We tasted quite a few wines at the Tampere Wine Symposium, and one of the highlights was this flight of three whites. These aren’t expensive wines, but they’re really compelling and delicious.
Gramona Ovum Xarel-lo 2013 Catalunya, Spain
From a 4 hectare vineyard, fermented and aged in concrete eggs and amphorae. Lovely complex wine with nuts, lively citrus, spice and minerals. Has a nice stony quality in the mouth, and some exotic citrus, pear and melon fruity notes. Quite serious. 93/100
Lammerschoek LAM 2012 Swartland, South Africa
This affordable, naturally made Swartland white is quite delicious, and it’s just 10.5% alcohol. Lovely nose: peach, pears, mineral/matchstick notes, fine citrus too. Very high acid palate with lovely spicy, lemony core. Such precision: really detailed and alive, with a bit of apple and a tangy finish to it. Lambic notes! 93/100
Montinore Estate Borealis 2012 Willamette Valley, Oregon
This biodynamic Oregon white is a blend of Muller Thurgau, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. Textured, rich, very exotic with lovey ripe melon, peach and grape notes. Has some sweetness and depth to it. Beautiful balance. 91/100
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Had a lovely evening with my Finnish hosts at C Restuarant in Tampere. The restaurant is a collaboration between chef Ilkka Isotalo (below) and ex-sommelier Christina Suominen, and the emphasis is very much of matching food and wine. Most people have the food and wine pairing menu when they eat here. The wine list is short but well chosen, and exclusively European.
We began with this really visual dish (top): pork skin with sage, reindeer lichen, and fish wing tempura. This was beautifully done and the flavours were superb.
Champagne Philipponnat Grand Blanc Long Vieillisiment 1985 France
This was disgorged in June 2011 after 26 years on the lees. It’s fresh, toasty and fine with just a hint of cabbage and mushroom in the background, and a core of bright citrus fruit. Savoury and lean with real finesse. 93/100
This is grilled vendace (a local freshwater fish from the salmon family) on a bed of salad. The sauce is made from meadow sweet (fermented tea).
Van Volxem Scheifer Riesling 2014 Mosel, Germany
This is pure, primary, mineral and linear with some floral notes. Taut and dry with good concentration. 92/100
This was another beautiful and delicious dish. It’s poached pike perch with seasonal vegetables, and a mugwort milk sauce.
Domaine Doudet Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2007 Burgundy, France
Rich and quite toasty with nice ripe apples, spice and nuts, as well as some quince. This has quite a full yellow colour and shows some appealing development already. 93/100
This dish was grilled Kyyttö veal from Ylätalo organic estate, chanterelle purée and garlic sauce. The sauce was very rich, and while it was delicious, it was a slightly trickier match than the previous courses.
Chateau La Providence 1975 Pomerol, Bordeaux
Mushrooms, earth and spice on the nose: it’s one of those older Bordeaux that smells a bit corky but which isn’t. The palate is much more appealing, with lovely cherries and plums, with spice, iodine and earth complexity. It’s a delicate old wine that changes quite a bit in the glass. 92/100
This dessert was very imaginative. It’s buttermilk sorbet, blackcurrant leaf pudding and dried beetroot. It was superb with the final wine.
Chateau Le Tarey Loupiac 1964 France
Full bronze colour. Rich, sweet and unctuous with notes of nuts, herb and spice. Focused and complex: still has lovely peachy fruit but also spun sugar and a hint of raisin. This is drinking perfectly at 50 years old. 94/100
I’m in Tampere – Finland’s third largest city, on an isthmus between two lakes. It’s described as the Manchester of Finland, because of its industrial past. And in the gorgeous August sunshine, it looks quite nice.
I’m here for the Wine Symposium, which has been organized by the Finnish Sommeliers Association. Yesterday was Day 1, and I had three two hour lectures to deliver. I’ve never done this sort of intense lecturing before, but I think it went OK and I didn’t even come close to running out of things to say.
Today’s program is a bit easier on me: just one 2.5 h lecture. But there will be wines to taste. I’m looking forward to listening to someone else talk! And I’m on a panel, too.
It has been great to meet some really nice people. After the symposium we had a long, fun evening in Gastropub Tuulensuu, which has a truly incredible selection of self-imported Belgian beers, including some epic Geuezes and Lambics. More later!
A few interesting South African reds tasted together. I’d heard a lot about the Restless River, and didn’t quite know what to make of it: Hemel-en-Aarde is cool climate for Cabernet, and the wine is pretty distinctive. Pofadder is a known quantity: it’s a lovely expression of Cinsault, a variety that’s superbly adapted to the Cape. I was really impressed by the La Motte Syrah Viognier, which shows beautiful perfume. And the Spioenkoop is a Pinotage that I’m happy to drink, with plenty of interest.
Restless River Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa
This is wild-ferment, and 33 days maceration. 13.7% alcohol. 33% new oak. A tiny bit lifted on the nose with lovely sweet blackcurrant fruit. Textured and fine with lovely breadth, and has a fine spiciness. Just a hint of funkiness, with a sweet fruit profile. It’s a very expressive wine, but not for everyone. 93/100
Sadie Family Pofadder 2012 Swartland, South Africa
14% alcohol, varietal Cinsault. Fresh, fine and juicy with some warmth and fine spiciness. Some elegance here, with red cherries. Finely spiced with nice texture. 92/100
La Motte Pierneef Syrah Viognier 2013 Western Cape, South Africa
Lovely floral nose of black cherries with a hint of olive and lovely pure sweet black fruits. Silky, textured and balanced, this is lovely. 93/100
Spioenkop ‘1900’ Pinotage 2013 Western Cape, South Africa
12.5% alcohol. Full, with black cherries, herbs and a hint of greenness. This has some Pinotage character. It’s juicy, fine and expressive with red cherries and plums. Quite stylish. 90/100
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This is a guest post from Daniel Primack. I met him for dinner recently, but before we ate we popped into one of his favourite shops, Rivet and Hide. Here I had a quick chat with the owner, Danny Hodgson. It struck me how similar what he was doing – curating a shop with fine denim for a high-end niche market – was to what top wine shops are doing. So I asked Daniel to write about this comparison.
Regular readers of Wineanorak will be all too familiar with terms such as biodynamic, new oak, natural fermentation and minerality. How many readers recognise the meaning of slubby, selvedge, unsanforised, warp and weft?
These words are commonly used by purveyors and purchasers of high quality, Japanese or American denim, whose artisan ways have much in common with wine enthusiasm. Just as the wine enthusiast likes to know the story behind the bottle and understands the quality to price ratio, the denim enthusiast knows that cheap is expensive and that there is artistry in trousers.
At the time of writing, a pair of men’s jeans from M&S costs between £25-£40, and the most expensive pair from Gap costs £69.
Rivet & Hide (rivetandhide.com) on Windmill Street in Fitzrovia, London, W1 is probably the best place in the UK to buy a pair of very fine jeans with the average spend on one pair being three times the cost of Gap’s most expensive. They stock hard-to-find, eagerly sought-after brands such as Pure Blue Japan, Railcar, The Flat Head, 3Sixteen and Steel Feather. Visiting them feels the same as a visit to any of the world’s finest wine shops, assuming the product is of interest.
‘Over £200 for a pair of jeans? you may ask incredulously, while sipping on a glass of Grand Cru Chambolle-Musigny. Very few wine enthusiasts will question the wisdom of spending £20 on a bottle of wine in an independent wine merchant (3x the national average spend on a bottle from the supermarket)—and bear in mind that jeans will be worn hundreds of times.
What are you buying when you’re purchasing the finest denim on Earth? The magic word is ‘selvedge’, the term used to describe small-batch production, from the finest cotton, woven on small shuttle looms (an older, smaller, slower type of loom). These vintage machines, which are no longer manufactured, will usually be operated by one experienced craftsman working for a family owned business, producing a far higher quality roll of fabric than the large, industrial scale, automated, shuttleless looms. Secondly, the finished garment will always be sold untreated. Natural jeans! This means it will be evenly coloured, usually indigo, as opposed to the washed, faded, sand blasted, treated (weakened) mass market product. The cloth will be extremely durable and permits the wearer to allow natural fades to appear with wear, leading each pair to become unique.
Denim is available in various weights, the lightest around 11oz (the weight of a square yard of fabric), most commonly around 15oz, all the way up to the extremely unusual, very heavy 32oz from the heavyweight masters, Iron Heart (www.ironheart.co.uk). The shade of the indigo will vary according to how the cloth is dyed and the construction of each pair will be a painstaking labour of love producing some very tough, strong seams. Inside the trouser, on the outside edge, selvedge denim will always show the finished edges from the loom. The care that goes into the cut and fit means that these products fit far better.
Denim enthusiasts will revel in the differences between each producer, with talk of rise and taper, texture (slubbiness), weave direction or weft colour (the usually, but not always, white thread).
As with wine, price does not always guarantee quality, with some very expensive mass market (fashion) brands being available. A good rule of thumb is, if they advertise in the glossy spreads, avoid.
A more detailed explanation of denim can be found on the Rawrdenim.com website (the denim equivalent of Wineanorak.com).
I love sherry. I also love Drakes Tabanco‘s food. The two together? Well, sherry isn’t always my first thought when food is concerned. So it was great to try Drakes’ new five course sherry pairing menu. With the exception of the Fino en Rama (from bottle) all the other sherries were from the casks at Drakes, and all were from Fernando de Castilla. How was it?
Course 1 (pictured above)
Slices of smoked scallop, blood orange jelly and mild chilli salsa
This was a brilliant dish with a lovely rich, smoky flavour. It was paired with the Fernando de Castilla Fino en Rama, which is rich style of Fino with salty, smoky flavours that really complemented the scallop dish well. A hit. Fino is generally brilliant with a wide range of foods, so no surprises here.
Deep fried artichoke, artichoke and soft boiled egg mayonnaise and dill
What a more-ish dish! Fry something and immediately it tastes great. It’s a rich dish, and it was paired with the Amontillado Viejo (20 yrs +), which is tangy, citrussy and salty with some super-complex cedar and nut notes. The acidity and richness of the sherry complemented the dish superbly. There was real synergy in this pairing: the two brought out the best in each other.
Iberico burger, sweet burnt yoghurt and crispy salsify chips
So delicious. I don’t normally like pork that’s still a bit red in the middle, but this burger was brilliant. To pair with it, we had the Oloroso Viejo (20 yrs +), which is complex and powerful with distinct nutty, cedary notes. It has good acidity, too, and with the emphasis on savoury flavours rather than sweet raisin, it’s a surprisingly versatile food wine. With the richness and decadence of the burger, it was a nice match, although perhaps not as synergistic as the previous. So far so good.
Venison haunch, garlic mash, sweet apple compote
This was quite delicious, and the mash was almost pure garlic, and all the better for it. To match? The Rare Old India, which is a sweet sherry. It’s rich, raisiny and spicy with cedar notes and quite a bit of sweetness. This sweetness makes the food pairing quite tricky for me. It’s a lovely wine, but perhaps too big for the dish.
Salted chocolate bar with creme fraiche and cocounut cream filling, walnut crunch
A delicious home-made chocolate, paired with Pedro Ximenez Extra Viejo (25 yrs+). The PX is very sweet and rounded, with soft, intense christmas cake and raisin flavours. It’s delicious and sweet enough to deal with the chocolate, but I didn’t get any synergy.
My conclusions? I loved the food, and I loved the wines. The first three dishes were genius matches, but things got a bit complex when sugar was involved. Dry sherry and food: brilliant. But this is great value and an experience I recommend.
The pairing menu is £49.50 – details here. [Disclosure: Drakes invited me and comped this meal, but at no stage discussed whether or not I would write it up.]
I just love the wines of Bell Hill, a boutique winery in Waikari, North Canterbury, New Zealand (not far from the Waipara Valley). I visited seven years ago on my first trip to New Zealand, and was blown away by the wines and the vineyard. So I was really pleased to catch up with owners Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen who were visiting London.
My first question I had for them was: why has no one else established vineyards in the Waikari since Bell Hill and neighbours Pyramid Valley started out over a decade and a half ago? The success of these two suggests that this is a special place for wine grapes. ‘The two vineyards chose to have over 10 000 plants/hectare,’ says Sherwyn. ‘Anyone coming in would have to step up to that to be seen as being an equal.’ But she adds: ‘There are lots of little pockets of land begging to be planted.’
‘We first bought the property 18 years ago this month. We signed up for the land one day and got married the next.’ At this stage they got first right of refusal on the neighbouring land, so expansion in the future isn’t out of the question. The model was to make 1000 cases a year, but there are significant yield fluctuations because of cold weather in the spring time. There are some younger plantings from 2007 and 2009 that are now coming on stream, which will help satiate some of the demand for these wines.
In the 2015 growing season the drought conditions were a challenge. Up until Christmas the Waipara experienced the coldest period on record followed by the hottest. They were frost protecting five nights out of seven, which is very rare.
Marcel is preoccupied with the family business, Giesen Wines. They live in Christchurch, but Sherwyn spends most of her time at Bell Hill, while Marcel is all over the place. The family company is going very well at the moment.
How did they find Bell Hill in the first place? ‘We found it for ourselves,’ says Sherwyn. ‘We knew we weren’t interested in windblown loess. We travelled through the Weka Pass. We did some title searches then picked up the phone and began asking local farmers. It’s a very confined area, all in the ownership of five families. It turned out that Bell Hill used to be a lime quarry from 1917-1930, and so it was on a separate title. It was a matter of negotiating with the farmer. There had been a marriage break up and they needed some cash for settlement. We knew we wanted 20 acres of land, with limestone soils, a northern aspect, on slopes, and no house. Three years later Pyramid Valley came along.’
They are farming organically and biodynamically, and 2007 was the last time they used herbicide. They will soon have Biogro certification.
These are really stunning wines: I think they are among New Zealand’s very best.
Bell Hill Chardonnay 2011 Canterbury, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. From a hillside that used to be a lime quarry in the 1920 on the Weka Pass, planted to 9090-11363 vines/hectare. The vineyard is 2.25 hectares. Complex nose of ripe pear and peach fruit with a taut citrus edge and some waxy, slightly smoky, spicy notes. There’s amazing tension on the palate with fresh citrus acidity at the core, bold slightly pithy pear and ripe apple fruit, and a warm, rich, spicy mineral finish. Remarkable stuff: fresh, intense and with a long life ahead of it, combining ripe fruit flavours with amazing vitality and tension. 95/100
Bell Hill Old Weka Pass Road Pinot Noir 2011 Canterbury, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This, the little sibling of the Bell Hill Pinot Noir, has been made since 1999. It has beautiful aromatics: sweet, floral red cherry fruit with delightful green sappy framing. So perfumed and enticing. The palate is very fresh with a sappy, leafy edge to the sweet, rounded cherry fruit. So enticing and drinkable, with ripeness allied to freshness, and just a hint of undergrowth. 94/100
Bell Hill Pinot Noir 2011 Canterbury, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Lovely concentration and texture here: perfumed black cherry and plum fruit with lovely fresh spiciness. Bright with good acidity and taut mineral spiciness, with some autumnal forest fruit notes and some savoury hints of iodine and earth. Beautiful, fresh and detailed with richness and finesse at the same time. Subtle reductive characters suggest this needs a bit more time, and I think it will be good for mid-term ageing. Fabulous. 96/100
UK agent is Armit Wines
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The internet is currently on fire with a spat between a blogger and an artisan patisserie owner, and it has a hashtag all of its own: #bloggerblackmail. It would be quite funny, if it wasn’t for the fact that real people with real feelings are involved. From a distance, this is what appears to have happened. A food blogger is invited to review an artisan patisserie in Kensington, but when she arrives she doesn’t feel loved enough – the samples offered for free, in her eyes, don’t justify the eight hours she says it takes her to write a review (dude! you seriously need to work faster!). She asks for more samples, and these are declined. She then writes a bad review of the patisserie. The patisserie owner spills the beans on her blog, prompting a painful response by the blogger. It’s a complete car crash.
We haven’t had anything quite like this in the wine blogging community: the food blogging community is much bigger, and more developed, and a bit more freebie prone. But as a fellow blogger, I think this incident raises several issues surrounding disclosure, freebies and payment (whether financial or in kind) for blog posts.
Basically, if you take payment for content, then your work suffers. Readers aren’t stupid (well, some of them might be, but most are quite smart). They know when something’s amiss. The trust of your readers is a currency that’s not really yours to spend. If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to play it straight.
I’ve been offered payment for guest posts here on this blog. I’ve said no every time, because I think it would damage the quality of my content, even if the posts were marked clearly as ‘sponsored content’, which of course they would have to be. I’ve also not been even slightly tempted: the sums offered are pitiful. [Bloggers, if you are going to sell your souls, don't do it so cheaply!] Of course, I am in a fortunate position of making a living out of wine writing, so I wouldn’t criticise a blogger who did take sponsored content if that’s the only way they can pay their bills. But it’s far from ideal, and it needs to be disclosed clearly. [I am particularly reluctant to play holier-than-thou with other writers over conflicts of interest. The more established you are, the easier it is to avoid them. But everyone has to start somewhere, and I don't want to knock back young writers who have been forced to conflict themselves: if I were in their position might I be forced to make the same compromises? Remember: conflicts of interest aren't necessarily bad, and it doesn't mean the writer is corrupt, as long as they are disclosed so that the reader is aware of them. Then it is down to trust.]
Freebies? Well, most of the wine I taste is freely provided, whether at organized tastings, or as samples. The more you get of these, the less an issue this becomes: I have so many samples arriving that it is anything but a big deal, and this allows me to judge them fairly without feeling beholden to the person who sent them. My travel is also largely funded by others. Clearly, this is not ideal. But unless you want the pool of wine writers to be restricted to the independently wealthy and people with rich significant others, then there is no way round this one.
One source of tension is the issue of assigning importance to bloggers. Which blogs really matter? Who deserves freebies, and to what level? This isn’t a new problem: PRs have had to make this call for years in assigning importance to print journalists. It’s just that with the emergence of blogging and social media, suddenly everyone is on unfamiliar ground. But whether you are old media or new, it’s best to be humble, and to not have an overinflated sense of self-importance. If you ever find yourself even thinking the question – ‘Do you know who I am?’ – then you need to go to a quiet place for a few days for some reflection.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are providing content, keep it pure. Write about what you want to write about. Don’t compromise by writing bait for advertising (as many print publications do), or writing the sorts of articles that get the most hits or responses (I could write lots of deliberately controversial pieces that get my comments section whirring, but that wouldn’t be right). And don’t write for SEO – your writing style is your signature, and if you change it for search engines, then you have compromised. And you have to try your best not to let your opinions be swayed by circumstances: if you had a particularly good or particularly bad experience with a winemaker, you need to try not to let that lens distort what you see in a wine.
Alfredo Arribas grew up and lived in Barcelona, and developed a successful career as an architect. He travelled the world working on interior design and architecture, and among other things had a hand in the Barcelona Olympics.
In 2001 he started his second life: in wine. There were two factors that led him this way. First, his grandfather was a viticulturist from Ribera del Duero, and Alfredo would spend summers with him. Second, he developed a passion for wine, something that his work travelling allowed him to nutrure. He spent his free time on wine. ‘I discovered Priorat,’ he says, ‘and it was a revelation to me. The landscape attracted me.’
So he bought a property in the heart of Priorat. 2004 was his first release, but before this came onto the market, he decided to start working also in Montsant, the neighbouring DO. It’s much more approachable (in terms of cost), and has some good old vineyards. So Alfredo started his Montsant project in parallel with his Priorat project. The two have separate emphases. In Priorat, he is making a vina de Pagos – wines from a single place, his Clos des Portal. In Montsant, he has collected 12 old vineyards of Carignan, Grenache and white Grenache, in the historical part of the region. He is also making a wine called Gotes, which is his version of freshness in Priorat, from Carignan and Grenache.
But Alfredo is particularly excited about a new project, which is from the high hills of Montsant at 700–800 m. There’s not a tradition of wine here. ‘But for me, it is something very interesting,’ he says. ‘The acidity of the wines and the character of the soils is not present in the rest of the region.’ This is SiurAlta.
‘High up in Monstant, the line between Montsant and Priorat is a straight one that doesn’t have any logic,’ says Alfredo. ‘In the south the border is where the slate ends and the clay starts. The border in the historical area is based on terroir, but in the north it is not defined like this. There are slate soils in the Montsant bit.’ Here there is twice the rain of Priorat, with 600-700 mm versus 350 mm annually. ‘It’s a totally different world, full of green plants.’
So he decided to experiment here, and in 2011 he started a separate company, Vinsnus, and a new label, SiurAlta. ‘These are wines with no history behind them,’ he says. Winemaking is non-interventionist, with just a little SO2 added at crushing and bottling, but he doesn’t want to be part of the natural wine scene. ‘We have discovered a place where the wines are different. We are following the conditions that the wines have given us.’ He doesn’t like long macerations. ‘You get this purity if you work without sulfites and without normal macerations.’
The first releases are three wines, one white and two reds. Antic was initially from one old vineyard (in 2012), but now two. It’s around 90% Samsó (Carignan), and the balance is what Alfredo thinks is Sumoll. His view is that this is Carignan in the style of Cabernet Franc from Chinon in terms of its character.
Rouge is 90% Grenache and 10% Trepat, made with whole bunches. For the Rouge, he picks early. ‘At the beginning the grapes were almost too green, but the wine is growing. Everyone is surprised how the fruit explodes after a while.’ But early picking doesn’t always work. ‘I won’t say it’s always a better idea to pick earlier. You can’t pick Carignan early: you won’t control the astringency. But for Grenache, people are picking it too late.’
And for the white, called Gris, Alfredo found a vineyard on top of Siruana village. The vines are mostly Grenache Gris with some red Grenache. ‘The bunches are orange colour and you can make red wine out of them,’ he says. The acidity is high. ‘If you ferment in oak the evolution of the wines is too fast.’ So he begins in barrel and then goes to 870 litre plastic eggs, which don’t give the saltiness you can sometimes get with concrete eggs. The lees are separated and then added back at the end to give fatness.
Vinsnus SiurAlta Rouge 2014 Montsant, Spain (cask sample)
Very fresh with lovely chalkiness to the texture. Fresh with some grip to the cherry and raspberry fruit. Very primary and vivid with lovely fresh fruit. Initially just simple raspberry fruit, but after a while you get much more detail, and the aromatics change. Lovely stuff. 92-94/100
Vinsnus SiurAlta Gris 2013 Montsant, Spain
No sulfites at bottling, pH 2.94, 8 g/l acid, 13.5% alcohol. Lovely matchstick/mineral edge to the nose. Very pure with lemons, nuts, herbs and some subtle toasty richness. There’s a faint saltiness but also a fresh mineral finish. I like the combination of richer notes with a lingering seam of acidity that just goes on and on. 94/100
Vinsnus SiurAlta Antic 2012 Montsant, Spain
14% alcohol, pH 3.08, 7.8 g/l acid. Picked at the end of October. Lovely aromatic pure black fruit nose. The palate shows pure, sleek black cherries and blackberries with freshness and some peppery notes. Very pure, primary and direct, this is fresh but not harsh, and it’s a beautifully integrated wine. 93/100
Alfredo’s wines are imported by Genesis in the UK
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Champagne Pierre Péters is a Blanc de Blancs specialist located in Le Mesnil sur Oger, in the heart of the Côte des Blancs. Under the direction of Rodolphe Péters since 2008, this sixth generation family firm just makes wines from their own grapes. Fortunately they have sizeable holdings: 19 hectares of Chardonnay, most of which is in Le Mesnil sur Oger (15 hectares), Oger, Avize and Cramant. Vine age is high, averaging over 30 years.
Champagne Pierre Péters Cuvée du Réserve Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru NV France
12% alcohol. Dosage, 7 g/litre, 70% from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, 30% from a mix of Oger, Chouilly and Cramant. At least 40% reserve wines. Delicate and precise with nice lemony fruit: so pure and fine with a hint of apple. Lemony and bright with nice complexity and pure, fine citrus flavours. 93/100 (£36.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)
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