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Archive for December, 2010

Mumm Napa Valley – Cuvée M

Posted by Gabe on December 29, 2010

With the end of the year near my mind and my appetite is still pretty focused on Sparkling Wine. Mumm Napa Valley is one of the California producers that’s been providing consistent and well priced Sparkling offerings. They’re a go to producer in California. Today I’ll look at one of their current releases. Sometime soon I’ll also be looking at a couple of selections from GH Mumm as well, so please stay tuned.

The Mumm Napa Valley Cuvée M was produced using fruit sourced from over 50 vineyards. This selection is a blend of Chardonnay (48%), Pinot Noir (43%), Pinot Gris (6%), and Pinot Meunier (3%). Each lot was kept separate during the first fermentation. Aging on yeast then occured for approximately 18 months. After final blending and dosage another it’s allowed to resolve itself in bottle for another 3 months prior to release. This offering has a suggested retail price of $20.

Aromas of lemon zest and ginger fill the nose of Cuvée M. Flavors of Asian pear, yellow cling peach, nectarine and recurring wisps of crème fraiche are readily apparent through the medium bodied plate of this wine. Biscuit, brioche, elements of yeast and a wallop of spices all emerge in the substantial finish which lingers well after you swallow the last sip.

Cuvée M from Mumm Napa Valley is an excellent value. It outshines its $20 price point by leaps and bound. While it’s surely delicious on its own, this is precisely the sort of Sparkling wine that comes to mind for me when I have Brunch in mind. When you take into account the modest price, it’s also one most can indulge in regularly.

Posted in Sparkling Wine, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Pol Roger – Brut Reserve “White Foil” (NV) / 2002 Brut Rosé / 1999 Brut Blanc de Blancs

Posted by Gabe on December 27, 2010

The New Year is mere days away. And with it comes the annual frenzy of picking a Champagne or Sparkling Wine for the big night. Champagne is clearly a great way to mark a festive occasion but it’s also a great wine to enjoy with a meal or often times on its own as well. I recently took part in an online tasting of some Champagnes from Pol Roger. Their history in France dates back more than 160 years. Three of the Champagnes we sampled really stood out to me and I’ll provide my impressions of them.

First up is the Pol Roger Brut Reserve “White Foil” (NV). This wine is a blend of equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. All the fruit was sourced in sub appellations of the Champagne region. After crushing the grapes are fermented separately at cool temperature. When the final blends are assembled at least 2 vintages are represented and the wine ages a minimum of 3 years prior to release. This offering has a suggested retail price of $55. A host of aromas leap from the nose of this Non Vintage Brut; candied ginger, clover honey, almond, hazelnut, citrus and a hint of yeast are the most prominent. The full flavored palate is loaded with character and flavors such as lemongrass, hints of peach and a nice wallop of spices. The finish is crisp, layered and gentle with light yeast notes and continued spice that lingers persistently. This is a terrific example of NV Brut that blows away its price point by a fair clip.

Next up is the Pol Roger 2002 Brut Rosé. This wine is a blend of Pinot Noir (50%), Chardonnay (35%), and Pinot Meunier (15%). The fruit for this wine was sourced in specific areas within Champagne. Each lot was pressed and fermented of separately. Final blending took place before bottling where the secondary fermentation took place. This wine has a suggested retail price of $115. This Rosé starts out with a classic and beautiful salmon hue. Aromas of candied raspberry and wild strawberry are prominent in the inviting nose. Cherry, strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate and rhubarb are all present throughout a juicy and berry-driven palate. This wine has firm structure and crisp acidity. The finish is lengthy and impressive. This wine is perfect foil for a wide array of foods.

Finally we come to the Pol Roger 1999 Brut Blanc de Blancs. This offering was produced from 100% Chardonnay sourced in Grand Cru vineyards around Champagne. Each lot is aged separately in stainless steel followed by blending and bottling. It then ages in the Pol Roger cellars for 7 years prior to release. This Vintage Champagne has a suggested retail price of $130. This wine has a gorgeous straw color. The nose is welcoming with hints of smoke, brioche and flowers. Apple and orchard fruit in general emerge on the palate which is creamy and ethereal. They’re joined by hazelnut and almond flavors as well as spice. The finish is amazingly layered and complex with minerals, spice, yeast and more. After swallowing a sip the flavors seem to continue forever. This wine is fresh and vibrant and really at the very beginning of its drinkable life cycle. There are champagnes in this price range that have bigger names, this selection from Pol Roger may not be quite as well known to the general consumer but it should be. It’s got impressive flavors, depth and complexity to spare. In short a lot of wow factor going on here. Value in my opinion is relative to quality provided. In this case the 1999 Blanc de Blancs from Pol Roger is a relative steal at $130.

Taken as a lot the Champagnes from Pol Roger are an excellent collection. When considered individually you’ll find a lot to like about each of them. If you drink Champagne regularly (and why wouldn’t you) keep the Pol Roger wines in mind, they’re worth your attention and your dollars.

Posted in Champagne, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Swanson Vineyards – 2009 Pinot Grigio / 2007 Oakville Merlot / 2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on December 24, 2010

Swanson Vineyards has been in Napa Valley since 1985. In that time they’ve built a stellar reputation for a number of things. They’re perhaps best known for their Merlot which has been a consistent winner on restaurant wine lists and store shelves. Their Salon in Oakville is home to quite simply the very best tasting experience in Napa Valley, bar none. They have an impressive and eclectic lineup of dessert wines that rivals anything offered in the state of California.  Quite frankly that only begins the list of attributes that makes Swanson a must for any California wine lover. Today I’ll take a look at three of their current releases. These offerings represent their widest distribution wines which are available across the country.

First up is the Swanson 2009 Pinot Grigio. Fruit for this release was sourced at the home estate on the Oakville Crossroad and in Santa Barbara. This wine was cold fermented and aged in stainless steel.  6,250 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $21. The nose of this wine shows of hints of honey which lead to scores of lychee and passion fruit. The palate of this wine is impressively layered and complex for its category. Stone fruits dominate along with hints of orchard fruit and an underlying citrus component. These all lead into the unctuous finish which has hints of orange, vanilla bean, and spice. The finish is crisp and refreshing, inviting you back for more. There is a lot of unimpressive Pinot Grigio both in California and all over the world quite frankly. The Swanson Pinot Grigio however is cut from a different cloth. Year after year, vintage after vintage, it impresses and blows away its price point. Is it the best Pinot Grigio in California? Taste it and decide for yourself. No question though, it’s in the running.

Next up is the Swanson 2007 Oakville Merlot. This wine was produced using fruit from two vineyards; Oakville Cross Road Estate and Schmidt Ranch. Barrel aging was accomplished over 20 months in French and American oak. 40% of the barrels were new. 9,200 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $36. Aromas of violet, leather and black cherry are all prominent in the nose of this 2007 Merlot. Cherry flavors dominate the palate along with raspberry and a touch of blackberry. Espresso, earth, dark dusty baker’s chocolate and a wallop of minerals fill the long and persistent finish. This wine has solid acidity and impressive structure. If you drink this Merlot over the next couple of years I’d recommend decanting it for about 90 minutes. However if you have some patience I’ve found that the Swanson Merlots really develop quite nicely in the bottle. To my own taste I think they really hit another level about 6 years from the vintage date. In any case this release underscores the fact that Swanson makes one of the very best Merlots in Napa Valley regardless of price point. You can call it a Cabernet lover’s Merlot if you like or point out its Bordeaux influence; I choose to simply call it my favorite Merlot.

Finally we come to the Swanson 2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was produced from fruit entirely sourced at the Schmidt Ranch in Napa Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (81%), some Merlot (19%) is also blended in. Barrel aging took place over 22 months in all French oak; 60% of them were new. 500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $75. Alexis started life as a proprietary blend of mostly Cabernet with a generous dollop of Syrah and Merlot blended in. A few vintages back it shifted gears a bit and became a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Black cherry aromas are prominent in the nose of this wine. A hint of vanilla bean and a touch of eucalyptus are present as well. The palate is loaded with deep, dark berry fruit flavors. Cherry is prominent here as well, along with blackberry and black raspberry. Dark chocolate and hints of kirsch liqueur emerge in the finish along with oodles of earth that keeps coming and coming. The finish on this Cabernet Sauvignon is impressive to say the least. It has length and structure to spare. This wine is delicious now, but it’s really just a baby. If you’re patient and have proper storage conditions I would recommend laying it down for about 10 years and drinking it in the 5 or so years that follow. There’s a lot of very good Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. Alexis from Swanson is one of the very best in it’s price category. And while $75 may not be an everyday bottle for most, this is an excellent choice to tuck away for special occasions.

If you’ve waited until the last-minute, these wines from Swanson make for elegant and delicious gifts. However they’re far more than that. This is a dependable and impressive trio of wines that is consistent in quality year after year. They’re available all over the country and will offer lots of drinking pleasure. They’re also quite likely to impress your dinner quests or the lucky recipient if you buy them as gifts. I’ve been drinking the Swanson wines for over a decade and I’m always excited to revisit them whenever the opportunity arises. That’s something I can only say about a handful of producers.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Famiglia Bianchi – 2008 Pinot Noir

Posted by Gabe on December 17, 2010

The Famiglia Bianchi wines from Argentina continue to offer solid (and often better) values at numerous tiers and price points. Their portfolio has a wide scope in terms of varietals, style and cost. This makes it relatively easy for almost anyone to find a wine in their line to enjoy. I for one am fond of their wines in general and today I’m looking forward to sampling their current release of Pinot Noir.

The Famiglia Bianchi 2008 Pinot Noir was produced using fruit sourced in the San Rafael region of Mendoza. This wine is 100% Pinot Noir. After hand picking the wine was fermented and macerated with skins. Barrel aging was accomplished over six months in a combination of French and American oak.  This wine has a suggested retail price of $15.99.

Wild strawberry aromas dominate the nose along with an undercurrent of vanilla and a gentle wisp of crème fraiche. Black cherry, candied strawberry and a persistent vein of kirsch liqueur are the stars of the palate. Black pepper spice plays a role as well and leads to the finish which shows off black tea, continued wallops of cherry, emerging earth and wisps of espresso. This wine has soft, lush tannins and good acidity.

As has been my experience with the Bianchi wines in general this Pinot Noir is crafted with food in mind. It’ll excel with a broad range of roasted meats, cheeses and medium flavored foods. This 2008 Famiglia Bianchi Pinot Noir also continues the streak of great values from this dependable Argentinean producer.

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Paul Dolan Vineyards – 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

Posted by Gabe on December 15, 2010

Last month I had the opportunity to spend some time in Mendocino. More than that, I was lucky enough to share a good chunk of time with Paul Dolan and other members of his team. Tasting wine is one thing, seeing the way an operation is run, literally from the ground up a whole other. What Paul Dolan is accomplishing in Mendocino both under his label and the Parducci brand is impressive to say the least. The dedication to Organics, sustainability and Biodynamics is admirable and incredibly genuine. Their pursuit of pure wines that express a sense of place is their drive. That they do so as shepherds of land they wish to leave in better condition than they found it is the icing on the cake, and then some. Today I’ll take a look at the most current release of Cabernet Sauvignon from Paul’s label.

The Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from Mendocino fruit that was certified Organic. Just about 70% of the fruit is from Paul’s Dark Horse Vineyards which is certified Biodynamic. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (93%), this wine includes small amounts of Syrah (4%), and Petite Sirah (3%). Oak aging occurred over 20 months in a range of American oak. 3,811 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $25.

The nose of this 2007 Cabernet is filled with a trio of aromas; red berry fruit, vanilla and earthy mushrooms each play a role. Both red and black cherry flavors play a strong role throughout the palate. These flavors are joined by significant spice elements such as black pepper and nutmeg. A strong earth component emerges in the finish along with a touch of dusty baker’s chocolate. This wine has excellent structure marked by firm gripping tannins and solid acidity.

This is another in the line of terrific wines from Paul Dolan Vineyards. As with the others it shows off loads of pure unadulterated fruit while showcases its Mendocino roots. If Paul’s name is on the bottle, don’t hesitate to part with your hard-earned money. His wines provide quality and value in spades. It’s also an excellent example of the kind of Cabernet Sauvignon that can be produced in Mendocino for a reasonable price point.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Cupcake Vineyards – NV Brut Rosé

Posted by Gabe on December 13, 2010

Over the last couple of years Cupcake Vineyards has emerged as an interesting source for wine. They offer an ever increasing, eclectic portfolio of releases sourced the world over that deliver solid (or better) quality at prices that most folks can afford on a regular basis. Today I’ll look at one of their Sparkling Wine efforts.

The Cupcake Vineyards Brut Rosé was produced using 100% French Pinot Noir. After gentle pressing the juice is cold fermented, over a couple of weeks, in stainless steel. After the lots are assembled it undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle followed by aging on the lees. It’s then riddled and corked prior to release. The whole process spans approximately 2 years, 10,000 cases of this sparkling wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $15.99.

Things start of with a classic salmon colored hue, lovely and typical for Rosé Sparklers. Aromas of wild strawberry lead the nose underscored by touches of crème fraiche. This wine has a substantial palate that features red cherry, strawberry and an overall mélange of juicy red fruits including watermelon. Wisps of biscuit and ginger are part of the finish along with creamy scone. The finish is noteworthy in its range for both length and structure.

What I love most about this Non Vintage Brut is how versatile it is. It’s delicious sipped by itself but will also pair well with a host of foods both sophisticated and casual. I had this wine alongside a grilled cheese sandwich of Muenster cheese on 12 grain bread; it was a terrific match. The modest price tag makes it a wine you can open any day of the week, the quality makes it something you’ll be happy to serve to guests.

Posted in Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wine, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Tamás Estates – 2009 Pinot Grigio / 2008 Zinfandel / 2008 Double Decker Red

Posted by Gabe on December 8, 2010

With Holiday time upon us a lot of folks are looking for wines to drink at gatherings of all sorts. Sometimes the occasion calls for a special bottle of some kind. Perhaps in those cases you either pull out something you have tucked away or you might step outside of the normal spending budget to get something different, unique or limited. Conversely the Holiday Season also inspires a lot of more casual get-togethers with friends and family too. People in general seem more prone to call and say they’re going to pop by. It’s a times like these it’s really handy to have some everyday wines on hand to share. You want something that isn’t going to break the bank, but you’ll want it to be tasty too. Riding that line between budget and quality can be tricky. I believe the selections I’m looking at today from Tamás Estates make it a little easier.

First up is the Tamás Estates 2009 Pinot Grigio. This wine was produced using fruit sourced in California’s Central Coast. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel tanks. It has a suggested retail price of $9.99. Green apple and hints of citrus fill the nose of this Pinot Grigio. Zesty lemon-lime ice is apparent through the palate. Crisp sour fruits, hints of cream and spice make of the finish. This wine is refreshing and showcases firm acidity.

Next up is the Tamás Estates 2008 Zinfandel. This wine was also sourced from Central Coast fruit. Fermentation took place in stainless steel followed by aging in a combination of French, American and Eastern European oak; both new and neutral barrels were used. This wine has a suggested retail price of $9.99. Jam laden red fruits and touches of vanilla are present in the nose of this Zinfandel. Black raspberry and huckleberry are present in droves through the palate. Those berry fruit flavors continue through the finish along with black cherry, earth, graham cracker crust, plum pudding spice and toasty oak. This is Zinfandel built to pair with food.

Finally today is the Tamás Estates 2008 Double Decker Red. This blend was produced from Central Coast fruit. It combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Barbera. After fermentation in stainless steel, aging occurred in both neutral oak and stainless steel. This wine has a suggested retail price of $9.99. Plum and blueberry aromas fill the nose of this blend. Cherry and continued blueberry and plum are prominent through the palate. Sour cherry emerges on the finish along with rhubarb and both black and white pepper. This is a very appealing red that will pair with a host of medium to full flavored foods.

This trio of wines from Tamás Estates is great for the purpose I described above; they’ll give you something tasty to open for a casual get together without breaking the bank. Wines like this are also handy to keep around the house when a friend or neighbor shows up and gives you an unexpected gift. A bottle of wine in a gift bag paired with a dark chocolate bar or a small bag of nuts is a convenient gift to have lying around for those occasions. And worst case if the holidays end and you didn’t use them for that purpose, open them on a random Tuesday with a slice of pizza.

Posted in Blends, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Wine, Zinfandel | Leave a Comment »

Segura Viudas – Reserva Heredad Cava

Posted by Gabe on December 7, 2010

Most great wine producing countries have their own Sparkling Wine traditions. Spain is no exception and they give us Cava. Segura Viudas sits on close to 450 acres in the Penedès region. The Cava tradition there dates back many years and there is high regard for the sparkling wines from Penedès. Today I’ll look at one of the many that Segura Viudas produces.

The Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad was produced using fruit sourced at the winery estate in the Alt Penedès region of Spain. This offering is a blend of Macabeo (67%) and Parellada (33%). This wine spends up to four years aging on yeast. It has a suggested retail price of $25 for a standard 750 ml bottle and $40 for a 1.5 L Magnum.

A welcoming mélange of fruit aromas leads the fresh nose of this Cava. Honeydew Melon and green apple lead the charge, supported by a hint of white pepper spice. Grapefruit, lemon zest, and tart apple are all in abundance through the medium bodied palate. Ginger, brioche and a touch of yeast all emerge on the finish which has good length. This Cava is crisp, refreshing and nicely dry.

This Cava represents a very good value at $25. Over the years I’ve found that there’s something about large format bottles that excites a party or gathering. That makes the Magnum for $40 an even more outstanding value, and thus a perfect choice to mark a festive occasion this holiday season. The hand blown bottle with a pewter crest add to the elegance that’s contained inside. This wine is well worth checking out.

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Chilcas – 2008 Reserva Merlot / Ecos de Rulo – 2007 Bisquertt Merlot Gran Reserve

Posted by Gabe on December 6, 2010

I love Merlot. There I’ve done it, I’m taking sides with a variety that a lot of people seem to have a strong aversion to. Here’s the dirty secret about that though, there’s quite a bit of really good Merlot made in many wine regions throughout the world. That said there’s also a lot of Merlot I would have no desire to drink. Due to some industrial tasting Merlot, and a little movie that bashed Merlot as much as it praised Pinot Noir a lot of wine drinkers have taken to drinking anything but Merlot. For my money they’re missing out. Today I’ll look at two terrific, well priced examples from Chile.

First up is the Chilcas 2008 Reserva Merlot 2008. The fruit for this wine was sourced near the winery which sits adjacent to the Descabezado Volcano. There they have just fewer than 1,000 acres. This includes vineyard land, physical winery, bottling plant, and their offices. This wine is 100% Merlot and has a suggested retail price of $13.

The nose of this Merlot shows of a bit of an herbaceous quality, following that is an onslaught of dark fruit flavors. The dark fruit theme continues through the palate where cherry and blackberry along with a host of other flavors rule the day. Pencil lead, minerals, black pepper and earth are all part of an above average and layered finish. This wine has chewy tannins and good overall structure. For $13 this wine shows excellent varietal character and is a very good value.

The second wine is the Ecos de Rulo 2007 Bisquertt Merlot Gran Reserve. This wine was made using fruit sourced in the Colchagua Valley. In addition to Merlot (90%), this wine has 10% Petit Verdot blended in. Barrel aging occurred over 12 months in French oak; three months of bottle aging followed. This offering has a suggested retail price of $16.

Blueberry aromas explode from the nose of this 2007 Merlot. They’re joined by hints of vanilla, thyme and a touch of toast. Blackberry, black raspberry, huckleberry, and continued blueberry are all part of a veritable avalanche of dark fruit flavors which dominate the palate of this Merlot.  Espresso, hints of earth and a dollop of brown sugar all emerge in the finish which has excellent length. This wine shows of medium tannins and nice structure. At $16 it also shows off true Varietal character and is a terrific value.

If you haven’t been drinking Merlot, it’s time to start again. If you have been drinking it along here are a couple of offerings that over-deliver in their category. In any case you can’t miss with these two wines from Chile. This is a country which continues to be one to look to time and again for distinct wines that deliver more quality than their price points indicate in many instances.

Posted in Merlot, Wine | Leave a Comment »

Visiting Opus One in Napa Valley

Posted by Gabe on December 1, 2010

Expectation can be a heavy burden to live up to. Whether it’s a film, book, a bottle of wine or an athlete’s performance, anything perceived as less that the anticipated result comes off as a let down. The same of course can be true for winery visits. Producers of all shapes and size the world over open their doors and invite folks in to taste their wares and perhaps tour their facility. Sometimes it’s easier to be wowed when you know nothing of the wine or the producer in question. Again, with a lack of expectation it’s somewhat easier to impress people. Folks in all lines of work do this all the time; under promise and over deliver, it’s a classic time honored technique. But with many of the world’s wineries, particularly the well known ones, their reputation is known and the expectation level exists. Such is the case with Napa Valley’s Opus One.

Last month I paid to Opus One with some friends. I’d been their once before and recalled it fondly, but it had been about 7 or 8 years so the details were dull. The wine itself is of course the stuff of legend. Founded in 1979 by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild the goal from the outset was simple, greatness. These two legends of their respective wine worlds came together in Napa Valley to make one wine that would compete with the best of the best. It was to be an offering in the great Bordeaux style using the classic varieties which also flourish in Napa Valley. Pretty much from the outset the wines have been praised, setting the bar even higher.

So as my friends and I approached Opus One each of us had different ideas about what we’d find inside, but certainly we all had lofty expectations. Keeping that in mind it’s impressive to say the least that we were all knocked out by the experience. Our tour guide Yasko was part of the greatness of our visit. She’s been with Opus One for a few years and knows the history of the project amazingly well and answered every question we had. But well beyond that the grandeur of the facility is hard to miss. Everything about Opus One is as precisely as it was masterminded, regal and impressive. If I had a nickel for every barrel room I’ve seen on winery tours, well I’d have quite a few nickels. They come in all styles and sizes but at the end of the day not many of them make my jaw drop. I’d seen the barrel room at Opus One before, but still it was a sight to behold. The same came be said for the tank room and other pieces of the wine making facility. The entrance, the tasting area and essentially every last square inch of Opus One is on a different rung than most wineries. It’s intended to be both a working winery and a knock your socks off showplace and it succeeds admirably at both of those things.

At the end of the tour, right after being wowed by the barrel room we had the opportunity to taste the current release of Opus One, the 2007. I was left with a similar impression that I’ve had each time I’ve tasted a new release of their wine. It was impressively structured and tasty, but ultimately tight and in need of some time in the bottle to really resolve itself fully. Hopefully most of the folks who are spending the money to invest in this wine ($195.00 SRP) are also patient enough to give it a few years of time. A few minutes later tasting the 2005 vintage proved to be a revelation in itself. While I believe it still has quite a few years ahead of it, the 2005 Opus One is performing phenomenally right now. It’s a showcase wine and if you want to bowl your wine loving friends over and you can locate some 2005, it’s sure to do the trick.

Touring and tasting at Opus One is neither the least or most expensive proposition in Napa Valley. However it’s an incredibly impressive display of greatness that actually lives up to the hype; something my entire group of four could attest to. So if you’re heading to Napa Valley and you want do something nice for yourself and maybe for your friends too, book a tour at Opus One, you won’t forget it. The cost is $40 and you should book in advance. I for one know that I won’t let another 7 or 8 years pass until my next visit. How could I, I don’t want to forget what the experience was like. Sometimes expectations as grand as they are can be met and exceeded.

Posted in Wine, Winery Visit | Leave a Comment »


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