Barcelona Wine Tasting: International Blind Tasting II

Wine Cuentista Barcelona

Every month or two we try to organise a blind tasting in Barcelona, typically focusing on wines from around the world. Last night was our first after the Christmas break and we tasted our way around 6 different, typical wines; 3 whites and 3 reds. It’s not a completely 100% blind experience so for each wine there was a choice of 3, each with tasting notes, with only one being correct. As always, it was a lot of fun and a great way to not only try different wines, but learn a bit about how they’re structured, how they taste and what really defines them in comparison with other wines from around the world. Below is the descriptions that were handed out, as well as the revealing of which wine was which!

Wine 1 is a:

Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain: The quintessential Spanish white wine, particularly where Paella is involved! Albariño tends to be pale to medium lemon in colour and very aromatic, with notes of ripe citrus fruits, peach, white flowers and often sweet herbs or even a touch of honey. Acidity is high, especially in the leaner expressions to the north, and whilst time spent on lees can add a touch of weight and a savoury character, there’s rarely any oak used.

Chardonnay from Burgundy (Bourgogne Blanc), France: Generic Burgundy can be sourced from anywhere within the region, with the majority of Bourgogne Blanc hailing from the warmer Maconnaise and Cote Chalonnaise. Expensive, new oak is unlikely but older barrels are common, as is malolactic conversion. As a result, expect a wine without overly distinctive flavours, likely hovering around ripe stone fruits, citrus, toast and perhaps a touch of vanilla. Usually soft and slightly buttery on the palate, with a medium length finish.

Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, South Africa: Whilst like Loire Chenin this can come in all shapes and sizes, most South African Chenin Blanc tends to be slightly more rounded in style and are mostly dry or off-dry. Colours can vary but due to the warmer climate, aromas and flavours tend towards ripe stone fruits, tropical fruits, honey and a nuttiness with age. Premium examples are also often oak aged, darkening the colour and adding notes of vanilla and sweet spices to the wine.

Conclusion: A nice set of choices to start off with. The wine was the Louis Jadot Bourgogne Blanc, as correctly identified by 4/10, with the other 6 opting for Chenin Blanc from South Africa. It couldn’t be typical Albarino as it’s simply too creamy, aromatically neutral and frankly, obviously oaked. That leaves South African Chenin Blanc vs Chardonnay. Whilst White Burgundy tends towards freshness, it doesn’t have the natural acidity of Chenin Blanc, nor the riper flavours that would come from growing in a warm, Mediterranean climate. A great example of generic White Burgundy; soft, creamy and very ‘correct’. 

Wine 2 is a:

Pinot Gris from Alsace, France: Pinot Gris is one of Alsace’s ‘noble’ grape varieties, produced in a variety of styles. Due to the long, dry growing season this is where full ripeness is most commonly achieved for this grape, resulting in pronounced aromas of ripe stone fruits, tropical fruits, honey and smoke. The wines often have a distinctly oily texture, high levels of alcohol and can occasionlly suffer from low levels of acidity, particularly in warmer years. Can range from dry to sweet, but rarely has any obvious oak character.

Gruner Veltliner from Kamptal, Austria: Gruner Veltliner is the most important grape variety in Austria, and is something of a chameleon. From light, peppery and full of fresh fruits to aromatic and distinctly tropical, there’s not much that ‘Gruner’ can’t do. Even in the riper, fuller bodied styles Gruner Veltliner retains high levels of acidity and there’s often a peppery sensation on the palate. Wines from Kamptal tend to be on the fuller bodied side, with occasional botrytis (honey and bitter orange characters).

Chenin Blanc from Savennieres, France: Savennieries is a small appellation in the Loire Valley, producing high quality, dry Chenin Blanc. Often full bodied and reasonably high in alcohol yet with high levels of acidity to keep it in balance. Concentrated flavours, typically of ripe apples, pears, warm straw and beeswax, sometimes with a chalky, mineral finish. Botrytis and new oak flavours are rare.

Conclusion: I thought this one may trip a few people up, but I’m delighted to report that 6/10 correctly guessed this as a Gruner Veltliner! No-one guessed Savennieres, which I thought may lead at least a few down the wrong path, but Pinot Gris accounted for the other 4 votes. Even from riper examples of Gruner Veltliner, there will always be a much higher level of natural acidity than Pinot Gris from Alsace, lower levels of alcohol and rarely residual sugar. This is a terrific single vineyard wine from the famous Schloss Gobelsburg in Kamptal, tying for the favourite wine of the evening!

Wine 3 is a Sauvignon Blanc. Where’s it from?

Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca Valley, Chile: Casablanca Valley is a cool-climate region towards the coast of Chile’s Central Valley, cooled by the fogs drawn in from the Pacific Ocean. Due to the resulting extended ripening period, Sauvignon Blanc from this region tends to be quite full bodied, with medium-to-high levels of alcohol kept in check by good natural acidity. Flavours tend to consist of ripe citrus fruits, apples, some stone fruits and a smoky, herbal flavour.

Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand: The quintessential New World Sauvignon Blanc. Higher in alcohol that most examples from the Loire Valley, with bright, clean aromas and flavours of passion fruit, gooseberries, fresh grass and nettles. Acidity is nearly always high, although this can be diminished by small amounts of residual sugar; not noticeably sweet but creates a softer, smoother texture.

Sauvignon Blanc (Fume Blanc) from Napa Valley, USA: Fume Blanc is a term used in the US wine industry to describe an oaked Sauvignon Blanc; hugely popular on local markets there. Due to the much warmer climate in Napa, these wines will have clear tropical fruit aromas such as pineapple and mango, yet will still have the characteristic gooseberry and nettle character of Sauvignon Blanc. Expect some sweet vanilla and baking spice character from the oak contact.

Conclusion: Another tricky choice. Sauvignon Blanc can vary so much throughout the world and there’s always a consistency in flavours, so it’s all honing in on the details. A Fume Blanc from the USA is likely to have clear and obvious oak, of which there was none on this wine. So why can’t it be a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc? Alcohol levels were higher than typical (14%) and there wasn’t the same intense, pungent aromas you’d expect from this sun-bathed region, with more textural weight from the long, slow ripening season of Casablanca Valley. 4/10 came to the correct conclusion, whilst 4/10 went to New Zealand and 2/10 thought it was a Fume Blanc.

Wine 4 is a:

Gamay from Cru Beaujolais, France: Another pale coloured wine, Gamay wines tend to be restrained on the nose with aromas of fresh red fruits, violets and sometimes very light hints of oak. Alcohol tends to be no higher than 13.5% and tannins are noticeably low, although the fresh acidity makes for a refreshing beverage.

Tempranillo (Joven) from Rioja, Spain: Tempranillo is often thought of as being synonymous with oak of some sort, yet there is an abundance of young, juicy wines being made across northern Spain. Easily confused with Beaujolais as there is often carbonic maceration (fruity, bubblegum flavours result), and a similar pale colour. Fresh red fruits, refreshing acidity and soft tannins make for an eminently quaffable wine.

Dolcetto from Piedmont, Italy: Quite literally ‘little sweet one’ due to the its low acidity and bright fruit flavours, Dolcetto is usually a simple, very quaffable style of wine grown in several appellations in northern Italy. Despite the medium levels of alcohol and acidity, tannins can occasionally be quite prominent and compete with the fruit. These wines are usually best drank young and tend to be simple and refreshing.

Conclusion: By far and away the hardest flight of the evening, with very little to choose between the different styles. This was the only wine where no-one came to the right conclusion, opting instead for Tempranillo or Gamay in equal proportions. Flavour profiles are very similar between these wines, with simple red fruits, touches of anis and something sappy and herbal. The clue then is in the structure, in this case the tannins. Dolcetto typically has a medium level of firm, noticeable tannins whereas both Tempranillo Joven and Cru Beaujolais tends towards lower levels of softer, smoother tannins. A difficult one, indeed!

Wine 5 is a:

Grenache from Barossa Valley, Australia: Barossa Valley is the traditional heartland of quality Australian wine production, with some of the oldest vines in the world located here. Grenache thrives in these hot dry conditions, creating full bodied, high alcohol wines with flavours of strawberry jam, white pepper and dried herbs. The alcohol can be noticeably high at times, and the tannins will be soft and smooth. Oak is common although not usually overwhelming, with vanilla and baking spices the give-away.

Amarone della Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy: Amarone is the result of drying high quality Corvina, Rondinella and other grapes prior to fermentation, increasing the natural sugars, acids and flavours in the grapes. The result is a deep ruby, and a very full bodied, concentrated and powerful wine. Alcohol levels will be high, as will the acidity, and there is likely to be noticeable aromas of dried fruits, leather, tobacco and it usually finishes with a bitter twist (hence, Amarone). More modern styles may have noticeable oak characteristics.

Zinfandel from California, USA: Up until quite recently, Zinfandel was considered to the the US’s own grape variety, until we discovered it was identical to grapes in both Puglia and Croatia. Still, it undoubtedly thrives in the warmer, drier climates of California, creating full bodied, highly charged wines. There is often a sense of jamminess to the fruit, which ranges from cranberry to strawberry, noticeable American oak influences contributing caramel, vanilla and sweet spices, and sometimes even a black tea character. Very distinctive.

I inexplicably forgot to take a photo myself, so stealing this from Cellar Tracker!

Conclusion: Then on the other end of the spectrum entirely, Californian Zinfandel! Another tough one, as all wines given are high in alcohol, full bodied and often tends towards over-ripeness. The Amarone is the first choice to eliminate as there isn’t enough of the soft, dried fruit character and the oak tends more towards American, with sweet caramel and vanilla. So, what’s the difference between Barossa Grenache and Zinfandel? The cranberry/boysenberry fruit profile and the almost raisin-like character that these wines take on, along with clearer influences of American oak. This led the majority astray with only 2 persons correctly identifying the wine as Zinfandel. 

Wine 6 is a:

Merlot from Pomerol, France: Merlot really expresses itself most classically as a single variety in the clay soils of Pomerol, on the right bank of Bordeaux. Often there is a mixture of ripeness levels, meaning both ripe red and black fruits, vanilla and spices from new French oak, ripe, grainy tannins and moderate levels of acidity. Alcohol’s can be high in warmer vintages, although tend to be more moderate than New World Merlot.

Barbera from Piedmont, Italy: Barbera can range from a light, delicate wine to something quite powerful and dark. At its best, these wines are deeply coloured and intensely fruity, with notes of black cherries, earth, cocoa and soft spices prominent. Acidities are generally very high, yet tannins are quite low, so additional time spent in barrel is increasingly common.

Tempranillo from Toro, Spain: Tempranillo is at it’s most powerful and rustic in the hot, dry plains of DO Toro. Over the years, the skins of these grapes have become thicker, more tannic and darker; qualities that inevitably pass over into the resulting wines. Ripe, dark fruits, black pepper, vanilla and often notes of dried tobacco are much like their cousins in Ribera del Duero. However, the grippy tannins, powerful alcohol and signature spicy note are key here; far more rustic than their polished neighbours!

Conclusion: We’ll finish with something a little closer to home, correctly identified by 8/10 for the most successfully identified wine of the evening. Darkly coloured, powerful, alcoholic, chunky tannins… it’s definitely Toro! The level of tannin is a clear indicator that it can’t be a Barbera from Italy, with its typically low level of tannins, and it doesn’t have the softness of fruit or structure to reasonably be a Merlot based wine; even the more structured Pomerol wines would have a gentler, more finely grained tannic base. 

A fun ,albeit difficult, evening of blind tasting! There will be another on the 8th February, with details released on the 1st on our Maestrazgo Wine Club page, so do be sure to check it out. It’s a great way to learn a little bit about your own palate, the process of tasting and have a great evening with a lovely group of people! See you at the next one.

Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part IV

Every week I head over to Monvinic, Barcelona’s largest international wine bar, to practice blind tasting. Typically this involves a flight of 6 wines, split equally between white and reds from all across the world. I’ve long been a believer that blind tasting is an incredibly useful study tool, and I’ve decided to track my sessions here in all their misery (mostly) and glory (very rarely!). As a result you may seem some confusing measurement terms as I am currently using the WSET Lexicon as a frame-work for my tasting notes partially trimmed down here for the purposes of brevity.

Monvic is open once again after the summer break, hurrah! With a little over 4 months until the Unit 3 exam, it seems like a good idea to get back practicing again. To ease myself in a little more easily, and also due to meeting a friend for lunch on the same day, I thought I’d do a quick 15 minute, 2 wine tasting. 1 white, 1 red, both mono-varietal. Whilst blind tasting isn’t an easy discipline, this should be about as easy as it gets!

White Wine

The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe citrus fruit, green apple, green pear, fresh stone fruits and a chalky, stony quality. A touch of white flowers and no discernible oak.

On the palate the wine is dry with high, bracing acidity, medium alcohol, a medium body and a medium+ intensity and finish. This tastes like either an incredibly young wine or a grape variety that naturally has a lot of natural acidity, although there is a nice texture to the wine; it certainly has some weight. Relatively neutral in terms of profile with a nice, fresh character and a gorgeous, saline finish, but as with the nose I couldn’t discern any obvious wine-making. Really delicious stuff but feels tight, like it’s being drank very young.

Guess: Godello from Valdeorras, Spain, from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Chardonnay from Chablis, France, from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Daniel Dampt and Fils Cote de Lechet 1er 2014

From a long lineage of vintners, Vincent Dampt continues the family tradition of excellence at Domaine Daniel Dampt et Fils, which was established by his father. The estate currently consists of 30 hectares, including 16 hectares of Chablis and 14 hectares of Chablis 1er Cru. The recently constructed cellar is equipped with stainless steel tanks which is intrinsic to the fresh, mineral style of Chablis produced here. The purchase of modern, powerful cellar equipment has enabled the group to increase its production of bottles, which now stands at 150,000 bottles per year.

Conclusions/Learning points: Gah. This is very much a case of thinking about something too much and coming to an overly obscure conclusion. Reading my tasting note back, it’s screaming Chablis. Prominent acidity, fresh citrus and green fruit flavours, no obvious oak but a decent weight with some texture… of course, Godello. Still, the profile matches for both, it’s just a case of playing the game a little bit and going with the more likely choice. On the positive side, this was a really delicious wine from a producer I hadn’t tried before. Really looking forward to finding more of his wines!

Red Wine

The wine has a pale cherry-red, ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe red berries, currants and a hint of strawberry. Nicely perfumed, there’s some violet, floral notes here as well as some earthiness and just a touch of stalkiness – whole bunch fermentation? Hints of toast, pepper and a subtle char might be coming from old oak and there’s also a high toned, volatile aroma that lifts everything quite nicely. Very old world and slightly minimal intervention in style.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium ripe, firm tannins, medium+ alcohol, a medium+ body, a medium intensity and a medium finish. Whilst slightly generous on the nose, this is a leaner wine on the palate with some grip and bite to the tannins. Much leaner in terms of flavour profile as well, with that fresh berry fruit and herbal character coming to the fore. Still fresh and well balanced, but not at the same level as the Chablis before it.

Guess: Gamay from Beaujolais (Morgon cru), France, from the 2013 vintage

Reality: Gamay from Beaujolais (Morgon cru), France, from the 2013 vintage

Wine: Foillard Morgon Eponyme 2013

Jean Foillard is a disciple of Jules Chauvet, a noted enologist who believed in fashioning Beaujolais in an altogether different way from the modern standard of semi-carbonic maceration. Foillard’s 8ha (cultivated organically though not certified) include one of the best sites in the whole Beaujolais region, Morgon’s Côte du Py. Important to the style are low yields and very ripe grapes, which are subject to a long cool vinification, practically zero use of sulphur and minimal or no filtration.

Conclusions/Learning Points: Thrilled to nail this wine, particularly as I followed a very logical process to get there. Possible grape varieties included Gamay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, almost definitely old world, suggested by the firmness of the tannins and the lean/mineral flavours. Lack of a strong black pepper and/or smoked meat character made Syrah from Croze-Hermitage unlikely and the tannic structure and slight peppery note made it unlikely to be Pinot Noir, so Gamay it is. Morgon was a bit of a shot in the dark, I’ll admit but most of the more minimal interventionist styles I’ve tried have been from producers with land there, including of course, Foillard! Very happy to get one of these completely right, even if I messed up the Chablis. Onto a full tasting next week!

Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part III

Every week I head over to Monvinic, Barcelona’s largest international wine bar, to practice blind tasting. Typically this involves a flight of 6 wines, split equally between white and reds from all across the world. I’ve long been a believer that blind tasting is an incredibly useful study tool, and I’ve decided to track my sessions here in all their misery (mostly) and glory (very rarely!). As a result you may seem some confusing measurement terms as I am currently using the WSET Lexicon as a frame-work for my tasting notes partially trimmed down here for the purposes of brevity.

I ended up skipping a week and opting for a lunch last week due to a severe case of needing a small break from studying in general. However, this week I was full of energy again and ready for round 3!

White Wines

Wine #1: The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a pronounced aromas of ripe green apples, green pears, lemon, grapefruit, peach and a touch of apricot. There are some gentle, floral aromatics along with some sweet herbs; tarragon and thyme.

On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity (a little creamy), medium alcohol, medium body, a medium + intensity and a medium + finish. A fresh, aromatic style of wine with some weight on the palate despite the clearly young, vibrant style. Very refreshing and altogether a very well made wine.

Guess: Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain from the 2015 vintage

Reality: Alvarinho (same grape) from Vinho Verde in Portugal from the 2015 vintage

Wine: Quinta do Soalheiro Primeras Vinhas 2015

Located in Melgaço, Vinho Verde’s warmest, driest sub-region, production at Soalheiro is focused on Alvarinho, known as Albarino in neighbouring Galicia, Spain. It is Vinho Verde’s star variety and Soalheiro are one of its finest exponents. Antonio Cerdeira illegally planted 4 ha of Alvarinho in 1974 and, following changes in the law, released his first Alvarinho in 1982. Today his daughter, Maria tends the estate’s 10 ha of organically certified vines, while her brother Luis makes the wines.

Conclusions/Learning points: Bam, nailed it. After having confused Albarino with Sauvignon Blanc only two weeks ago, this was a much needed victory with regards to this grape variety. Even better than that, I took a little time sorting through the evidence and coming to some logical conclusions; high acidity but with some creaminess, medium alcohol and quite a bit of florality, sweet herbs – all pointed me in the right direction. Very good start and a delicious wine; I wish I could buy more of it!

Wine #2: This wine has a medium gold colour. The intensity on the nose is pronounced and clearly oxidative in style. Ripe apricots, peach, nectarine, lemon curd and oxidised golden apple are present, along with the toasted almond, rich nuttiness of carefully oxidised wines. Plenty of oak as well with lots of toast, smoke and vanilla.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, a medium + body, a pronounced intensity and a medium+ finish, ‘Lemon curd on toast’ was my summary of the wine, although more specifically it was a gorgeous assemblage of really ripe, oxidised fruit, old oak and nuts. With the moderate alcohol levels and still elevated levels of acidity, I could only think of one wine this could reasonably be…

Guess: Viura blend from Rioja in Spain from the 2003 vintage

Reality: Viura blend from Rioja in Spain from the 2003 vintage

Wine: Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva 2003

Lopez de Heredia are one of the truly classic bodegas of Rioja, having been founded way back in 1877. They now own over 170 hectares of land around the region, with Vina Tondonia making the majority of this with a little over 100 hectares of land. In a region that often changes to suit fashions, Lopez de Heredia have stayed stalwartly traditional, with long, slow elevage in American oak and delayed releases; their most recent Gran Reserva white wine is 1996, to give an example!

Conclusions/Learning points: I can’t remember the last time I got off to such a good start in a blind tasting, although it is worth pointing out that this is a very specific wine, and I knew it from memory as much as anything else. I did briefly consider the idea of white Cotes-du-Rhone/Montsant/Priorat/Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but the alcohol levels weren’t right and the wine seemed too evolved. Still, very happy to be doing so well right off the bat.

Wine #3: The wine has a medium lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of aromas, with some clear and obvious reduction (screw-cap? New World?). The aromas are pleasant, with ripe lemon, lemon zest, green apple, apricot, nectarine and a touch of green pineapple. There is some oak usage here as toast and vanilla are both detected, as well some some yeasty, pastry dough aromas suggested battonage, or at least extended lees ageing.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol, medium+ body, a medium+ intensity and a medium finish. Nothing in particular stands out, hence all the ‘mediums’, but this is a nicely balanced wine with good fruit, nicely integrated oak and a the only downside being a slight reduction.

Guess: Chardonnay from Gisbourne in New Zealand from the 2010 vintage

Reality: Chardonnay from Tasmania in Australia from the 2010 vintage

Wine: Stefano Lubiana Estate Chardonnay 2010

Steve Lubiana is a fifth generation wine-maker from Italy who arrived to Tasmania, Australia, back in 1990. Along with his wife, Monique, they now produce a portfolio of pure, crisp wines from cool climate, biodynamic vineyards in the Derwent Valley. The wine-making focuses on the nature of the grape and the fruit first and foremost, and this Chardonnay is joined by an excellent Riesling and a Pinot Noir that I have yet to try. Sparkling wine is also produced broadly in Tasmania and the Lubiana Estate makes this as well.

Conclusions/Learning points: So, grape and vintage completely correct and I also correctly identified that we’re in the New World, so that’s very positive. I called New Zealand as I thought the alcohol was slightly higher than it actually was, and that the fruit profile was perhaps a little more tropical. According to my note, my guess was in the right place so I suppose I must have mistaken some bottle development for fruit ripeness, which took me in the wrong direction. A shame, but encouraging nonetheless!

Red Wines

Wine #4: The wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe cherries, strawberries and red currants. There’s also a lot of savoury, earthy characteristics here suggesting bottle age and development, with some barnyard, undergrowth and gravelly/earthy aromas. There’re some hints of old oak as well, with a lightly toasted, smoky aroma.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium ripe, firm tannins, medium+ alcohol, a medium body, a medium+ intensity and a medium finish. A nicely balanced wine with some fruit still singing nicely, with a good level of development; my favourite time to catch wines in their life cycles. Not a heavy wine in terms of tannins, or alcohol and clearly made in a cooler environment, although with no hint of under-ripeness.

Guess: Pinot Noir from Burgundy in France (Village level – Volnay?) from the 2010 vintage

Reality: Pinot Noir from the Ahr in Germany from the 2010 vintage

Wine: Meyer-Nakel Blauschiefer 2010

Meyer-Nakel enjoys the reputation of being one of the finest producers of Pinot Noir in Germany. Based in the Ahr Valley, a diminutive region of barely 550 hectares in the north of the country, they produce a selection of red wines including this lovely balanced wine, produced from vineyards grown on blue slate. The best wines in the portfolio are the single vineyard expressions with longer oak regimes and a lengthy drinking window, as with all top Pinot Noir based wines.

Conclusions/Learning Points: Same issue as my last tasting; what is the difference between Pinot Noir produced in Germany and Pinot Noir produced in Burgundy?! Clearly I need to attend some sort of master class where this is compared. Again, very encouraging that both the varietal and the vintage were correct. Fortunately, Monvinic have a wonderful selection of older, German Pinot Noir as well as some affordable, younger bottlings so I will have the chance to try a good few more yet.

Wine #5: This wine has a clear, deep ruby colour. On the nose there is a pronounced intensity of ripe and jammy black fruits; blackcurrant, cassis and cherry. There’s a strong herbal sensation, with lots of mint, eucalyptus and even a touch of green bell pepper. New oak seems present with pronounced vanilla, nutmeg and clove influences, along with some toasted, smoky notes.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, full ripe, soft tannins, high alcohol, a full body, pronounced intensity but unfortunately only a medium finish. A rich, ripe and powerful style of wine that screams ‘Australia’. Very modern in style but also fresh and really quite delicious, although a single glass would be sufficient!

Guess: Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra in Australia from the 2010 vintage

Reality: Shiraz from Coonawarra in Australia from the 2010 vintage

Wine: Katnook Estate Shiraz 2010

As part of the Wingara Wine group, this winery was purchased by Freixenet in 2001. It continues to be directed, however, by Wayne Stehbens, who has made the wine in a 19th-century stone woolshed (used in the region’s early vintages) for the past 20-odd years. Much of the grape production has been sold to others but Katnook’s reds have been characterised by their intense, concentrated, ripe (often very ripe), sweet fruit and tight structures when young. The stars of the production are Cabernet Sauvignon based, but the Shiraz and Shiraz Prodigy wines are also very popular.

Conclusions/Learning points: Damn, that was close to a very good call! With the rich dark fruits, herbal notes and what I thought were clear Cabernet Sauvignon descriptors, I was disappointed not to get this one, despite getting the region, country and vintage correct. What’s the difference between incredibly ripe Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz? I need to look this up as I was expecting a little more black pepper and spice from Shiraz. A friend told me that she always gets a spectrum of blue fruit in over-ripe Shiraz/Syrah; I will have a closer look the next time and see if that helps at all. Still, a solid call and would have scored me a lot of points in an exam.

Wine #6: This wine has a pale ruby colour. There is a medium intensity of fresh red fruit; redcurrant, cranberry and raspberry. The wine isn’t overly aromatic or complex and there’s a hint of earth, toast and smoke but little else.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity and medium+ firm, sticky tannins. The alcohol level is medium and the body is medium. As with the nose, the flavours are quite simple, fresh and pleasant but lacking excitement. There’s a little grip to the tannins but really nothing much to point me in the right direction. It could be Gamay, tannic Pinot Noir, Mencia, cool-climate Garnacha….

Guess: Mencia from Ribeira Sacra in Spain from the 2015 vintage

Reality: Sumoll/Tempranillo blend from Catalunya in Spain from the 2015 vintage

Wine: Gran Autocton Negre 2015

Autocton Gran Celler is a brand new project from Albert Jané of Acustic Celler in Montsant and Priorat. The grapes are grown from both the Penedes and Tarragona but vinified in the old, family winery in Mas Vilella in the Penedes. The focus is very much on indigenous varieties, hence the name of Autocton, and the appellation is DO Catalunya. The wines have only been very recently released into the market from the 2015 vintage.

Conclusions/Learning points: Hrm. There’s a part of me that was a little irritated to be presented with a Sumoll/Tempranillo blend, but in a way it was nice to have a curveball at the end of a very successful tasting in total. I can’t think of a single characteristic that defines Sumoll comparatively to other varieties, so I’ll have to have a think about this one. Not a bad wine in all but at the asking price in Spain, there are quite a few others I would head towards first.

One of my best ever tastings; to nail 3 wines and get so many details correct about the others is a huge improvement for me. This time around I took a little extra time to clear my mind and really dig into the wine, which made a big difference, as I sometimes have a tendency to rush. I learnt a lot and also discovered a few more weaknesses to work on in my tasting, but I went home with a big smile on my face and I’m already looking forward to next week to see if I can repeat it with any level of consistency!

Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part II

Every week I head over to Monvinic, Barcelona’s largest international wine bar, to practice blind tasting. Typically this involves a flight of 6 wines, split equally between white and reds from all across the world. I’ve long been a believer that blind tasting is an incredibly useful study tool, and I’ve decided to track my sessions here in all their misery (mostly) and glory (very rarely!). As a result you may seem some confusing measurement terms as I am currently using the WSET Lexicon as a frame-work for my tasting notes partially trimmed down here for the purposes of brevity.

Back to Monvinic for round 2!

White Wines

Wine #1: The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a pronounced aromas of ripe peach, green apples, green pears, white flowers and a touch of honey. There’s a hint of brioche indicating potential lees usage and lots of ripe citrus fruit.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium alcohol and a medium body. There is a medium+ intensity of candied lemon, lime, green apple, green pear and apricot. There’s the same florality as the nose as the finish is medium+ and wonderfully dry. A really delicious wine with a nice mixture of different flavour components, some textural quality to the palate and lots of refreshing acidity. Great stuff!

Guess: Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain from the 2015 vintage

Reality: Sauvignon Blanc from Martinborough in New Zealand from the 2015 vintage

Wine: Alana Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Alana Estate is a small project located in Martinborough, on the south end of the northern island in New Zealand. Founded in 1993, Alana has since been acquired by Mike Cornish and operates under the ‘Waipara Vintners’ company. Since 2011, the estate has focused heavily on sustainable viticulture and employed Alex Craighead, a minimal intervention friendly wine-maker to take Alana in a new direction. They currently produce a variety of wines, all from plots of older vines, with a focus on Pinot Noir.

Conclusions/Learning points: Swing and a miss. Martinborough is mostly known for its powerful, spicy expressions of Pinot Noir but Sauvignon Blanc is a close 2nd in terms of plantings. This is my first taste of a Sauvignon Blanc from this part of the country but due to the wine-making philosophy of their new wine-maker, I can’t be sure if this would be a ‘typical’ style of Sauvignon Blanc from the region. One of my biggest issues in blind tasting is trying to stop myself from making my mind up when presented with obvious evidence, so it’s also possible I smelt floral aromas and ripe stone fruit and my mind went straight to Albariño. I did try the wine immediately thereafter and it wasn’t what I would associate with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but then the vast majority that I’ve tried comes from Marlborough, which has a very distinctive style. I suppose I’ll have to track down a few more and see!

Wine #2: This wine has a medium lemon colour. There is a medium+ intensity of ripe golden apples, peach, bruised green apple and pear. There’s some oak here with light toast and smoke notes, as well as a slight oxidative aroma of roasted almonds and some hay.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium acidity, medium alcohol and a medium+ body. There is a medium intensity of green apple, green pear and some riper, golden apple. Definitely some oak here with more smoke, a slight bitterness and even a touch of tannic grip. The finish is medium+ and a little savoury.

Guess: Viura from Rioja in Spain from the 2012 vintage

Reality: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in France from the 2012 vintage

Wine: Vacheron Sancerre 2012

Domaine Vacheron are one of the most recognisable names within the Loire Valley of France, with over 47 hectares under vine, the majority of which are Sauvignon Blanc. The estate is now certified as a biodynamic producer and produces many single vineyard expressions of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a new focus on improving the quality of their Pinot Noir.

Conclusions/Learning points: Well, that answers my earlier questions about the New Zealand wine; I apparently suck at blind tasting Sauvignon Blanc. That makes the learning point very easy at least; drink a lot more of it! This isn’t the first time I’ve completely missed a Sancerre and the reality is that I need to spend a bit more time learning what these wines are all about. I also clearly mis-read the acidity.

Wine #3: The wine has a medium lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe melon, golden apples, peach and pear. There is clear oak usage here in a slightly clumsy fashion; a little too much smoke and cloves for the fruit characteristics of the wine to really come through. Oxidative notes of hay, mushrooms and almonds. A little unbalanced and not very fresh.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium acidity, medium+ alcohol and a medium+ body. There is a medium intensity of ripe lemon, golden apple and again, too much oak influence. Smoky, a little rubbery and lacks freshness.

Guess: Xarel.lo from Penedes in Spain from the 2012 vintage

Reality: Xarel.lo from Penedes in Spain from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Gramona Ovum 2014

Gramona are a well established producer of high quality Cava and still wines, having been founded in 1921 in the Penedes region of Spain. They focus mainly on indigenous varieties for their Cavas to great effect, with III Lustros and Cal Battle in particular being exceptional wines. They also produce a line of still wines, often focusing outside on international varieties grown at slightly high altitudes, including Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Conclusions/Learning points: I always inwardly wince when I correctly identify a Spanish wine based on some of the obvious faults and flaws associated with some of our wine-making here. Despite the excellent quality of Xarel.lo wines around Catalunya, the overly oaky, oxidative aromas are still present and unfortunately are linked to Xarel.lo more often than not, due to its tendency to oxidise easily. Gramona are a very good producer but this wasn’t a good wine, and I thought it was older than it actually was due to the lack of life and freshness. Still, considering how wrong I got the first two whites I suppose I should be happy to get it right!

Red Wines

Wine #4: The wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a pronounced intensity of ripe cherries, blackberries, plums and damsons. There’s some oak usage here, but subtly done, with light hints of vanilla and smoke and just a touch of undergrowth/stalkiness. Really quite bright and aromatic, with subtle oak and herbal notes; lovely!

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+ ripe and firm tannins, medium+ alcohol and a medium body. There is a medium+ intensity of ripe red and black fruits, oak and the same herbal influences as detected on the palate. The finish is medium+ and full of the same juicy fruit and a lovely, dry mineral sensation. A well balanced, delicious wine.

Guess: Garnacha from Sierra Grados in Spain from the 2013 vintage

Reality: Mencia from Bierzo in Spain from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Raul Perez El Rapolao Lomas de Valtuille 2013

Raul Perez is one of Spains most famous wine-makers consulting on projects all around Galicia in the north-west of the country. However, his own winery and family home is located in the village of Valtuille de Abajo in Bierzo, where many of his finest wines are made. Raul Perez is a big part of the movement towards expressing the terroir of Spain from single vineyards and smaller zones, and I expect his success to continue along with the excellent quality of his wines.

Conclusions/Learning Points: I love this wine! Funnily enough, I had written a tasting note for it around 5 months ago and a comparison of my blind note is almost identical to my non-blind note, which is very reassuring from a tasting point of view. So, the error comes then from how I deducted from the note, but where did it come from? Probably the fruit profile; Garnacha is typically more red fruit oriented than black, and the ripe tannins rather than the austere, dry nature of wines from Sierra Grados. Not too disappointed, though, as I was very much in the ball-park and the tasting note was accurate.

Wine #5: This wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a pronounced intensity of ripe and slightly dried red fruit; strawberry and cherry stand out here. There’s some developing barnyard aromas, leather and undergrowth/forest floor. Just a hint of light oak usage with a touch of smoke, but nothing obvious.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium ripe tannins, medium alcohol and a medium body. There’s a medium+ intensity of the same flavours as described on the nose, with a medium finish. The balance of flavours and structure is excellent here and again, exactly the sort of wine I love to drink. Lightly evolved but with lots of primary fruit left.

Guess: Pinot Noir from Burgundy (Village level) in France from the 2011 vintage

Reality: Pinot Noir from Baden in Germany from the 2011 vintage

Wine: Ziereisen Baden Schulen Blauer Spatburgunder 2011

Weingut Ziereisen are a small project from Baden in Germany, focusing almost exclusively on their expressions of Pinot Noir, although there is a small quantity of Pinot Gris and Syrah also grown. They tend 11 hectares of vineyards and produce 4 different expressions of Pinot Noir, divided between vine age and vineyard site.

Conclusions/Learning points: I’ll happily take this, having gotten both the grape variety and vintage correct. Trying to determine the difference between the same grape grown from a similar climate is notoriously difficult unless there clear wine-making differences between the regions, which in this case there isn’t. I messaged Neel Burton, the author of The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, to get his take on it. The response was “Honestly, it’s very difficult!”. So, happy to get the grape and the vintage right again, and I’ll try to pin-point minute differences at future non-blind comparative tastings.

Wine #6: This wine has a medium ruby colour. On the nose there is a pronounced intensity of ripe black fruit; plums, cherries and blackberry. There is a strong note of cracked, black pepper, smoked meat and dried herbs. There’s something dark and bloody about this wine; a tell-tale sign of Brett, I believe.

On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity and medium+ firm, sticky tannins. The alcohol level is medium+ and the body is close to being full. The flavours match the palate wonderfully with lots of ripe black fruit, pepper and smoked meat leading into a long, savoury finish. All three red wines I’ve been served today are of an excellent quality and I really enjoyed tasting them!

Guess: Syrah from Croze-Hermitage in France from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Syrah from Croze-Hermitage in France from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2014

Alain Graillot is a locally born wine-maker, who has become a benchmark of style of quality in Croze-Hermitage over the last 30 years. Low yields, old oak and sustainable viticulture are the hall-marks of Graillots style and now joined by his son, Maxime, the future looks bright for the domain. Whilst other producers are now ramping up their efforts in Croze-Hermitage, both the red and the white wines from this estate remain in demand.

Conclusions/Learning points: The only thing better than nailing a wine is nailing a wine at the end of a tasting! This just screamed cool-climate Syrah from the get-go, so the question was simply placing the region and the vintage. It didn’t have the meat of Hermitage, nor the juiciness of St Joseph and so Croze-Hermitage was realistically the only place it was likely to be produced in.

Really happy with this tasting. One learning point remains the same and that is the constant battle to not try and ‘guess ahead’ of the tasting note itself, but to try and remain neutral until all the evidence has been gathered… easier said than done. That and I need to drink more Sauvignon Blanc. A LOT more Sauvignon Blanc!

Blind Wine Tasting: Practical studying part I

Every week I head over to Monvinic, Barcelona’s largest international wine bar, to practice blind tasting. Typically this involves a flight of 6 wines, split equally between white and reds from all across the world. I’ve long been a believer that blind tasting is an incredibly useful study tool, and I’ve decided to track my sessions here in all their misery (mostly) and glory (very rarely!). As a result you may seem some confusing measurement terms as I am currently using the WSET Lexicon as a frame-work for my tasting notes partially trimmed down here for the purposes of brevity.

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As this was my first blind tasting session in well over 2 months owing to my studies for exams on spirits and sparkling wines, I enjoyed it even more than usual. For a first blind tasting after a long time without practice, I was reasonably happy with the outcome although as always, the real learning is in the post-tasting analysis. With that being said, here were the wines and the results!

Wine #1

 The first wine has a medium lemon colour. There are pronounced aromas of ripe golden apples, peach, apricot, and a touch of white flowers. There is a note of wet stones, lime, lemon and a lovely honeyed note. Just the slightest hint of tell-tale kerosene.

On the palate the wine is off-dry with high acidity, medium alcohol and a medium body. There are pronounced aromas of candied lime, lemon, ripe green apples, pear, peach and honey. The finish is long with the same wet stone/mineral quality discovered on the nose. An excellent wine with a long life ahead of it; refreshing acidity, a lovely balance of both primary and tertiary flavours and a good intensity. It felt very typical of a high quality Riesling.

Guess: Riesling from Alsace in France from the 2009 vintage.

Reality: Riesling from Nahe in Germany from the 2011 vintage

Wine: Emrich-Schonleber Weingut Lenz Riesling 2011

Emrich Schonleber

Emrich-Schonleber is a small estate ran by Werner Schönleber and his family, which now comprises 18 hectares in the Nahe region of Germany, just south of the more famous Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. It has been a family ran estate since the 18th century although only became focused on wines from 1965 onwards. Today their 18 hectares of land are given over to the production of wine, mainly focused on Riesling with elements of Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc).

Conclusions/Learning points: I’m reasonably happy with this conclusion, as I judged the acidity, sweetness levels (14 g/l sugar) and flavour profile well. I misjudged the level of alcohol which ultimately took me to the wrong place, and the evolution of flavours which took me to the wrong vintage. I need to drink more good quality German Riesling as I still sometimes mistake weight of flavour for alcohol in terms of mouth-feel. Even delicate wines can pack a punch!

Wine #2

 This wine has a medium lemon colour. There is a medium+ intensity of aromas, with ripe peach, apricot, nectarine and green banana. There is detectable oak here, contributing notes of vanilla, cloves, honey, bread dought and a slight nuttiness; almonds? The oak is a little heavy and there is a slightly rubbery note to the wine.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+alcohol and a medium+ body. There is a pronounced intensity of almonds, vanilla, toast and very little fruit; very muted in fact. There is a lot of phenolic bitterness to the wine which dominates into a relatively short finish (medium-). A reasonable quality wine but missing fruit and balance.

Guess: Xarel.lo from Penedes in Spain from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Chenin Blanc from Swartland in South Africa from the 2014 vintage

Wine: A.A Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2014

A A Badenhorst

A.A Badenhorst is a venture between two cousins in Swartland, South Africa, where they cultivate 28 hectares of old bush-vines. Although this wine didn’t fare well in my blind tasting assessment, I have enjoyed their other products over the past year, especially the white and the red from their ‘first tier’ of wines.

Conclusions/Learning points: A swing and a miss. This is a good example of taking a single aspect of the wine and allowing it to dominate the conclusion, in this case the relatively clumsy oaking and oxidised notes, both of which I encounter with lower quality Xarel.lo here in Catalunya. Normally acidity would be a tell-tale sign from Chenin Blanc but according to the fact-sheet on this wine from the A.A Badenhorst website; “… and slightly lower acids than previous years.” Pleased to judge the alcohol correctly here and if I were taking this as part of a WSET exam, marks would still be high indeed as I judged both the flavour profile, structure of the wine and usage of both lees contact and oak vessels. According to their website, A A Badenhorst focuses on the production of ‘natural’ wines so I suppose typicity may have been a slight issue in the wine selection? Anway, I wasn’t even close in my conclusion!

Wine #3

The wine has a pale lemon colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of fresh aromas, with green apple, green pear and gooseberry coming to the fore. There is ample fresh citrus here with both lemon and lime, wet stones, freshly cut grass and elderflower. Clearly a very fresh and youthful wine with no discernible oak.

On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity, medium alcohol and a medium body. There is a pronounced intensity of lemon, lime and gooseberries, wet stones, green apple and green pear. An incredibly crisp, lean style of wine with plenty of mineral nuances. The finish is mouth-watering and medium+ in length. A very good quality wine with clean, refreshing flavours, a balanced structure and a good intensity and finish. It doesn’t speak strongly to a particular grape but is exactly the sort of sharp, white wine I enjoy, particularly on a hot summers day.

Guess: Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre in France from the 2014 vintage

Reality: Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain from the 2014 vintage

Wine: Zarate Balado 2014

Zarate Balado

Adega Zarate is one of the oldest wineries in Rias Baixas, in the sub-region of Salnés. Tracing their lineage all the way back to 1707, the family have been recognised as a top quality style of fresh, mineral-driven Albariño since the 1950’s and have pioneered many of the new technologies, stainless steel etc, that the region now takes for granted.

Conclusions/Learning points: Another miss, although not a million miles away, this time. High acid, semi-aromatic varieties tend to quite alike and the differences can be very small. The irony of this is that I actually like and drink this wine a lot, but it isn’t like most commercial Albariño s as it doesn’t showcase the peachy, floral side of the grape and focuses more on the citric, mineral style. I’m not too sure that I can learn a great deal from this one, other than to perhaps include more grape varieties in my final grouping as I didn’t even consider Albariño!

Wine #4

The wine has a pale ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium intensity of fresh and slightly dried strawberries, cherries and red apple skin. There is a light hint of smoke, pepper and tertiary aromas of undergrowth, grass and a touch of leather.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium+ acidity, medium- ripe and firm tannins, medium+ alcohol and a medium- body. The flavour intensity is quite similar to the nose but rather dilute and the finish is medium. This is a reasonable quality wine but I was underwhelmed with the intensity of flavour, as well as the simplistic nature of the wine as it felt like it had a little bottle age.

Guess: Pinot Noir from Burgundy in France (Basic level) from the 2011 vintage

Reality: Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) from the Ahr Valley in Germany from the 2010 vintage

Wine: Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder 2010

Meyer Nakel

The Ahr Valley is one the most northerly German wine regions, although at a tiny 550HA it is not well known internationally. This was my first experience their wines but Werner Näkel has been producing mainly red wines here since 1982, when he first took over the family estate. I’m not a fan on this single showing, but looking forward to trying more of their wines in the future! I did briefly consider Switzerland as an origin for this one…

Conclusions/Learning Points: Well, happy enough to correctly guess that is was Pinot Noir. The confusion for me on region was the medium alcohol (13.2%, correctly judged) but the very light, ‘dilute’ flavours and lack of complexity. As with the wine above, I’m not sure there are too many lessons to take from this other than comfort in the fact that it would be a truly horrible exam if it included a red wine from the smallest producing region of Germany!

Wine #5

This wine has a deep ruby colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of ripe blackberries, plums and black currants. There’s something light oak influence here with toast and cloves, and a touch of dried herbs and leather. Not overly complex but fresh and pleasant, with some development.

On the palate the wine is dry with high acidity, medium+ firm and slightly sticky tannins, medium+ alcohol and a medium+ body. The flavours are fresh and accessible, the wine is well structured and there’s some development of flavour. It tastes Italian but I can’t think of a grape variety that encompasses all the above, or even a blend. The finish is medium+. A very good quality wine that was a lot of fun to taste and deliberate over.

Guess: A Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Bordeaux Superieur in France from the 2010 vintage

Reality: Montepulciano from DOC Rosso Conero (Marche) in Italy from the 2008 vintage

Wine: La Calcinara Folle Conero Riserva DOCG 2008

La Calcinara

La Calcinara are a small estate in the heart of Candia, Italy. They’re a relatively new establishment having been founded in 1997 by Mario Berluti and focuses exclusively on the Montepulciano grape planted on 9 hectares of land. A new winery for me but happy to try more based on this experience!

Conclusions/Learning points: A mile away in the end and this one is very much down to lack of knowledge and experience with Italian wines. In my tasting note I wrote at the side “it tastes Italian” but I didn’t have the theoretical knowledge to take the deep colour, the flavour profile and reconcile that with both high acidity and the firm, sticky nature of the tannins. One for the memory bank!

Wine #6

This wine has a pale garnet colour. On the nose there is a medium+ intensity of dried red fruits like cherry, strawberry and red plums. There is clear and obvious oak usage with vanilla and dill, as well as a plethora of tertiary characteristics like dried tobacco, leather, mushrooms, wet leaves and a touch of volatile acidity.

On the palate the wine is dry with medium acidity, medium- slightly grippy tannins, medium alcohol, medium bodied and a medium+, very savoury finish. The flavours on the palate are almost entirely tertiary and this is clearly an old wine. Incredibly savoury but there is also a sweetness to it, I believe contributed from the American oak which leads me to my conclusion.

Guess: Tempranillo blend from Rioja in Spain from the 1990 vintage

Reality: Tempranillo blend from Rioja in Spain from the 1995 vintage

Wine: R.Lopez Heredia Vina Cubillo 1995

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R. Lopez de Heredia are an iconic producer from Rioja, being one of the very first wineries to establish themselves there back in 1877. Arguably the most traditional bodega in Rioja to this day, they pride themselves on staying true to their roots and their wines reflect this, with long, slow maturations in American oak for both white and red wines the norm. If you’ve ever wondered what quintessential Rioja was all about, pick up a bottle of Tondonio/Bosconia/Cubillo with some age on it (The 2004 Reserva sells for 20 euros in Spain; insane QPR) and enjoy!

Conclusions/Learning points: Not much really, as aside from the vintage I was right on track. It’s always nice to finish with a win, especially as this is the sort of classic Spanish wine which may well come up on an exam. Vintages are difficult to be specific about as a wine gets older and the trick is to figure out the quality of the wine, and then try to discern how far along the path it is. I slightly over-rated the Cubillo and as a result, I thought it was older than it actually was. A better quality wine would have more structure, fruit and intensity at the age of 22 years old, but I’m splitting hairs really.

Overall, a really enjoyable tasting! It’s good to be back with the more general wines of the world and I have a full 9 months of studying and practice ahead of my final exam in January 2018. There’s lots to taste and lots to learn, so I will be back next week for more!

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