to side-step the trap of making alcoholic fruit salad. If you haven’t tried Aussie Verdelho, Houghton’s, from WA, and probably the progenitor of the species, is the one to start with.
Australians, of course, are the world’s prime marketeers of wine, role models for the rest. Therefore an essential element in the tasting is to check out the ‘brands’, the household names which they’ve taught us to buy instead of Château Unpronounceable and its ilk. This will probably get me assassinated, but it has to be said: the quality of those brands at entry level or just above has stagnated. The challenge of competing with the ‘New New World’ seems to be taking its toll. This isn’t just an Australian problem by the way – some of the base level stuff coming out of California (which has now displaced France as the 2nd top importer into the UK) is truly gruesome. From this criticism I will exempt Hardy’s Nottage Hill whose quality is consistently impressive right across the range.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of what the Australians do with Shiraz and in this respect the Croke Park tasting did not disappoint. Initially, I made for the d’Arenberg and Penfolds stands because between them these guys have forgotten more about Shiraz than many have learned. They present a fascinating contrast in style – D’Arry’s, a cross between European sophistication and Down Under exuberance; Penfold’s, all balance and subtlety, rampant fruit kept in check by very smart winemaking. What later became evident was that distinct regional styles have emerged – big, bruising Barossa that starts to throw punches the minute it comes out of the bottle (Peter Lehmann); feminine, sweet-fruited McLaren Vale; the lean, laconic Westerner – exemplified by Plantagenet’s classy Mt. Barker. There are still ones that don’t fit the pattern – Brokenwood from Hunter Valley, a compromise between the first two styles; the self-consciously European Capel Vale; restrained Setanta ‘Cuchulain’ from Adelaide Hills and St. Andrews from the Clare Valley. ‘Find of the show’ was La Testa 2000 from McLaren Vale. I wasn’t alone on this one; many people were talking about a Grange competitor at less than half the price but they were rather missing the point. La Testa is a wizard Shiraz, capable of being judged on its own merits; made from premium fruit, aged in top-dollar French oak and cuddled and fussed over by a guy who really knows what he’s doing. Like The Armagh, like Hill of Grace, what good purpose does comparison serve? Setanta and La Testa are distributed by Inis Wines of Burtonport, Donegal and anyone who hasn’t browsed their exciting little portfolio is missing a treat.
Best budget wines by a mile were the Gnangara Shiraz and Chardonnay from Evans & Tate in WA which I found on the Clada Group stand. While we’re on the subject of Chard, it was good to find that the Aussies seem to be listening at last. There are less tropical fruit stalls around than ever before and even Rosemount Show Reserve, flag-waver for the old big-and-buttery style, while still pretty uncompromising seemed somehow leaner, more lemony. The Aussies are struggling a bit with entry-level Chardonnay, frequently putting dollops of Semillon or Sauvignon in to keep acidity levels up. I really don’t think it’s the answer.
Other highlights? Two superb 2003 Rieslings, Watervale and Polish Hills adjacent to Clare Valley I think. The Watervale in particular was hard as nails, needing putting away for a year or two but the class was overt. The Evans & Tate Margaret River Chardonnay was as pleasing as when I last tasted it in situ. Château Reynella’s version impressed too. A very smart Shiraz-Mourvèdre in the McPherson Basilisk range was complemented by a genuinely exciting Marsanne-Viognier. I sampled an elegantly restrained Cabernet made in Coonawarrra by Balnaves, a name new to me. Pinot Noir did not have a great presence; Tamar Ridge from Tasmania was among the best.. Brown Brothers were full of interest as usual – loved their Barbera, not very Piedmontese but great food wine, I thought.
Were I to chose a ‘Best of Show’ – an invidious task – the Polish Hills Riesling would have come very close, as would the La Testa Shiraz. But, when push came to shove, a blend of sense, sensibility and sentiment took over.
Di Cullen who died in March last year was a pioneer of Margaret River winemaking and fervent advocate of Bordeaux grape varieties. Though she handed over the reins to talented daughter Vanya in the late ‘80s, Di retained daily involvement with the wines and what great wines they are. The Cullen production is always a byword for class and the 2001 Cabernet/Merlot is no exception; glorious aromatics, complex flavours, mellifluous mouthfeel, stonking length; altogether, bliss in a bottle. Vanya has bestowed the soubriquet ‘Diana Madeline’ on this, their flagship. What an ‘in memoriam’ for mum it is. The spirit of Di Cullen lives on.

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South African Saga

My wife and I have only ever argued about two matters, I think. One is my legendary untidiness. The other is South Africa. You see the ravine between our views is cut very deep. She has fond memories of working in Cape Town in her twenties. Me, I’m a veteran anti-apartheid hard-liner who considered such actions ‘propping up an illegal regime’.
Matters came to a head some years ago when I found myself sat at a dinner party next to an Afrikaner lady. As conversation opener she proclaimed “I think South African wines are better than French wines”. “Oh really,” I snarled and immediately went on the attack impugning both her reason and her (assumed) political views. Eventually she left the table in tears sobbing “Why does everybody hate us?”, my wife suddenly remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere and the host, a friend, didn’t speak to me for three years. The morning after, I woke up with fierce pains in my leg. I looked down to find it black and blue from being kicked under the table! Richly deserved, you may say, but I am largely unrepentant. Still, all things change and I’m glad to say that South Africa and I have since (Christmas just past) supped at the same table. And had the lady made the same remark today, while not agreeing entirely, I’d probably find some common ground .
After tasting in excess of two hundred wines in what was undoubtedly a real ‘bus man’s holiday’, I am of the belief that South Africa, since it shed itself of the trappings of the ancient regime and came out to play in the real world, is making magnificent wine and, what’s more, getting better at it year by year. Okay they’ve had a long way to come in a short time since the days of Pinotage and Steen overload; and yes I’ve heard about the recent ‘scandal’ of fruit juice infusions in budget Sauvignon Blanc which they are stamping out as I write. But compared to the lodestone of complacency that runs through Bordeaux and Burgundy and compared to the Aussies’ laid-back confidence that ‘marketing will win the day’ there’s an impressive missionary zeal about latterday South African winemaking; coupled with a willingness to try new methods and revert to the old as circumstances dictate.
Not everything in the garden is rosy. There are some very ordinary wines to be sure, and finding your way around is a bit of a minefield. There’s a book to help you – the Platter pocket guide. However while it’s a marvellous aide in introducing you to who makes what and where, when it comes to judging quality, Platter dishes out stars like a kindergarten teacher at an end-of-term party, so it’s not a deal of use.
But we did find some immense winemakers, sometimes through dipping into Platter, sometimes by word of mouth and sometimes through sheer serendipity.
On the crest of a slope at the Helderberg Mountain end of Stellenbosch there’s a guy called Chris Keet who, in the middle of masterminding a massive replanting programme, finds time to make a wine called Crescendo. Chris is an unassuming guy who clearly prefers his wine to speak for him and in this Crescendo lives up to its name, hollering “class act” at the top of its voice. It’s a Bordeaux blend, largely constructed from Cabernet Franc and while comparisons with Ausonne and, (whisper, whisper) Cheval Blanc might be a trifle fanciful there’s no doubt that Chris is also wringing the maximum potential from what is, in my opinion, an under-considered grape variety.
I’ve sung the praises of Springfield Estate ‘Life from Stone’ before; let’s just say it loud and clear one more time – this is world-class Sauvignon Blanc, as is the same vineyard’s ‘Special Cuvée’. The two wines, whose individual plots are separated only by a road wide enough to get a 4WD down, are distinctively different in character. ‘Special Cuvée’ is a Cloudy Bay competitor (for much less money) – grassy, gooseberry, lush mouthfeel. ‘Life from Stone’ is altogether leaner, but in no way meaner. It’s flinty, delicate and a tribute to Abrie and Jeanette Brewer’s hard work. – how many other vineyards have been realigned through 90 degrees?
Meanwhile, over in unfashionable Bots River Niels Verberg is making superstellar Shiraz. The label is Luddite, a telling name for a wine that would justify the description ‘hand-made’. I believe that one day this wine may become “South Africa’s Grange.”
Good news is Vaughan Johnson’s branches in Dublin stock all three.

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GUBU IV Good/Unlovable/Brilliant/Undrinkable

January 17th ushered in the Year of The Monkey which we celebrated with a Chinese Banquet chez moi, cooked by the esteemed Chung Yin who formulates all those tangy and entirely authentic Chinese sauces for Sharwoods. Chung is an amazing guy, a great chef too and produced a menu to die for including duck, beef, succulent scallops, fat muscly king prawns and a whole steamed sea bass, not to mention a dessert.
I’ll put the recipes on stove slave as soon as I have them to hand.
Six of us consumed all the above, plus ten wines (but not necessarily in the order listed below) viz:-

Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 1999, Alsace.
Lovely, beautifully bottle aged wine of some style and class. I’d like to get some more of this.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rich Reserve 1996
An older style of Champagne, a last minute dosage giving a richly sumptuous brew that you couldn’t call sweet, more lush and decadent. I could have drunk this all through the meal.

Springfield Estate Methode Ancienne Chardonnay 2002
Thank god I’ve got another bottle, I want to let it lie. Impressive now, I suspect there’s bags of keeping in this fullsome eminently stylish and beautifully balanced Chard. One of the superstars of a stellar evening. One guest said “If you’d told me this was 70 quidsworth of Puligny Montrachet I wouldn’t have demurred!”

Vasse Felix 2002 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Margaret River W.Aust
A hard act to follow, the Methode Ancienne, but this buttery expansive Aussie from one of WA’s best producers held up nicely.

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2002
Decent , different drinking with some (American?) barrel age lending a touch of distinction. A bit lost by this stage, but would have made a very decent warm up – alternative to the Trimbach above

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose
Very decent gear, flavoursome, dry, crisp, slight tayberry fruit flavours with a little herby kick. I like these guys.

Cordoba Crescendo 2000 Helderberg, Stellenbosch SA
A brilliantly balanced Bordeaux Blend varying from year to year but always majoring on Cabernet Franc, another huge hit on the night. Complex, intense figgy fruit, herbal and flowering current fragrance, lovely powdery aftertaste, massive length, everything you could wish for in a wine and for the price charged (well under e20) fantastic value for money.

Albet Y Noya Col Leccio 1999 Penedes Spain
Brilliant stuff from Spain’s kings of organic wine. Mint on the nose, blackcurrant, plums and all sorts of nice things on the palate and again, huge length.

Penfolds Bin 389 Shiraz/Cabernet 1997
The “baby Grange”, always a class act, a darling of a red wine from the guys who’ve forgotten more about Shiraz than most New World wine makers know. Elegant, dark, brooding, plummy with black coffee overtones and a fine white pepper nose this is one joyful wine.

Villa Maria Pinot Noir 2000
Middle of the road NZ Pinot. Clear evidence that they are getting to grips with this difficult grape the French call “The Black Bitch.” Some way to go before it gets desirable, though. For me, Felton Road leads by miles.

Also tasted recently

Springfield Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2003
I seem to keep plugging this but with every bottle I drink it seems to shout “World Class” in fact Springfield are making some of the best wines to come out of South Africa so I’m entirerly unabashed. Pristine SB, with that killer so-refreshing mineral zip – for me you can keep most of the Kiwi gooseberryfests if I could drink this. Bloody brilliant and only e15-ish a bottle.

Nugan Third Generation Chardonnay 2002. South East Australia.
Decent stuff, quite civilized for Aussie. Nice melon notes without diving into mango & pineapple overload. This should do very well for SuperValu

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2000
Like the above only more so, mellowed with two year’s extra bottle age. Lovely stuff, deep gold, honeyed, subtle, great melon and marzipan flavour

Gigondas Laurus 1999 Gabriel Meffre – first bottle of this I’ve had since GUBU II so maybe time for a bit of a rethink as it’s mellowing out nicely, plummy and dark morello flavours, good long finish and still quite a bit of keeping in there.

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SOLE SEARCHING – pairing wine with fish

No subject causes diners so much angst, or wine writers so many headaches, as the pairing of wine and food.

There are three schools of thought on wine and food pairings. There are the people who say “drink what you like to drink” and I have some sympathy with this view. The second school follows the ‘rules’ developed by wine writers over many years which lay down specific matches – red wine with red meat, white wine with fish. Unfortunately by the late-20th century these rules had become set in stone, offering no solution to a diner seeking wines to complement the vibrant international cuisine rapidly becoming commonplace in restaurants and homes. The third school, to which on balance I belong, takes pains to find elemental matches while, at the same time, stressing that there are no perfect pairings and few imperfect ones, or in a nutshell “anything goes, but some things go better than others”.
The emergence of ethnic and that much abused word, ‘fusion’, cooking liberated wine writers from having to expound the conventional wisdom and caused them to focus instead on the food on the plate. At the same time the new availability of hitherto ‘undiscovered’ or neglected varietals presented further oportunities to re-write the canon. Nevertheless, we cannot discount entirely the old truisms. White wine is undoubtedly the perfect foil for white fish and it would be a brave wine or food writer indeed who would challenge the classic pairing of wild salmon and Chablis.
The first rule, if there is a rule, must be ‘look to the region’ and a brief scan of a topographical map of France will reveal that the upper reaches of many of that nation’s most notable salmon rivers run either through the Burgundy region or close to its fringes. Go to the Vendee or to the Charente Maritime and suss out what the locals are drinking with their oysters and you’ll find it’s invariably Muscadet, made a mere thirty or so miles inland around the lower reaches of the Loire. It applies in the New World too. Although New Zealanders are far less zealous about ‘what they drink with what’, the Taupo fisherman, celebrating the landing of a monster trout, invariably wolfs the monster down accompanied by a glass or three of Sauvignon Blanc.
Here’s the next clue – acidity. After years of experimentation I’ve come to the conclusion that wines with a high acidity level suit fish, simply cooked, to perfection. And before anyone writes in to say “that’s so obvious” I’ll agree, yes it is. But before I came to these conclusions I went down many a false trail – New World Chardonnay and Riesling to name but two. Okay, so why don’t we drink Muscadet, better still Gros Plant – wine’s equivalent of battery acid – with everything? There are two reasons: the first being that these are not terribly satisfying wines in their own right. More important is that super-sharp acidity has its own natural counterbalance – salt. Which is why Muscadet goes so well with oysters, Fino Sherry with anchovies and Vino Verde with sardines. Reduce or take away the salt factor and lean, austere, high in acid wines taste… lean, austere, high in acid.
So cool climate Chardonnay, not over-oaked, with your wild salmon – I won’t eat farmed salmon anyway so I’m not going to comment further. Although Pinot Noir from one of the less serious appelations can work if you’d prefer to drink red – the Burgundian thing again! And a good Sancerre, perhaps, with your unsullied cod, haddock, hake or black sole. Lovely. But let’s stress again the lack of dogma and say if you like to play with Pinot Grigio or Gavi, fine.
Add a sauce, the kaleidoscope gets shaken up and the picture changes. Although to me anyone who puts more than a plain hollandaise with salmon, or a beurre blanc with a few strands of fennel and the odd shrimp with a fine hunk of white fish, is nothing short of a vandal. Alsace Riesling, ultimate all-purpose food wine, and, perhaps, that fine grape Gruner Veltliner become possibilities. The Sauvignon can be New World. Or you could go for broke and drink one of the more full-bodied Champagnes.
Mackerel always presents me with a problem. Fresh caught, I love this fish. But I love it most in summer accompanied by a puree of beetroot and horseradish or wasabi; or by a sauce made from my own gooseberries, a dessert variety, not too tart. Provocative stuff when it comes to matching; and the answer is… oak! Here’s where New World Chardonnay starts to do it for me. Not the currently fashionable unoaked ones but the big old traddies. Hunter Valley Semillons work fine too. Smoked food can do weird things to wine. Nevertheless, for me, smoked Irish salmon (note the wording) and Alsace Pinot Blanc are food and drink’s equivalent of Rodgers and Hart.
I love fish (and shellfish) cooked in Asian styles – Goan curries for example, Thai ways with prawns – chili, lemongras, galangal, palm sugar coatings; or the crab or sea bass baked with ginger and scallions that the Chinese do so well. With onion-heavy curries tannins help counteract the richness suggesting, against all the odds, Cabernet Sauvignon. Any sweetness in the food, I counterbalance with big, soft rounded flavours – Semillon, Viognier or Gruner Veltliner perhaps in whites and Merlot, Grenache or Zinfandel in reds.
Scientists say the tongue’s taste receptors can detect five aspects of flavour: sweetness, sourness, salinity and bitterness, plus the umami, best described perhaps as a kind of ‘feel good factor’. Similarly, when seeking wine to go with Asian food I like to separate the food into its components. Chilli, ginger and coriander in particular, are hard to deal with. Zinfandel used to be my preference but latterly I’ve come to believe that Riesling is your only man with Thai food, particularly fish dishes.
Chinese food, goes well with Gewürztraminer, pundits tell you and the match of the aforsaid baked sea bass and a decent Alasce Gewurz (and there are few bad ones) is one made in heaven. However, not everyone appreciates this highly spiced and perfumed grape and as alternatives I would suggest maybe a Viognier, Rousanne or Marsanne.

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South African Wines


Stopped quite a few wines from going bad on our trip, and sniffed, slurped, spat many more. Here are a few random musings on a country where the quality’s getting better year by year.

Agusta Chardonnay 2001. Franschhoek.
Smart, quite classy Chard with lime and grapefruit notes and sensitive use of oak; still developing. Rated: VERY GOOD

Backsberg Estate Chardonnay 2002 Paarl
Sensitively-oaked example, with marzipan and toast flavours contrasting with lemony notes. Rated: GOOD

Bartho Eksteen Sauvignon Blanc 2003 Hermanus
Rich, dessert gooseberry on the palate, almost NZ-ish in its intensity. One of SA’s best. Would have liked to have tasted the Premier Choix but alas couldn’t find it. Rated: VERY GOOD

Beaumont Chardonnay 2001
Fat grassy Chard of some class from unfashionable Bot River. Though it carries a punch at 14% there are no heavy vulgar tropical fruit flavours. Good winemaking. Rated: VERY GOOD to EXCELLENT

Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2001
Nicely ageing example of what’s rated as one of SA’s classier “Steens”. Herby, lemony flavours with a slight hint of marzipan. Not Savennieres but very nice. Rated; GOOD, WELL MADE

Bellingham Chardonnay Spitz series 2002 Wellington
Smart stuff from this modern winery; oaked, natural ferment, keen attention to acid balance so while its opulent with marzipan and oriiental spices it’s in no way fatiguing to drink Rated: EXCELLENT

Bloemendal Estate Semillon 2002
Quite liked this, especially as a change from SB and Chard. Rich and refined, pointed up by zippy acid that I’m sure will soften over time Rated: INTERESTING

Bon Courage Chardonnay Prestige Cuvee 2002 Robertson
Worthy attempt at a Euro-styled chard with great attention paid to acid balance and a certain mineral elan.Rated: EXTREMELY LIKEABLE, SOME CLASS

Ambeloui Miranda MCC 2001/2/3 Hout Bay
MCC stands for “Method Cape Classique” the approved term for what was called “Method Champenoise” until those stern lads from France came in with their big boots. This absolute pearl, from a tiny property just outside Cape Town gets my vote for one of SA’s top three fizzers – lovely full bouquet, bubbles to burn and that lovely toasted fresh bread taste you get from sparklers where the fruit (pinot and chard) has been generously bestowed. Increasing the percentage of new oak each year means it should get even better. Yum! Rated: BRILLIANT

Avondale Les Pleurs Merlot 2000 Paarl
Class act with a good deal of subtlety, tannins relaxing nicely, well endowed with full, soft fruit but enough acid to prevent it from getting lush and OTT. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bartho Ekstein Shiraz 2001 Hermanus
Liked this a good deal – perfumed, spicy, whopping wine, amazed to find it was only 13.5 ABV – a huge mouthful, still developing. Rated: GREAT POTENTIAL

Beamont Shiraz 2001
Hefty, muscular Shiraz with smoky bacon overtones coupled with the paprika-based spiciness of authentic goulash. Interesting stuff. Rated: EXCELLENT

Beyerskloof Synergy 2001 & 2002
Amazing Pinotage/CS/Merlot blend and even a bit of Shiraz sneaks into the 02. Straightforward, honest wine of some complexity from Beyers Truter, king of Pinotage. )I felt the 02 was already much more approachable than its elder brother. Rated: INTERESTING

Beyerskloof Pinotage 2002 If you have to drink Pinotage this is the one. Not for me, though, I can get the same buzz from licking newly tarmacked roads on a hot summer’s day. Rated: OF ITS KIND, GREAT

Bloemendal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Durbanville. Hinted at qual but still very hard and green. Will it soften? Dunno but apparently Bloemendal have a reputation for slow-burners. Rated: MAYBE

Boekenhoutskloof Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2001 Franschhoek.
Like the name, a big mouthful at 14.2%, packed with dark plummy fruit and the sweaty saddle thing – my god how I hate that description. Rated: HUGE BUT LACKS CLASS

Bon Courage Syrah Inkara 2001 Robertson
Going to be great I think, but heavy going as of now. Cold steel feel, like young Cote Rotie. But did enough to hint at potential. Rated: VERY PROMISING, INTERESTING

Bon Courage Shiraz 2002
Curiously the one that’s matured only in French oak is called “Shiraz”. Lighter style, more approachable now. Smart stuff. Rated: GOOD, WELL MADE

Bon Courage Cabernet Sauvignon Inkara 2000 Limited release.
Middle of the road Cab Sauv of no particular distinction. Rated: FAIRLY ORDINARY

Bonnievale Shiraz 2002 Bonnievale, Robertson
Easy drinker of no particular distinction. Muted nose. Rated: AVERAGE

Avontuur Above Royalty Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2001 Stellenbosch/Helderburg
The excellence of the stickies came as a major surprise on this trip and this was one of the best. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bon Courage Noble Late Harvest 2002. Lightweight (10%) classy Riesling sticky already showing luscious dried fruits, apricots and figs, great balance. Rated: EXCELLENT

Bon Courage White Muscadel 2002 Really interesting and weighty sticky with floral aromatics. Liked this a lot. Really good winemaking with added pizzazz from fruit acids. Rated: EXCELLENT, ORIGINAL


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