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Wine

Top 50 wines of 2015

The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel, made up of nine highly tuned palates belonging to iconic winemakers and wineshow judges, meet almost every Friday at Wine Selectors HQ to taste and rate wines. Each and every wine that is submitted to Wine Selectors is reviewed in a blind tasting format, meaning their label is masked from the Panel, so as to remove any bias. Therefore, each and every wine is tasted purely on its merit in the glass. On average, the Panel tastes around 60+ wines a week. For 50 weeks a year, that equates to...well, a lot of wines!

Up until now, this regimented tasting ritual has had the sole purpose of ensuring that the wines we send out to our Members are top quality, every time. The rule is, if the wine doesn’t score 15.5 out of 20 or above, Wine Selectors won’t buy it. In real terms, this means that every wine that we sell is of medal-winning standard. It has been the golden rule that Wine Selectors has operated on for 40 successful years.

As an editor, and as a wine lover, I saw the Panel’s arduous tasting schedule as an opportunity to generate a ‘best wines of the year’ list.

More than meets the eye

Examining the results makes for some pretty interesting reading. The Top 50 is a mixture of old favourites, recent acquaintances and brand new friends, which is all very exciting. The most popular varietal in the Top 50? Shiraz with 11. To be expected really, with it being our most widely planted and produced grape. Chardonnay with nine listings was next, not totally unexpected, but a pleasant result given the fact it has taken a battering in the white wine world over the past decade or so from other young dames. It must also be noted that two of these were Hunter Valley Chardonnay! Then followed: Cabernet Sauvignon (6), Pinot Noir (4) and three blends involving Shiraz.

What is very promising is the fact that there are a number of alternative varietals on the list: Roussanne, Malbec, Grenache, Tempranillo and even a Gewürztraminer! This bodes extremely well for the wide variety available to the Australian wine drinker. There were also two Semillons (but only one from the Hunter), two Fortifieds, but perhaps disappointingly, only one Sparkling and a lone Riesling.

Regions

It appears that the last few vintages have been pretty good for winemakers in the Hunter Valley, Margaret River and the emerging giant, Great Southern, who each topped the pile with six wines represented. Adelaide Hills (5), Barossa (4), McLaren Vale (4) and Coonawarra (3 – but only one of them Cab Sauv) also performed well. Regions that surprised many included: Heathcote, Goulburn Valley and Great Western, while Rutherglen proved that it is still producing world-class Fortifieds, including the top scoring wine from All Saints Estate.

Speaking of producers, there were only two who had multiple entries in the Top 50 – Howard Park with their Marchand & Burch Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay; and Brown Brothers with a Tempranillo and a Pinot Noir. So hats off to those guys, they are obviously getting their sites and winemaking spot-on.

Overall, this Top 50 list is great news for wine lovers. The results show that we can rely on wines we have admired for decades, some faithful styles are being produced better than ever before, while at the same time, there is a rich range of top quality emerging varietals on the market.

Top 50 Wines of 2015

1. All Saints Estate Grand Rutherglen Muscat (Rutherglen, $72)

2. Leconfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Coonawarra, $35)

3. Driftwood Estate The Collection Shiraz Cabernet 2012 (Margaret River, $21)

4. Best’s Great Western Bin No 0 Shiraz 2013 (Great Western, $75)

5. Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir 2014 (Mount Barker, $50)

6. Eppalock Ridge Shiraz 2013 (Heathcote, $20)

7. Ballabourneen ‘The Three Amigos’ Cabernet Petit Verdot Merlot 2013 (McLaren Vale/Orange/Hunter Valley, $35)

8. Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $40)

9. Murray Street Vineyards Black Label Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $25)

10. Rymill gt Gewürztraminer 2015 (Coonawarra, $20)

11. Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Frankland River, $38)

12. Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 47 Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley, $70)

13. Howard Park Western Australia Chardonnay 2014 (Great Southern/Marg River, $54)

14. Shaw & Smith Incognito Chardonnay 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $19)

15. Innocent Bystander Mea Culpa Chardonnay 2013 (Yarra Valley, $60)

16. Brown Brothers 18 Eighty Nine Tempranillo 2013 (Victoria, $19)

17. Rutherglen Estates Classic Muscat NV (Rutherglen, $15)

18. Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache 2013 (McLaren Vale, $27)

19. X by Xabregas Figtree Riesling 2014 (Mount Barker, $40)

20. Château Tanunda Terroirs of the Barossa Lyndoch Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $49.50)

21. Ferngrove ‘Dragon’ Shiraz 2012 (Frankland River, $32)

22. Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2014 (Tamar River Tasmania, $25)

23. Henry’s Drive Shiraz Cabernet 2010 (Padthaway, $35)

24. Jansz Single Vineyard Sparkling Chardonnay 2009 (Pipers River Tasmania, $64.95)

25. First Creek Semillon 2013 (Hunter Valley, $25)

26. Mitchell Wines McNicol Shiraz 2006 (Clare Valley, $40)

27. Serafino ‘Sharktooth’ Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, $70)

28. De Iuliis Steven Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley, $40)

29. Bird in Hand Two in the Bush Shiraz 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $20)

30. Peos Estate Four Aces Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $36)

31. Tomich ‘T’ Woodside Vineyard 1777 Pinot Noir 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $30)

32. Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley, $55)

33. Alkoomi Wandoo Semillon 2005 (Frankland River, $35)

34. Draytons Family Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley, $20)

35. Pindarie Western Ridge Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley, $28)

36. Yering Station ‘Little Yering’ Cabernet Shiraz 2010 (Yarra Valley, $18)

37. Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $35)

38. Box Grove Vineyard Roussanne 2009 (Goulburn Valley, $28)

39. Bleasdale Second Innings Malbec 2013 (Langhorne Creek, $20)

40. Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage Cabernet/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot/Merlot 2013 (Barossa, $25)

41. Redgate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $38)

42. Harewood Estate Chardonnay 2014 (Denmark, $27.50)

43. Millbrook Winery Limited Edition Chardonnay 2012 (Margaret River, $45)

44. Hungerford Hill Classic Range Chardonnay 2014 (Tumbarumba, $33)

45. Tower Estate Coombe Rise Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (Hunter Valley, $38)

46. Seville Estate ‘Old Vine Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2013 (Yarra Valley, $90)

47. Thompson Estate Four Chambers Shiraz 2013 (Margaret River, $22)

48. Penny’s Hill Footprint Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, $65)

49. Bremerton ‘Tamblyn’ Cabernet Shiraz Malbec Merlot 2012 (Langhorne Creek,  $19.90)

50. Rockcliffe Third Reef Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Great Southern, $26)

Further reading: the of Best wines of 2016

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Wine
The Gee in Pinot G
Words by Peter Forrestal on 12 Aug 2015
The rise Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio in the Australian marketplace has been nothing short of remarkable, especially as it has occurred at the same time as the country has been drenched by a tsunami of increasingly cheap Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. While there has been a knock-on effect with increased interest in local Sauvignon Blanc , and substantial growth in plantings of Muscat à Petit grains (from a small base) for Moscato, there has been huge consumer interest in Pinot Gris/Grigio. So, what better time for the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel to line up 60 of the country’s finest and put them to the test? The Panel was joined by two learned Pinot Gris/Grigio producers: Mornington Peninsula vigneron Garry Crittenden and King Valley winemaker Sam Miranda, as well as yours truly. A quick history lesson Pinot Gris was planted in Australia much earlier than most would have imagined. Chris Bourke of Sons & Brothers in Orange mentions on his website that when James Busby imported his collection of grape varieties from France and Spain in the 1830s, what he had thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon was, in fact, Pinot Gris. As with much of Busby’s collection, it didn’t survive. Today’s Pinot Gris/Grigio was pioneered on the Mornington Peninsula in the 1980s by Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy at T’Gallant and, although slowly at first, in the past decade it has taken hold of the public consciousness with increasing speed. Kathleen sees three factors coming together to enable Pinot Gris to succeed on Mornington. It was the right region for the right variety. The clone that was available was ideal as it produced small berries, small bunches and only moderate vigour. There were adequate good sites (north facing slopes), which were as vital to ripening Pinot Gris as they were to ripening Pinot Noir. Consumers were the other key in this equation and she saw them as being interested in new varieties: looking for unwooded whites and wanting premium varieties as expressive as Pinot Noir . In Australia no variety, except Sauvignon Blanc , has grown more impressively than Pinot Gris/Grigio in the last five years when the industry trend has been to stabilise or decrease the supply of grapes. In that time, it has moved ahead of Viognier , Verdelho , Muscat, Colombard and Riesling : more of it is produced than any of the major white varieties except for Chardonnay , Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. There are in excess of a hundred different labels of Pinot Gris/Grigio on the market in Australia at present. What’s in a name? A major marketing and consumer issue in Australia is that the same grape variety is produced and sold as both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio and, for many, this can seem pretty confusing. This difference has its roots in the vineyards of Europe. Pinot Grigio is most successfully grown in the regions of Fruili, the Veneto and Alto Adige in North-Eastern Italy where it is picked early and produces a fresh, zesty, racy style with clean savoury characters. In France, it is known as Pinot Gris and is popular in Alsace where it is picked riper and therefore has a richer, fuller, plumper profile and is higher in alcohol. The variety produces bluey grey grapes (deep purple with green flesh when fully ripe) that make white or lightly pink wines and are thought to be related to (or a mutant of) Pinot Noir. Throughout this tasting the issue of colour was rigorously discussed. Garry Crittenden said he liked his wine to be clear, while others on the Panel thought the wine should have a pinkish tinge to it. Whatever the preference, it is important that the consumer knows most Gris/Grigio will have a ‘pink-grey’ tinge to it, and that is completely normal. Another key issue for Gris/Grigio has been the importance of identifying the places where it can be grown most successfully. Kathleen believes that far too much Gris/Grigio has been planted in warm Australian regions for which it is patently unsuitable. For Garry Crittenden, Pinot Gris/Grigio, like Pinot Noir, has become genetically adapted over the centuries to showing its full phenolic character in cool climates where the grapes ripen slowly over a long period of time. Low vigour is also vital to producing Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes that show concentration and character. The results reveal Firstly, the results supported Kathleen Quealy’s theory that Pinot Gris/Grigio does best in cool climate regions. The majority of wines in the tasting were cool climate and all of the top 20 wines were sourced from cool climate areas. More than half of those wines were sourced from Victorian vineyards, with the King Valley accounting for six of the top 20, while the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula claimed three each and Geelong , one. The Adelaide Hills , Eden Valley and Tasmania also registered as strong regions for Gris/Grigio, while Orange and Tumbarumba were the only regions of note north of the border. Seven of the top 10 scoring wines were Pinot Gris. This result was explained by the fact that this varietal style is generally more malleable to winemaker manipulation. The Grigio style should be lighter, drier and more minerally, so will generally be picked quite early, cool-fermented in tank, then bottled, whereas the Gris style would be picked later and therefore riper, which means it can handle some winemaking artefact, such as lees stirring and barrel fermentation or maturation. Pinot G? The results also showed the Gris tasted were significantly removed from the wines of Alsace, while the Grigios were substantially different from their Mediterranean counterparts, and there were some wines that sat in between. Panellist Trent Mannell posed this revolutionary hypothesis: had Australia developed its own style of Pinot Gris/Grigio, a style that is neither Gris nor Grigio but sits somewhere in between, a style we could simply label as Pinot G? For instance, the Thorn Clarke Sandpiper Pinot Gris showed floral aromas but had some minerality on the nose with zippy acidity, while the The Pawn ‘Caissa’ Pinot Grigio was described as having a delicate acid balance and vibrance while at the same time was lauded for its muscaty aromatics and thick viscous texture. So you can see in these two examples there is some overlap in styles. If the results of the tasting were seriously scrutinised, then the outcome would suggest that we do indeed have three styles of this versatile varietal in Australia: Gris, Grigio and G. The element of food One of the other main issues that the Panel discussed during the tasting was the importance of drinking Pinot G in the company of food. These are textural wines, much more savoury and less fruity than most Aussie whites. They are transformed by being paired with appropriate foods. One of the magic moments during the tasting came when Chairman Karl Stockhausen condemned a Pinot Gris as being lean, tight and watery. “I want some flavour,” he growled. Sam came to the Eden Valley wine’s defence, agreeing that it was neutral but insisting that placing it alongside food would bring the wine alive. Then he asserted, “I could drink it all day!” With Pinot Grigio, you could try oysters, clams, prawns, grilled whiting, lightly battered barramundi fillets, mildly spiced stir fries, and with Pinot Gris, go for onion tart, lobster, barbecued or roast pork, or roast chicken. It’s a question of finding dishes that you think will work with the crisp zestiness of Pinot Grigio or the richer, fuller, weightier, more viscous character of Pinot Gris. Overall, Sam believed that the tasting showed how far Pinot Gris/Grigio has come in Australia in the past decade. He said that if we’d held a similar tasting in the 1990s, far too many of the wines would have been bland or faulty. Most importantly, he was impressed at how well producers achieved the style that the label told us they were aiming for. For you, though, the message is both clear and welcoming. Pinot Gris/Grigio, or for that matter, Pinot G, is doing very well in Australia. So when you are sitting down al fresco-style to a shared mezze plate or some antipasti this summer, crack open a bottle of Australian Pinot G and discover what all the fuss is about.
Wine
Into the wild: Grenache
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 4 Mar 2016
On top of a small hill in a small town in the south of France sits a ruined medieval castle. Dating back to the 14th century, it was built for Pope John XXII. The name of this town is Chateauneuf du Pape. Get it? But the papacy wasn’t just responsible for the castle, they also planted vineyards in the area, presumably to fill the sacramental goblets, and the town is now a world famous wine destination. The high quality Chateauneuf du Pape red wines are some of the most expensive in the world and while there are up to nine red wine varieties officially allowed to be used in Chateauneuf du Pape, the most common is Grenache . One of the reasons for the prevalence of Grenache in this southern French region is the climate. Grenache loves the heat and in Chateauneuf du Pape, the stones that are common in the vineyard soils heat up during the day, then at night-time the heat slowly disperses, preventing the vines from getting too cold. The vines are also virtually free from pesticides as the prevailing Mistral wind prevents rot and fungal attack. While the history of Grenache in Australia is a few hundred years shorter, we can put our success with the variety down to weather and a lack of bugs too. You’ll find most of our plantings in the McLaren Vale and Barossa regions where the Mediterranean-style climate of warm summers and mild winters helps Grenache feel at home. “It’s also a variety that responds well to vine age,” explains Giles Cooke MW, winemaker and founder of Thistledown Wines. “As the vine ages, it is able to produce grapes that are fully ripe at lower potential alcohol levels than younger vines that tend to push a lot of energy into sugar production.” “But what’s that got to do with bugs?” I hear you ask. Giles has the answer: “Australia has some of the best old vine resources in the world due to the lack of phylloxera (an aphid-like insect that’s wreaked havoc in vineyards throughout the world).” Its lovely old gnarly look is part of what makes Grenache vines recognisable, but also have another distinct feature. While most grape varieties need a trellis to keep them off the ground, Grenache tends to grow upright and therefore it’s ideally suited to being grown as a bush vine. So it’s old, gnarly and wild. While bush vines are more labour intensive in that they have to be hand pruned, they have certain advantages, especially in Australia. These untamed beasts are drought resistant and can control their yield so that in a dry year they’ll produce fewer grapes than in a wet year. What’s more, their roots penetrate deep into the earth where they find water and rich nutrients. So if Grenache is so perfectly suited to Australia’s Mediterranean-style regions and we have some of the world’s oldest vines, why haven’t you heard more about it? Giles again: “Outside of Rhone and certain parts of Spain (Catalunya) it has been a workhorse variety capable of producing large quantities of highly alcoholic reds and Rosés. In Australia, its potential to make highly alcoholic wines lent it to fortification and so it was often anonymous.” Justin Ardill, winemaker at Reillys Wines also adds, “Historically, wines were labelled as per their style, rather than the grape varietal and since Grenache was used to create Australian Burgundy, the market is more familiar with the term ‘Burgundy’ than ‘Grenache.’” The tasting It’s possible then, if you’re of a certain vintage, that you’ve tried Grenache without even knowing it. But if you’ve never tried Grenache or would like to learn more about it, the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel has taken the legwork out of finding the best examples with the latest State of Play tasting. In the top 30 wines, you’ll find the majority come from McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley . There are a couple of Clare Valley wines, a McLaren Vale/Hunter/Orange blend, one from Nagambie Lakes and even one from WA’s Ferguson Valley. Another thing to note is that there are more blends than straight varieties. Grenache is commonly blended with Shiraz and Mourvedre (Mataro) to make GSM, but you’ll also find it with Merlot , Malbec and even the Portuguese variety, Touriga.   The predominance of blends was also the case when the Panel last did a Grenache tasting back in 2009 and Christian Gaffey had this explanation, “Blends are often more complete wines, more thought goes into the blend or perhaps the varieties are more complementary.” Winemaker Damian Hutton, whose Iron Cloud Purple Patch GSM is in the top 30, agrees on the point of the complementary appeal. “Grenache adds beautiful characteristics to the wines it’s blended with. In the Purple Patch GSM, Grenache contributes its classic bright, cherry and raspberry flavours. Shiraz provides structure, spice, and plum flavours. The addition of Mourvedre completes the blend with added structure and depth.” Straight talking There are staunch advocates for keeping Grenache straight, though. Ben Riggs, whose Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache was a highlight of the tasting, says, “Our personal philosophy is to express pure Grenache. As a single varietal wine it expresses much more sense of place.” On this point, winemaker Troy Kalleske agrees. “I think Grenache is extremely expressive of time and place. Grenache character can vary a lot from year to year depending on season and it expresses differently in different soils. So you never really know what you’re are going to get, and that’s enjoyable!” What you are guaranteed to get is an extremely food-friendly red. As Ben explains, “Grenache pairs beautifully rather than overpowers, it amplifies the flavours of the food, rather than being overbearing with its own flavours.” Damian and Troy add that the soft tannins contribute to its food-matching potential and they both recommend it with duck with bok choy. Justin agrees that Asian-style dishes work, but adds, “Grenache is also fantastic with barbecued meats, particularly charred meats as found in Greek souvlaki, yiros and roasted lamb. For Giles, “When chilled, a young Grenache is great with fish.” It makes me wonder if Pope John had a favourite food match for his Chateauneuf du Pape. I am guessing it was divine. Top 30 Grenache and Grenache blends (March 2016) Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $40) S.C. Pannell Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2014 (McLaren Vale, $30) Teusner Joshua Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2015 (Barossa, $35) Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache 2013 (McLaren Vale, $27) St John’s Road Motley Bunch Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2013 (Barossa, $22) Henschke Johann’s Garden Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2014 (Barossa, $51) Z Wines Roman Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $25) Turkey Flat Vineyards Grenache 2014 (Barossa, $30) Gomersal Wines Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $17) IronCloud Rock of Solitude Purple Patch GSM 2014 (Ferguson Valley, $32) Reillys Wines Old Bush Vine Grenache 2012 (Clare Valley, $25) Two Hands Brave Faces Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2014 (Barossa, $27) Vinrock Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $30) Alternatus Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $25) Landhaus Grenache 2012 (Barossa, $27) Tim Smith Wines Grenache 2014 (Barossa, $36) Serafino Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $28) Doc Adams Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $20) Handcrafted by Geoff Hardy Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $30) Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $35) Yalumba The Strapper Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2012 (Barossa, $22) Kalleske Clarry’s Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 (Barossa, $21) Château Tanunda 1858 Field Blend 150 year old vines Grenache Mourvedre Malbec 2013 (Eden Valley, $250) Barossa Valley Estate Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 (Barossa, $26.99) First Creek Grenache Shiraz Merlot 2014 (McLaren Vale/Hunter Valley/Orange, $25) Running With Bulls Garnacha 2015 (Barossa, $20.95) Stone Bridge Wines Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2014 (Clare Valley, $26) Tahbilk Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (Nagambie Lakes, $27.95) Richard Hamilton Colton’s Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (McLaren Vale, $21) Charles Melton La Belle Mere Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (Barossa, $22.90)
Wine
How to read an Australian wine label
Words by Paul Diamond on 7 Mar 2016
Mandatory information requirements for labels of Australian wines, mean as a wine lover you can be assured of exactly what is in each wine bottle, who made it and where it came from – there’s no guess work involved. While the label design differs for each wine company to reflect their personality, history and wine styles, all Australian wine labels must include the following: Volume of wine e.g. 750ml Country of origin e.g. Australia Percentage of alcohol e.g. 13.5% ALC/VOL Designation of product e.g. wine Producer e.g. name and address Additives e.g. preservative 220 added Standard drinks e.g. approx. 8 Standard drinks Allergen warnings e.g. this wine has been fined with fish, milk or egg products. There are also a number of rules that apply to the information supplied about where the fruit for the wine came from, what varietal or varietals it’s made from, and also the vintage it was harvested in. If the label states a specific vintage year, it must contain at least 85% of fruit from the stated year. If it states a specific variety it must contain at least 85% of that variety e.g. Chardonnay , Shiraz or Riesling . If the wine contains 15% or more of a second varietal that also must be declared e.g.: Cabernet Merlot or Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. If it states a specific regional origin or geographical indication (GI) it must contain at least 85% fruit from that region. Front of the label Generally a front label will include the following: Producer’s company name Brand name Geographical indication/region Prescribed name of grape variety or blend Vintage Volume statement. Trophy or medal logo if it has any – awarded at Wine Shows, Trophy is the highest award. Wines can also be awarded a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal depending on the score they receive from the judging panel. Back of label Depending on the wine and the wine producer, the back label usually includes a brief blurb about the wine, winery, or winemaker, a tasting note or maybe the story behind the wine. It also includes: Name and description of the wine Alcohol statement Standard drink labelling Allergens declaration Name and address of the wine producer Country of origin On the back labels of Australian biodynamic and organic wines labels, you may also see logos certifying their status. Each wine label tells a story, so next time you pick out a bottle of wine, make sure you take the time to read its label – you’ll be surprised at what you can learn!
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