Blending - the key to complexity?

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Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby MattThr » Fri Jan 18, 2008 1:54 pm

Hi,

I have found, in my admittedly limited experience, that wines made with diverse blends of grapes (5+ varietals) tend to be the ones that have the greatest complexity of flavour. It's not the whole deal of course - good viticulture and winemaking are obviously also essential - but it does seems to be a significant contributory factor.

Has anyone else noticed this?

If I'm right, what does this say about the aspects of the AOC system and it's imitators for those areas in which limited different varietals are allowed in the blend? Are they perhaps doomed to lag behind some of the more modern and adventurous producers until the classification catches up?

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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Mark Lipton » Fri Jan 18, 2008 2:06 pm

MattThr wrote:Hi,

I have found, in my admittedly limited experience, that wines made with diverse blends of grapes (5+ varietals) tend to be the ones that have the greatest complexity of flavour. It's not the whole deal of course - good viticulture and winemaking are obviously also essential - but it does seems to be a significant contributory factor.


I don't think that many fans of Burgundy would agree with that observation, since both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay seem to reach great heights of complexity as single varieties. Riesling, Syrah and Mourvedre also become quite complex on their own. In part, this seems to be tied up with notions of terroir, since in those places where terroir is most highly emphasized (Burgundy, the Loire, the N. Rhone, the Mosel) most wines seem to be monocepage in nature (though not all, certainly). Perhaps in Bordeaux the lack of emphasis on terroir is compensated for by the blending of varieties; another possible explanation is that Cabernet and Merlot on their own don't make complete wines and need to be supplemented with another. :lol:

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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby JC (NC) » Fri Jan 18, 2008 2:07 pm

I think blending varieties definitely can add to complexity. But I also find single grape variety wines may possess a purity of flavor that blends don't have--i.e., Riesling or Pinot Noir or Gewurztraminer.
Both have their good points.
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby David Creighton » Fri Jan 18, 2008 2:47 pm

well, its hard to remember an assertion i disagree more with. the conventional wisdom - which i agree with - is that you need to blend varieties when you grow in warmer regions. single varieties in northern areas; mulitiple cepage in southern. basically you are 'correcting' for the difficulties of a climate. when you grow a variety near its cool limit, you get its best face and if it is a quality grape easily works on its own. the ones mentioned above are some of the better examples. bordeaux might be regarded as an exception; but soil differences play a role there too.

i guess i regard this theory as an apology for new world wines - wines nearly always grown in too warm areas. NZ is an exception - and they are mostly single variety wines. if for some reason you like warm climate wines - can't imagine it myself - then its true that to get any complexity, you need to blend. but why not just grow grapes where they should be grown?
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Dale Williams » Fri Jan 18, 2008 3:48 pm

Mark Lipton wrote:I don't think that many fans of Burgundy would agree with that observation, since both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay seem to reach great heights of complexity as single varieties. Riesling, Syrah and Mourvedre also become quite complex on their own.


In addition to this list, I've had plenty of Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese that had tons of complexity in monocepage. :D
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Steve Slatcher » Fri Jan 18, 2008 6:33 pm

I'd say you can get the full gamut of complexity from single varieties of grape with no problem at all. The complexity comes from the fermentation, possible aging in oak, and bottle age; it has relatively little to do with the primary aromas of the grapes.

For quality wines, blending is done either as a hedge against difficult harvests and/or to patch defects that may exist in any particular variety. This defects, and I hesitate to use the word, are usually structural - lack of body, colour, tannin, acidity - and nothing to do with aromas.

That's how it seems to me at least. IMHO etc.
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby David Creighton » Fri Jan 18, 2008 10:36 pm

have to disagree with steve too! complexity is not achieved by the winemaker either by fermentation, blending, oak aging - which usually overcomes complexity - or aging. complexity along with all qualitative aspects comes from the vineyard which is planted to a particualr variety in a particular climate on a particular soil. the winemaker like god ? keeps bad things from happening to good people(grapes).
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Paul Winalski » Sat Jan 19, 2008 2:33 am

I don't agree at all.

I point to red Burgundy and the Northern Rhone reds as counterexamples to your assertion. The former is by regulation pure pinot noir. The latter is almost always varietal syrah. Both are just as, if not more, complex than Bordeaux or other regions that sanction blending of grape varieties.

I do think that the French (and more generally European) obsession with geographic location and so-called "traditional" grape varieties encoded in the AOC laws has stunted the development of possibly great wine blends. Burgundy used to have grenache from the Southern Rhone blended into it, whether legally or illegally. So what's wrong with that, if it gives a tastier wine? And Bordeaux not only used to blend in syrah from the Northern Rhone, they used to blatantly advertise such wines as superior to the unblended product. And there are many find cabernet/sangiovese wines in Italy that are only allowed to be called ordinary table wine even though they are superior in quality to many a DOC or DOCG.

I understand the original rationale behind the AOC regulations, but I wonder whether they've perhaps outlived their usefulness, and become rather a shield for mediocrity rather than a badge of quality.

Bottom line is that it's always been the individual producer's name that is the best indicator of quality. AOC regulations really haven't changed that. They've just stifled ingenuity.

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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Steve Slatcher » Sat Jan 19, 2008 8:36 am

David Creighton wrote:have to disagree with steve too! complexity is not achieved by the winemaker either by fermentation, blending, oak aging - which usually overcomes complexity - or aging. complexity along with all qualitative aspects comes from the vineyard which is planted to a particualr variety in a particular climate on a particular soil. the winemaker like god ? keeps bad things from happening to good people(grapes).

I didn't say complexity was "achieved by the winemaker". Let me try to further explain my position.

I was saying that a complex array of aromas and flavours develops in the wine during fermentation and afterwards. If you have 2 complex wines, I am not convinced you make a more complex wine by blending them. Some (potentially) aromatic compounds will be thinned out below the perception level by the blending process, while some others may become apparent, but it is not a one way street.

OTOH blending can clearly be useful for adjusting more straightforward and easily measurable properties (acidity, tannin, alcohol) of the wine to bring them into balance. Also, if you start with one dominant aroma per wine you will add complexity by blending them, but if you start with wines that are already complex nothing or little will be added to the complexity. Blending is also used in places where one variety or another may fail in a particular vintage (Bordeaux) or to achieve a more consistent house style (Champagne, and also Bordeaux to an extent). Another reason for blending is to stretch out a decent variety with a rubbish one that's a lot cheaper.

It is probably this last reason that has perhaps to varietal wines being more highly regarded than blends, and I would certainly agree that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with blends - just that varietals can be complex too. Examples to illustrate the point are littered throughought this thread.

If I understand you right, David, you seem to be turning the debate into "terroir vs variety vs winemakeing". That is interesting in itself, but has nothing to do with the blending of 2 or more wines, each of which will be the product of teroir, grape and winemaking.

BTW, on another board it transpired that there was a whole range of different definitions of "complexity". That does not make these discussion any easier! For me, a complex wine simply has lots of different flavours and aromas.
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Victorwine » Sun Jan 20, 2008 12:50 pm

It all depends on what you mean by “pure”. I have tasted bottled wines that were labeled 100% Merlot but in reality they were actual blends of different clones of Merlot. The winemakers usually ferments each clone of Merlot separately and its fun to do barrel samples and see how each clone contributes to the “final” blend. The French, especially in Burgundy know what their doing when they refer to a wine as Red Burgundy or White Burgundy.

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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby MattThr » Sun Jan 20, 2008 7:10 pm

Interesting responses. It was just an idea I had.

i guess i regard this theory as an apology for new world wines - wines nearly always grown in too warm areas. NZ is an exception - and they are mostly single variety wines. if for some reason you like warm climate wines - can't imagine it myself - then its true that to get any complexity, you need to blend. but why not just grow grapes where they should be grown?


This has nothing to do with being an apology for new world wines, not least because I see nothing I ought to apologise for if I enjoy them. Since the majority of wine critics seem to be united in saying that the best new-world wines can match the best old-world ones, I seem to be in good company. But in point of fact the wines that gave me the notion for this concept in the first place were French and Spanish.

Those people who mentioned Burgundy and Rhone wine pretty much hit the nail on the head though. It's quite clear that single varietals are capable of plenty of complexity.
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Hoke » Sun Jan 20, 2008 10:26 pm

Somewhat overwrought but pretty basic statements I can get behind, Paul.

But...

Bottom line is that it's always been the individual producer's name that is the best indicator of quality. AOC regulations really haven't changed that.


when you put those two sentences together, for some reason, you lose me. Since they don't belong together. Was someone arguing that the producer's name wasn't important? Or that AOC regulations were created for the purpose of making the producer's name secondary? Or do you really mean to say that you think AOC regulations are in any way an indication of quality???
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Paul Winalski » Mon Jan 21, 2008 2:14 pm

Hoke,

The whole reason the AOC system was set up in the first place was to provide the consumer some expectation as to the character and quality of what was in the bottle. The idea was that if you saw "Appellation Haut-Merde Controllee" on the label, you'd know what grapes went into the wine, the production methods used, and that it met a certain minimum quality standard, according to the rules defined for the Haut-Merde appellation.

In reality, I don't see where tying wine production to specifically defined geographical grape sources has achieved the goal of higher quality. To the contrary, it has made some traditional and tried-and-true quality improvement methods, such as blending Northern Rhone with Bordeaux, impossible. Also, some AOCs are so broadly defined, and cover such a large geographical area, as to be meaningless--St. Joseph in the Northern Rhone comes to mind. Others have been watered down over time, such as when the plateau area was added to Cornas. And then there's the designation of the whole walled-in vineyard of Clos de Vougeot as Grand Cru.

So my point was that the AOC system doesn't deliver on its promises, and the producer's name continues to be the best quality guide out there.

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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Dale Williams » Mon Jan 21, 2008 2:30 pm

Paul,
while I have plenty of complaints/problems/quibbles with the AOC sysytem, I'd just say that to me what it does (fairly) well is provide a guide to typicity, not quality. So Quincy, Pomerol, Volnay, Hermitage all mean something. Quality might range from excellent to awful within all of them, but I do know when I buy Volnay I'm not getting Grenache.
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Hoke » Mon Jan 21, 2008 2:35 pm

Paul:

Thanks for the additional comments following up my questions.

You and I are pretty much in agreement with your description of the AOC (as long as we can agree that it is a very brief and casual description of a compicated system, and as always, generalizations are fraught with problems).

Now to add to that mass of generalizations with some of my own. :)

You seem to believe the AOC regulations were created to insure quality in a wine. I don't believe that was the primary intent: AOC was created, primarily from the producers themselves but then through the magnificent workings of bureaucracy, as a place of origin, or name control. It was to certify the wine came from a specific place and (usually) followed specific rules as formulated by common practice agreed upon my a representation of producers. That last part, as formulated and agreed upon, was the most important. And you're absolutely correct, of course, when you say that the primary effect of AOC was to almost immediately stultify any development or creativity over what already existed. That is the one, major, cringing, over-riding flaw in the AOC system. And you and I can definitely agree on that.

AOC, in it's primary sense, is pure and simple protectionism. The genius is when AOC bureacracy gets people to believe that's holy and sanctified. :twisted:

Where we apparently part company is in your belief that the AOC was really ever (seriously) intended to represent 'quality'. How could that ever be, when it is committee driven? I don't believe the AOC was ever....ever...seen by any but the most trusting and believing (i.e., naive, gullible, dumb and susceptible to marketing hype) consumer as any guarantee of quality. And I also don't believe, at any time whatsoever, that an AOC ever trumped a producer of integrity. It's axiomatic to me that the producer is and always has been the primary provider of quality. AOC has nothing whatsoever to do with that. And your examples absolutely support that.
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Paul Winalski » Mon Jan 21, 2008 4:15 pm

Well, Baron whatzisname in Chateauneuf started the first grower's consortium in CdP--the one that became the prototype for the AOCs--because he felt that schlock producers both inside and outside the region were giving Chateuneuf-du-Pape a bad name. Hence quality control does enter into the picture somewhat--I doubt the Baron would have been upset except that the bad Chateauneuf was reflecting on everyone using the name.

So yes, I agree that the main purpose was protecting the trademark against outsiders.

You're also correct that AOC regulations never stopped producers from making great wine. In old French tradition, when a great winemaker finds some aspect of the AOC regulations interfering with making great wine, he ignores them--while making sure that all the paperwork is in order, of course.

There are so many wine producers and so few AOC inspectors that the whole system is unenforceable and depends on everyone more or less obeying the rules voluntarily. You only get caught if you do something so blatant that the authorities can't look the other way--such as Remoissenet's incident where his production of one vintage of "Clos de Vougeot" exceeded the entire appellation's recorded production for that year.

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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Hoke » Mon Jan 21, 2008 4:32 pm

You're also correct that AOC regulations never stopped producers from making great wine.


But sad to say, it's never hindered the production of oceans of appallingly mediocre wine in any given AOC you care to mention. On that we both agree.

The AOC (and let's please extend this beyond the French by at least including the Italians with the DOC) is two-headed beast.

Take Chianti: at one point the Chianti was an incredibly vibrant producing region/style, so much so that it became shamelessly imitated and bastardized by unscrupulous producers (and this was even before the Murkans got into the act). Got so bad that pretty much any crap out there was called Chianti. So the Baron and the guvmint stepped in and instituted controls.

This was good. If it said Chianti, it had to BE from Chianti. Then the nature of guvmint/bureaucracy, protectionism, and stultification (Conservatism at its worst) took over, and sapped all the life out of Chianti while preserving the now hollow forms. Then the New World Revolution happened, aka globalization, and rebels and pioneers started challenging those once-useful-now-ossified rules to create a quality revolution that was unparalleled in Chianti. Unfortunately, change begets change, and usually uncontrolled and uncontrollable change (hard to contain the genie once it's out of that bottle) so the old traditionalists saw something good die, and even the rebels agreed that something good was lost somehow.

Question is, is Chianti (Tuscany) a better wine producing region, or a better quality producing region,let's say, than it was before the revolution?

My answer would be an unqualified YES!. While at the same time I would mourn some of the changes.

The French, now, they are much more rock-bound and slow to initiate or officially recognize change than the Italians. But still, as Will says, "If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all."
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Hoke » Mon Jan 21, 2008 4:44 pm

I see where you're trying to go, Matt. I think you don't have enough varied experience yet though. You're taking something that is very complex and trying to reduce it to simplicity. Hard to do with wine.

If blending is the key to complexity, then I can make you question that with two words:

David Coffaro

:twisted:

Now, having gotten my snarkies in, I would agree with you if your premise was that the true "art" of winemaking is not in the making, but in the blending. And I'm not talking necessarily the blending of varieties, but more the blending of cuvees or components. Keep in mind that the great majority of wines produced are, in essence, blends or cuvees. You may be drinking a Chardonnay, even an Estate Bottled Chardonnay, even a Single Vineyard Chardonnay, that is in reality not a 'single batch' wine, but a blend of different expressions.

Without mentioning any brand names and thus clouding the issue at hand, I will tell you that one particularly lauded Chardonnay I am familiar with is actually a creation from six different vineyards (with vineyard's contribution each year changing, sometimes dramatically so), expressed as up to 250 different cuvees. Then these cuvees are blended, post fermentation and sometimes post aging. And that's how the winemaker (really should be the 'wineblender') achieves the complexity and typicity he and his wines are famous for.

This is more often the rule than the exception.

As to your blending of varieties thesis....yes and no is my answer. Yes, sometimes its better to blend different varieties together; no, sometimes it's all about one variety. It all depends.

But, see, that's part of what makes wine so great: there is no one rule that always applies. :D
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Paul Winalski » Mon Jan 21, 2008 4:56 pm

Chianti's a very interesting case study. Traditionally it was a blend of several grape varieties, with sangiovese as the backbone. I suspect that the blending tradition was mainly there to guard against total crop failure and to deal with the vagaries of climate and disease from year to year--if your sangiovese variety got rained on during harvest or succumbed to rot, you had other varieties to fall back on. And blending in some white grapes was part of that process. This all got codified into the AOC laws, and even in cases where by tradition the Chianti would have been made as varietal sangiovese, that was no longer possible.

Then some of the more enterprising of the great producers of the region, said, "regulations be damned--it's the right thing to do so I'm doing it anyway." The regulators said, "Ah, but you won't be allowed to call it Chianti." "Fine," said the producer, "I'll just call it Vino da Tavola, then." And so the Super-Tuscan wines were born. Their commercial success eventually shamed the regulators into changing the DOCG regulations.

I haven't seen any French producers follow up on this with Vin de Table wines made outside the AOC regime. Perhaps the law doesn't allow it? If I recall correctly, the AOC rules cover which varieties can be planted on land that the system covers, so one might not be able to make a "super-Bordeaux" with syrah blended in even if you wanted to.

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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Dale Williams » Mon Jan 21, 2008 5:19 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:I haven't seen any French producers follow up on this with Vin de Table wines made outside the AOC regime. Perhaps the law doesn't allow it? .


One occasionally sees Vin de Table wines that are produced inside AOC regions, but don't qualify for some reason (including but not exclusively varieties used). I think one used to not be able to put a vintage, but that changed maybe? I always think (maybe incorrectly) that the Vin de Pays system was partially introduced to address this - so you have things like the red wines from within Muscadet - see Pepiere's "Cepage Cabernet" (VdP du Jardin de la France)
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Hoke » Mon Jan 21, 2008 8:21 pm

Chianti's a very interesting case study. Traditionally it was a blend of several grape varieties, with sangiovese as the backbone. I suspect that the blending tradition was mainly there to guard against total crop failure and to deal with the vagaries of climate and disease from year to year


Yes, but, in the Tuscan.Chianti tradition, the whites were used to provide a little aromatic 'lift' (sort of but not really kinda like Cote Rotie and Viognier). Also because there was a pretty clear distinction between what the regular folks drank as their regular tipple (the so-called Chianti Normale, which could be released within five months of harvest and often saw no oak whatosenever, so had to be 'tempered' in its roughness with a little white wine, often very mellow white wine at that, to make it ready-drinking and palatable) and the more "serious" Classico/Riserva style, where aging was required, and thus less quantity of white wines was desired. In one, the white wine provided the softening; in the other the oak and aging did the job.

We sometimes forget, in our fervor about wine, that this all came originally from agricultural conditions, and what we now think of as a hallowed beverage was then considered an ordinary, everyday (quite literally so) drink. So it was with Chianti. At first, anyway.
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Hoke » Mon Jan 21, 2008 8:26 pm

Dale Williams wrote:
Paul Winalski wrote:I haven't seen any French producers follow up on this with Vin de Table wines made outside the AOC regime. Perhaps the law doesn't allow it? .


One occasionally sees Vin de Table wines that are produced inside AOC regions, but don't qualify for some reason (including but not exclusively varieties used). I think one used to not be able to put a vintage, but that changed maybe? I always think (maybe incorrectly) that the Vin de Pays system was partially introduced to address this - so you have things like the red wines from within Muscadet - see Pepiere's "Cepage Cabernet" (VdP du Jardin de la France)


Dale, you got it right...the VdP was in large part instituted to allow some slackening in the rigidity of the AOC laws without denigrating the resultant product. Also allowed those areas which were based on large volume (as in the Jardin, but really we're talking the Midi here without a doubt) to jump on that varietal bandwagon that was starting to roll right over the traditions of the French.

All of which is partly why you see Burgundy as the avatar of great Pinot Noir, but Languedoc is just beginning to pump out what could be oceans of so-so cheap Pinot. That is, until the next trendy grape comes along. :wink:
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Jan 21, 2008 11:25 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Then some of the more enterprising of the great producers of the region, said, "regulations be damned--it's the right thing to do so I'm doing it anyway." The regulators said, "Ah, but you won't be allowed to call it Chianti." "Fine," said the producer, "I'll just call it Vino da Tavola, then." And so the Super-Tuscan wines were born. Their commercial success eventually shamed the regulators into changing the DOCG regulations.

Um ... nice story, but misses a point or two:

Virtually all of the early Super Tuscans were not monovarietal Sangiovese but Sangiovese blended with Cabernet (Sauvignon or Franc) and/or Merlot and aged in French-oak barriques.

I think "regulations be damned" and "shamed the regulators" miss the mark substantially, too: The Italian system is based a lot more on quiet pragmatism, backroom politics and "don't ask, don't tell," than shame. ;)

And even with all the recent changes, are you sure the DOCG permits 100 percent Sangiovese? if I'm not mistaken - although it's a fast-moving target and this may have changed again - the DOCG allows up to 85 percent Sangiovese, but you need to go with the IGT option for 100 percent.

(I'd also argue that Chianti, with its 700 year tradition, really does work best as a blend. Not that there's anything wrong with 100 percent Sangio, but I'm not really sure I'd want to call it Chianti.)
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Re: Blending - the key to complexity?

Postby Hoke » Mon Jan 21, 2008 11:38 pm

Robin:


Just so happened I was finalizing some research on this.


Current rules:

Chianti
75-100% Sangiovese
up to 10% Canaiolo
up to 6% Malvasia and Trebbiano (white)
up to 10% other (Cab, Merlot, Syrah)
No oak required, can be stainless steel, can be sold in March following harvest

Chianti Classico
80--100% Sangiovese
up to 10% Canaiolo
no white grapes, as of 2006 vintage
no more than 20% 'non-traditional varieties'
cannot be sold unitl October following harvest
Chianti Classico Riserva
same rules, longer aging regimen, half a degreee alcohol greater.
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