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|[01/17/2021, 14:54] ||What Miles Davis and John Coltrane taught me about wine|
Lately, I?ve been organizing my musical recordings. I?m a big jazz fan. Somewhere along the line, during college, while I loved to listen to rock, especially the San Francisco style in the 1970?s, I veered over to jazz. There was a great FM radio station in Los Gatos, California, KTAO. But even before that, I was interested. I remember going to a Miles Davis concert in1967 at UCLA. It was his quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter. Miles didn?t allow any photography, we had to take our cameras back to the car. But the music was brilliant.
Living in California after college, I got into all kinds of jazz. John Coltrane, what?s not to love? So, when I got a Miles/Coltrane CD for Christmas, I was really excited. And then I got to listening to the music.
It was from the final tour in 1960. But it sounded different than the music I?d grown accustomed to hearing from those two jazz giants. It was vaguely familiar, but they were experimenting, taking the sounds out to a more intellectual ledge. It got me thinking about wine styles of late.
There are many reasons to enjoy wine. I?ll admit that my main reason is for taste. And with that taste, I enjoy wines that convey a sense of deliciousness to me. Everyone has different inflection points in that regard. But I look for a good healthy dose of fruit. I enjoy acidity, in check, not overblown. I can deal with tannins, if they are part of the structure of the wine. And dryness, depending on the kind of wine it is. Lastly, balance. Without that, I find it hard to finish a glass, let alone a bottle. Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Last month I opened up a bottle of Vitovska from Friuli. I?ve enjoyed wine from this grape since I first encountered it 10 years ago. Nice acidity. Good fruit, and often well balanced. There are producers who take the grape down a naturalistic path, which is popular among fledgling enophiles. And I?ve had ones I enjoyed, all the way to the edge with the orange wines.
This one I had, over the holidays, was from that camp. In its appearance, it was caliginous. I took a sip. It was like sipping on a just struck match. Hot and adamantine. I set is aside, for it just wasn?t the right wine to go with the food we were having that night. I was disappointed, but know sometimes wines, when they are first opened, are sometimes reluctant to go out into the world. Cutting the umbilical on this one just wasn?t going to happen. It would have to fall off on its own, in its own time. I?d come back to it in a day or so.
It happened with the music of Miles and Coltrane, with that compilation I got for Christmas. I could recognize some of the classic tunes, but I couldn?t quite decipher their meaning. And it was like that with the Vitovska, too.
I relate this experience because there has been this movement, or a trend, to take a position on wine, and winemaking, by many of us who have never made wine. But we?re experts, influencers, and our opinion matters, so we say to ourselves. But I just cannot burrow down into that polemic rabbit hole. Something, call it an aesthetic constraint, draws me back to my initial notion of what a wine should taste like, and what music to my ears should sound like. I can appreciate the effort. But sometimes, I just can?t go there. Or, I just don?t want to go there. I want to listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane play the music that drew me to jazz, which I still love. And I wanted that Vitovska to match up with the Frico, not be a freaking antagonist.
So, I put another record on the turntable. And I open another bottle of wine. And I search for beauty and balance and that ambrosial moment. It?s not an argument. It?s a longing, a pursuit. Just like Coltrane looking for that note that will transform an intonation into the call of a thousand cranes.
That said, I have and will follow Miles and Coltrane down a musical rabbit hole from an intellectual point of view. And I will try any and every kind of wine out there. And I will not relent from seeking out what it is that calls me to music and wine. And for that I have to thank Miles and ?Trane and all my winemaker friends who have made my exploration into wine (and music) so much more meaningful and compelling.
written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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|[01/10/2021, 18:24] ||The Epiphany (and the room where it happened)|
Once, on a fast run up the autostrada from Ancona to Verona, an old friend and I were talking about epiphanies. He?d had many in his life and had distilled it down to its essence. ?It?s a bolt of lightning - Il Fulmine.? I?ve thought about those moments lately, as it seems we?ve been having more than our share of ?Il Fulmine? in today?s world. And as we sail through time, many of us have those moments when our purpose is distilled in a flash, and everything is bright and clear, if only for that moment.
It?s much like a photograph. 1/100th of a second. And then something else. Not gone, but no longer there with the energy and the force it initially struck with. I guess you could say it?s a bit like those times when you are intimate with someone and for a moment everything disappears and there is only light and passion, and emotion and energy.
And while it wasn?t quite that dramatic when it happened, looking back on that day, I realize I was then bound to wine, it made an indelible impression. Let me tell you about it.
It was harvest time, 1977, in the hills of Calabria, between Cosenza and the Tyrrhenian Sea. I was with my young, new family, traveling around Italy and Greece. We?d made it to Calabria and had found my mother?s family on her mother?s side. We were staying with them, getting to know them, and them, us. They were people of the land, working it, clinging to their little side of the hill and pulling out whatever they could to provide sustenance. It was right up our alley, as back in California, where we lived, we?d made the attempt to live simply. We were young and poor. The economy was faltering. And there was a movement to go back to the land.
I saw that my relatives were living that life, not dreaming about it. Perhaps they were wishing for a more glorious life. But they had the basics of life. And with that they had fresh air, clean water and a place to live that was unencumbered with the useless detritus of civilization. And, they could see the stars at night.
One of those nights, after dinner, my cousin invited me down to the cellar. ?We have a little work to do,? he said, ?Vieni qua.? I followed.
As we ventured into the dim subterrane, several of his other relatives and friends, all elder men, joined us. I thought of the sweat lodge ceremonies a Native American friend once told me about, and wondered if this was going to be something akin, ala Italiana. Indeed, there was a prescience to that feeling, but one that would not materialize for years and miles.
In the corner of the room the new wine was gurgling. In another niche, an ancient hutch held bottles of all kinds and sizes, filled with older wine. A solitary, bald lamp hung above, illuminating the cold, damp room.
I was almost expecting flames to appear above our heads, the stage was set for the possibility of a portentous juncture. I didn?t know what to expect. But, as with anything unforeseen, one can evade it or one can embrace it. I was all in, regardless.
When one falls in love, it does unpredictable things to the world around and inside of one. Time stops, then times speeds up. Then time disappears, along with space. Butterflies appear, amidst a cosmic storm of unheralded expectations. It?s a giant swirl of emotion coupled with a visceral grip that feels like a roller coaster gone off its tracks. It?s exhausting and exhilarating.
Have you ever been in a dream where some thing had you in its grip and wouldn?t let you go? It can be frightening if you tense up and fight it. It?s like being in a wave that has just pounded you. But, if you just relax and let go, eventually the waves subside and you pop up above the foam, just in time to grab a much needed breath of air. Free, and still very much alive.
As it happened, a simpler scenario played out. It seemed that the new wine needed to be bottled and the old wine in the bottles was taking up room. A fitting metaphor for life if I ever heard one. And one that shadows us all on the wine trail.
The grapes were ancient ones, with names like Greco and Moscato and Calabrese. The aromas were as seductive as the Sirens from the islands in that nearby western sea. The musty, ebullient sapidity of the older wines, released from their urns, stirred all who sat at that wobbly table, both veterans and inductee.
So, we went about the business of emptying the bottles, one by one until the wee hours of the morning. I swear my Italian was never better in those moments. I was being initiated into the mysteries of Bacchus. Little did I know this ceremony would portend a life, and a livelihood, that I didn?t know was stalking me. I?ve often spoken of being a slave to the wine gods. This was the moment I was conscripted into that legion.
Later that day, after much needed rest (and coffee) it dawned on me that I had witnessed something momentous, but I didn?t know exactly what. It would only be years later, many years, that the meaning of those hours in the room where it happened would shine a light upon the path that I had tread all these years. It was the epiphany, that bolt - Il Fulmine - that provided me with a purpose.
And it unfurled among the humblest of places, with family and friends.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[01/03/2021, 17:00] ||How Italian wine will thrive in the 21st century |
Transformational over Transactional
Something I am detecting, acutely, in these early days of 2021, are the relationships that were shaped while working in the wine trade. How many times did I sit at someone?s mother (or grandmother) table enjoying a home-cooked meal while tasting the wines they also made? What did they get out of it? Another meal for a bunch of American wine buyers. Another lost night. More free wine consumed, eating into the margins.
It?s something I ask a lot. Then, maybe it was because they knew I had buying power. But not now. I?m done with that. So, why, if at all, do some of those folks still stay in touch?
I?ll go you one even better. How many times did I send a consumer to a winery in Italy for a visit and those folks at the winery rolled out the red carpet? I mean wine, dinner, maybe even a place to sleep. And for what? Maybe a couple of cases in someone?s cellar, at best?
There has to be more to it than a mere transactional sentiment. It doesn?t make any sense to spend time and money and labor and all that only for a couple of cases of wine. I say this not because I am cynical of my Italian winery friends motivation.
No, I really think many of my Italian friends in the wine trade in Italy aren?t thinking about the transaction as much as the need to transform the hearts and minds of Americans (and other nationalities too). It wasn?t that long ago that they (we) had to spend an inordinate amount of time apologizing for the wine we made (or sold) because they (we) felt it might not be rising to the standards set by our French cousins. I know, that seems like a lifetime ago. But the need to please can often outweigh rational and proper business practices. In other words, transformational relationships surpass the merely transactional ones, over time.
And that is so funny right now, to me, because I have been examining my old wine trade relationships and have found too many of them were merely (to them it seems) the price of doing business. The newly landed wine blogger who didn?t know anybody, who was short of cachet and needed a little support, emotionally (and maybe even financially). The executive who was trying to make inroads into the greater world of Italian wine and wanted to tag along to make some of my relationships also theirs too. The wine buyer, the sommelier, the list goes on. Sadly, those folks, in the post-Covid world of stark, brutal reality, have fallen by the wayside. The friendships have dissolved, gone. Sad.
But, in the transactional world, one knows that nothing is forever. You get a great by-the-glass placement that?s making everybody a bunch of money, and the competition takes the wine buyer to a strip club and gets him a lap dance, and badda-bing, you lose the placement. The wine buyer got a better deal. It was just another transaction. Not even a good business decision, by the way.
So, back to the Italians who have made transformative relationships more important than their business transactions. An example.
There is a wine producer in Piedmont, and I will not use his name, because the person is a very humble person who would be embarrassed by the story I am about to tell you. But for years this person has had me in their home, taken me to dinner, spent time with me, both in Italy in in my own home. We?ve become friends.
Yes, for a short while we did a little business together but the importer changed and it became almost impossible to do business in the future. But always at Vinitaly there was a moment to have an espresso, talk about books, ideas, or the blue sky, even though this person never made a bloody red cent off of me or my influence.
I felt guilty, for sure. I always wanted to do something, something more. But the stars never aligned.
But I also realized that both of us are doing fine in the world. Why couldn?t it be more than a transaction, a real relationship, a friendship? And that was really what it was and is.
[I know, not a tasting note in sight. Alfonso walking the plank with another one of his cockamamie ideas.]
We?ve all had a lot of time to think. We?ve shed a lot of things. Some of us have died. I?ve given away books, clothes, tools, music, money, and yes, stepped away from people I thought were my friends, but for some reason or another are no longer. We?ve all sacrificed something in this past year.
But my friend in Piedmont, is still my friend. I drink his product at home from time to time. I think warmly of him, and he isn?t the only one. There are scores of people in Italy whom I think about in that regards, even though they have nothing ? I repeat ? NOTHING ? to gain from my present position.
This is the golden nugget that makes Italy and her people and her wine so indisputably ascendant. Because these people know something about the value of real relationships, they are and will continue to succeed even in these trying times. And you know what? I?m going to be there with them, raising glass after glass for them, and with them, because that?s how you succeed in the wine business. When you give it all your heart, and then some.
Happier new year, y?all!
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[12/28/2020, 22:21] ||Happy Birthday to the Dinosaur ~ On the Wine Trail in Italy Turns 15|
|If only this blog were a young girl who was turning into a woman. It would surely be more apt for these times. But a quincea?era it is not going to be for this old dinosaur of a blog, on the wine trail in Italy. |
Fifteen years in most cases is a relatively young age. But for a wine blog? It?s ancient. Some would say pass?. Lord knows, I?ve tried a lot of different things to keep it upright and sailing right along. But It is work. No doubt about it. Although it is also a labor of love. Don?t get me wrong, I?m not quitting or hanging it up. Not yet. I still have things to say, and if there are people who still want to read what an elderly white male who came from the wine trade has to say, I?ll forge on. But there is a life to everything, whether it is a bottle of wine, a human life or a relatively insignificant wine blog.
All this to say, I?m glad to have made it this far. And grateful to the impressive volume of readers who come to this site once a week for my essays.
But blogging, and wine blogging in general is in a bit of a slump. Maybe we?ve all said everything there is to say. I know some folks have just stopped, while others have morphed into a pay-to-play newsletter format. Some have gone on to work in journalism, while others, some, have passed away, or just faded away. Nothing is forever.
What still gets me excited about my ?Sunday sermons?? Well, there is no lack of drama or change in the world of wine. And as I?m, more or less, specialized on this blog in Italian wine and culture, for sure there is plenty to write about. But, that said, I?ve pivoted from the newsy and gossipy to what most people perceive to be a bit more esoteric of paths. And there is more than one path. I?ve been experimenting with this blog in those areas, for those who have been following. I love science fiction. In fact, I love stories. And I don?t think they always need to be the hard factual stories a journalist cuts their teeth on (I have my wine column in the Dallas paper for that). I?ve probably written this a time or two on these posts, but one time when I was sitting there having a bottle of wine with Eric Asimov, he asked me ?What is it you?d really like to write about?? I cannot believe I spontaneously answered to him, ?Oh, I?d love to write a science fiction novel!? Yeah, I said that to the nephew of one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Isaac Asimov. But I did do that. And even though it was momentarily embarrassing (to me) there was more than a kernel of truth to my affliction for science fiction. And some of that has been bleeding onto these pages.
Also, I?m very curious about the elasticity of time. The past. The present. The future. All that. I?ve gone into the past and interviewed winemakers and ancient souls. I?ve time traveled to the future to talk to Italians and wine makers hundreds of years from now. Why not? It is my blog, after all. And nobody is charging anyone to read. Yet. It?s fun. It allows me to press my creative juices, possibly making for a good bottle of who knows what? I?m very interested in the child inside all of us. And during my career in the wine trade, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to be a good, reliable, responsible adult. But now that activity is for the younger adults in the wine trade. My time, now, is to reconnect with ?little Al,? as my nonna called me, and see what I can come up with. Again.
But writing is not at the top of my queue. Nor is wine, really. Italy still commands a lot of space in my world, real or imagined, for sure. But it?s the visual part of this world that really has me hooked. I?ve been a photographer for 55 years. That?s 80% of my life. My (analog) darkroom is fifteen steps from my (digital) office. So, there?s a reckoning coming. Everything is ready. I?ve been to Italy more times than I could remember, if I didn?t keep a spread sheet of those 59 treks back to the wellspring of so much inspiration and affection.
The Italy I knew in 1971 is nothing like the Italy I hope to revisit in 2021. Think about it, a half century. Holy crap, it?s a little scary! But I like what I see, even when I close my eyes and imagine what it must be like. Thanks to films, music, friends, and any number of other connective ways, Italy stays in touch with me. And when the screens go dark, there is always the invisible, the imagination, the dreamscapes that keep sending me messages, keep staying up with those of us who are listening.
While I?ve gone over my 800-word limit (again) I want to thank you for being here all these years and for commenting and reading and coming back from time to time to check in. I?m not going anywhere, yet. There still is a lot of Italy, her wine, and my real (and imagined) realms to discover.
|[12/20/2020, 15:18] ||The Alacrity of Hope|
ell, this sure has been one doozie of a year.? How many times, at year's end, have you murmured that to yourself, over the past dozen or so years? Let me see, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012. I could go on. 2016. 2018. And now, 2020. And yet, I remain one gullible and hopeful sonofabitch.
When we taste an older wine, the year in which it was made provides a base. In that, I mean the conditions of that year offer the basic building blocks by which the grapes grew and matured and ultimately were crushed and turned into wine. But along with that comes the more intangible attributes by which we sometimes measure the quality and the impact of the wine, often from the comfort of our cr?che, in a safe place, with or without friends or loved ones. That is when the wine takes on all sorts of cockamamie facets. That is when one?s imagination may supplant the data on the fact sheets. That is when the fun begins, as we run the bus off the road.
So it has been this year, drinking older wines in the (1st) year of the coronavirus. Now when I drink a 1990, I think of the run-up to the first Gulf War. Now when I drink a 2008, I think about the economic meltdown that was happening at the same time the grapes were being transmuted into wine. Now when I drink a 2016, I think about narrowly escaping death in Sicily in summertime only to face the asteroid of the fall when our world went into free-fall for many of us in the autumn. Now, intangible has been usurped by insatiable. We must run for the exits of 2020 and flee to a new year, a new order and a new hope. The alacrity of hope.
It is such a personal view, wine. it really is a mirror into one?s credibility. What one says about any particular wine leaves a tell-tale stain on the holiday table cloth, often impermeable. The red wine of Ravera from 2010 lies next to the lighter, blanched stain of Vermentino from Liguria. Off to the corner a blemish from an older Vin Santo competes with the splotch from a raisin dropped while eating the panettone. Our human stains recalling the work of others, their passions, their mistakes, all laid out on the 4x8 foot table top, as if a recreation of the battle of Waterloo.
But along with the carnage there is also the promise that this decimated plane will generate new life, new plans, new ambitions. And yes, more hope. I?d love to be able to tell you which Champagne you should be drinking right now. But if you?re on an oxygen machine, how could it matter to you? I?d relish showing you pictures of the opulent array of meats and cheeses, roasts and robiolas, that might adorn the table in the upcoming days. But if you?re hunkered down in your home or in an ICU, how would that benefit you? Or any of us? Not to dwell on the maudlin, but we?re not all in the same boat here. And the sea has gotten very, very choppy, of late.
We are facing a slew of Viking funerals lately. From family to friends, the storm is passing by a little more closely and with renewed rigorousness. One must keep the sword of vigilance swathed within the blanket of optimism. But one must keep their eyes wide open.
How will we think about the wines of 2020, those of us who will have survived, in 5, 10, 20 years? Will we forget? Will the wines be opened by souls who were not here when we went through this patch? Will any of the energy, the passion, the fear, the ongoing, the dread, be passed on to the person with the glass of wine in their hand? I don?t know. But I do know that wine is more than the sum of fruit and acid and tannin and water and everything tangible that goes into making it. There is that unseen aspect, the imaginative dollop, that makes every bottle a new and unexpected experience. And that my friends, is what I am looking forward to. And hoping like hell for.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[12/13/2020, 21:20] ||5 of the greatest Italian wines (that I want to drink in 2021)|
|? It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ?|
When one is marooned on an island, you have a lot of time to think and imagine all kinds of future scenarios. One of my favorite things, vinously speaking, is to look at wines that have aged for a decade or multiples of a decade. In 2021, that would mean 2001,1991,1981,1971,1961 and so on. It provides a neat measure to time with regards to how these little living things inside (and outside) the bottle are doing.
Another aspect to this exercise is also to use those years as a personal reference. Maybe you were born that year, or married, or a child was born, or someone died. Anything that would be considered a particular landmark in time. It gives context beyond just the wine and the score it received.
I have had every one of these wines before, and while they are considered iconic wines, especially in regards to the prestige they proffer to the greater world of wine, they also imprinted my sensibilities towards an unabashed conviction that Italian wines are as good as any (e.g., French) wines in the world. It was not the case when I started out. In fact, I spent much of my early career expending my most persuasive capabilities in an effort to dispel the myth that Italian wines were somehow inferior to other wines. Now, not so much, as Italian wines are finally the darlings of the sommelier and collector universe. The mill of God grinds slow but exceedingly fine.
First up would be the Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo Riserva. I seldom get to try this wine anymore, since it has become part of the club that wines like Jayer, Gaja and DRC belong to. Inotherwords, untouchable by mere mortals. You have to be a corporate finance mogul in Singapore or Frankfurt, where $1,000 to them is like $10 to us dirt-treaders. But, once upon a time (when I was younger and poorer) I experienced Monfortino at least once a year. So, I have cherished memories of the wine, and have written about it on this site over the years. Like the man on death row who is going to be executed in the morning, who is granted the wish for his last meal, I?d like just one more time, to drink a Monfortino.
This is not to say that there aren?t other wines just as worthy from the Barolo world. There are many, and I have some to drink in my little wine closet. But Monfortino has a special place in my heart, not because some critic has lauded it but because of our relationship to each other. It was one of the first Italian wines that knocked me out in less than 3 minutes. Gorgeous, and so extraordinary. I can still remember that first time. It must be love.
Year to drink in 2021: 1961
My next pick would be the Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Speciale Santo Stefano.
An old friend in Fort Worth, Texas, an Italian chef, had a thing for this wine. He also had a thing for buying them real cheap on closeout from unsuspecting wholesalers who didn?t know what they had. So, he amassed a cache of these wines from the ?60?s and ?70?s. Every Tuesday he?d make a lunch for the local wine salespeople and we?d occasionally drink one of them. Then I?d stumble back to Dallas, fully caffeinated and exhilarated by the length and depth of this wine.
Eventually I came to represent the winery on several occasions, and was able to go to the winery a time or two and become fully baptized in the world of Bruno Giacosa. These are wines that we most likely will never see again, for a number of reasons. Bruno is gone, for one, and that kind of sourcing is near impossible to manage in this period when the property values are so high. So, we move forward, leaving a little of our soul behind. Sure, one can still find the wines in collections and on auction (I?m sure there?s a Rudy K wannabe willing to grant you whatever wish you desire in regards to Giacosa). I?ve had my day with these wines, I?m happy to have had the opportunity to be alive and enjoy Barbaresco from a master.
But, if we ever get out of this place and in 2021 there is an opportunity to drink one more Barbaresco from Bruno Giacosa, I?d like it to be a Riserva Speciale Santo Stefano.
Year to drink in 2021: 1971
Leaving the Langhe, let?s dart on down to Abruzzo where my next choice would be the Azienda Agricola Valentini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. I have a deep and profound love from the wines of Abruzzo. I was weaned on them early on in my career, and my wine closet has a chunk of these wines, some in large format bottles, going back to the ?70?s. I am hesitant to part with them or drink them, because when I do, it?s like letting go of a part of the young me. And even though when I look in the mirror, I no longer see a young me, one sometimes still has an attachment to things that one was attached to in earlier years. One of my most favorite memories was drinking Valentini wines at Villa Majella and eating the food from chefs Angela Di Crescenzo and Peppino Tinari. Talk about coals in Newcastle, that was a night! And Valentini flowed freely that night, from the olive oil (yes!) to the whites, the rosato and the red. I?m not one for trophy hunting, but that was a memorable night. And I?d like one more night to be able to drink a Valentini Montepulciano, from another master, Edoardo. He made the wine I want to drink. In fact, so far, all the wines I want to drink have been made by people no longer with us. I wonder what that says about me?
Year to drink in 2021: 1981
And on to Tuscany for the final two. First stop Gianfranco Soldera and his Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.
Again, you?d have to be a hedge fund manager to be able to afford this wine on a regular basis. But I didn?t think that was the initial intention of the winemaker. I came late to this winery, it was 2005. But everything I put in my mouth from the winery has been nothing short of illuminating. Can wine really move the soul? I don?t know. Looking at it here, on the screen, that seems a little silly. But I do know that whatever this life is that we are in, one of the great pleasures is food and wine. And a wine like that, while it may or may not move mountains, I?d surely sign up one more time to check and see if my inner Richter Scale registers any displacement within. I?d reckon more like a hum, maybe even a purr. What a weird confluence of things, Soldera Brunello and the inner purrings of a wine lover. But there you have it, that?s what wine does to some people. I?d like just one more goblet, please.
Year to drink in 2021: 1991
And off to the coast for the outlier. I know to some it might seem a bit jejuneto offer up this wine, the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri. But we go way back, all the way to 1968. Well, the wine at least. I remember selling the wine, always as a grey market offering, in the mid 1980?s. And at the time I was offered a stash of Sassicaia from that legendary year. I sold it, bought it back, resold it again (for $300), and along the way had a bottle or two. After all, I was selling it for something like $28.00 wholesale, initially. So, it was affordable.
I eventually was able to amass a small cache of various vintages from 1979 to 2015, purely for reference, of course. I like the wine, most of the time. But what I really like about it is the story, which is emblematic of the Italian spirit. And that is, don?t rest on what it is everyone thinks you?re good at. Break the rules once in awhile, open the gates and let the mind roam into places not thought of. Really? All of that from an Italian Cabernet? Well, to me at least. Yes, it?s now basically unaffordable to most people, so now it?s not the rebel we once knew it to be. But hey, "play Misty for me" one more time. And I?d like it to be about the same age as the ?68 was when I first drank it, at about 20 years. Just for old time?s sake.
Year to drink in 2021: 2001
Famous last words
There you have it, my ?list? for the holiday season and 2021. Next year is going to be a big one for me, so I?d like to add one more wine. I?ve had one from my birth year, and it was lovely. But I also spied one in the cellar at Pio Cesare (looking like a cast-off Molotov cocktail), and I?d sure like to add it as a coda to the aforementioned wines. So, while we?re making up things to believe in in 2021, let?s throw another wine in the mix and that would be Pio Cesare?s 1951 Barolo ? just for shits and giggles.
Ok, drop the curtains now?
written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[12/06/2020, 17:59] ||The current state of Italian wine in the world|
I remember as a kid, going to a birthday party. I was living in the desert of Southern California, Palm Springs. And the parents of the birthday child were proud Mexican-Americans. The food was great (they had a fabulous restaurant), the music was cheerful, it was a fun, fun party. And to top it off, after the birthday girl opened all her presents, we all took a swing at a stuffed pi?ata shaped like a donkey.
When all the kids took their swing, the poor creature finally burst opened and all manner of shiny and sweet things flew about the field and we all scrambled for the treasures. I don?t know why, but that memory reminds me of 2020 and Italian wine.
Over the past year, many of us have had to look at Italian wines from a distance. Save for the few brave (or foolish) souls who ventured from America to Italy, or those who were already ensconced on the peninsula, we all have had our bottles, our pictures, our memories and our longings.
And how has that worked out, you might ask?
For myself, I see it as a reset. I have looked long and hard at what Italian wines I have gathered, which account for 75% of what sit in that cold, dark closet, awaiting their release or their rendering. Most of them are well, but ready anytime from now until the next 20 or so years. I guess one could say I?ve created my own little Italian wine oasis on this island, these islands, we all call home during this dilemma.
Yes, I have scores of pictures and films and music and all the necessary hooks to catch my attention, to not let it sway too far from the heart, this love for Italy, her wine, her food, her art, her culture. Meanwhile, back in Italy, though, nothing stands still. The grapes still grow, as do the inventories. The wine has got to go somewhere, even if we won?t be opening them up in front of a fantastic vista overlooking the Roero or the Arno.
?All travel is circular... After all, the grand tour is just the inspired man's way of heading home.? ? Paul Theroux
It seemed that, for many of us, the ease and relative affordability of air travel conferred a right that one might have taken to be immutable. An obscure virus from the Hubei Province in the People's Republic of China changed all that. The forces of destiny shattered the pandemic pi?ata and spilled the virus to all corners of the field, this time the whole earth, and many of us took up the bounty with ensuing consequences.
Still, many of us wax and wane (and whine) about what we?ve lost. If you?re reading this you haven?t lost the ultimate gift, that of life.
Yes, you cannot go to your favorite trattoria in Rome and drink that amazing bottle of wine with your pasta alla Amatriciana. For now. Not forever.
But the winemakers and the wineries and the works in those ventures, the lab technicians, the gardeners, the pruners, the cellar rats, the marketing pros (the ones who stand all day long, every day, behind the counter at Vinitaly and Prowein, and explain for the umpteenth time, their wine), and on and on. Thousands, hundreds of thousands of souls who rely on the orderly transition of the grape harvest from year to year, into the bottle, into the glass, moving, always moving. Not a circular grand tour, as Paul Theroux waxes elegiacally. And those souls also have to fend off the Corona pinata prizes that scatter across their world. They are not thinking about going skiing this month to Cortina d'Ampezzo or Courmayeur. No one is booking flights to Phuket Island or Tahiti, or if they are, they sure as hell shouldn?t be.
So, all this to say, what? You?ve walked us out to the end of the plank, now what are you, what are we going to do?
In reality, who knows. But with what I have to work with, right here and right now, in the present moment, here is what I propose:
Keep drinking and enjoying Italian wine, or wine, in general.
Enjoy it with your family, or your pod, for the time being.
Try not to think about the way things used to be. They were only that for a moment. And now they are something else. Deal with being in the present moment.
Drink up some of the old and rare bottles, for no reason other than you have made it through alive so far. Who knows about tomorrow? No one does.
Plan? Yes plan, but don?t lose sight of today for a tomorrow that really is indeterminable. Work with what you?re given.
Find new ways to connect with Italy and Italian wine. Read books, like the recent one by Ian D?Agata, Italy?s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, or his classic, Native Wine Grapes of Italy. Or a harder to get one, like The Modern History of Italian Wine, edited by Walter Filiputti.
Watch movies. Italian movies. Old neorealism one or newer ones from the likes of Paolo Sorrentino, Edoardo Ponti, Alice Rohrwacher or Laura Bispuri.
Write to your friends in Italy. Letters, not emails. Not just zoom calls. Not just WhatsApp conversations. Write a letter and see how long it takes to get there. Those kinds of things received these days are precious, pre-pandemic gifts from the soul. Don?t just expect to receive. Give.
Whether it is olive oil or Pelaverga, mineral water or pasta, embrace all that Italy is sending to you through this time. Yes, we can?t be there, most of us, but there is not the plane that can take your spirit to the place that your spirit cannot already get there on its own. Look up, move forward, don?t look back.
And keep swinging.
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|[11/29/2020, 19:03] ||Everyday Italian Wines for Everyday People in Extraordinary Times |
For some, this is a way with a deep-seated furrow. The road often taken. The commonplace. The not-so-out-of-the-ordinary. But predictable? Not necessarily so. Wine is a living, breathing, evolving thing. And with that, even an ordinary wine can act extraordinary in these unprecedented times.
That was how I started out with this odd holiday, Thanksgiving. Like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving has come under fire by some who see it as having racist origins, representing a celebration of the conquest of Native Americans. I get that. I also know we, as a country, need something to unify us in this time of discord. I don?t think cooking a bird or smoking a ham will save us, I?m not that na?ve. But I do see people finding ways to make moments for peace and serenity. And if celebrating Thanksgiving in the old way that the story was told to us is behind the times, can we not shift from that to a less highly charged observance? We cannot go back and undo what the Anglo-western world did to the indigenous souls here in America. But we can recast the day with thoughts of gratitude and clarity. No, we Americans aren?t the greatest nation the world has ever seen. We aren?t even handling something like this pandemic as well as many other nations on the planet. We have failed miserably. But we cannot shirk away and pretend that all that came before didn?t. We must admit, even concede, that we are not great again, and we must start over again, with the hindsight that we didn?t do it right, all these years. We must change now.
And what does that have to do with wine? Well, this is, sometimes, a wine blog. And over the last few days, many of us have been hunkering down and eating foods that provide comfort, maybe even solace, away from our families and normalcy and the world we once lived in, which is no longer.
I often come back to one word ? resilience ? to chart my course in rough seas. It has worked many times. And now it is a big part of what I believe will get many of us through this cultural dust storm, which has blinded so many from seeing the simple truth.
And now, on to food and wine. This is where it gets tricky. Why? I know well enough that there are scores of sites with wine notes. People attempting to talk about this wine or that wine, with superlatives and adjectives and a laundry list of attributes that we?re all supposed to understand, nod our heads in agreement, and rush to the store, or our online merchant, and order up. Those notes are really more for the individual writing them, a journal of sorts, of their perceptions and observations about a particular wine. I get little or nothing from them when I read them, and there is no reason to think if I were to continue with that kind of exercise here, that any of you would really get to ?know? a wine with my words.
But two wines in the past week have given me pause to think more about them and their context in my life. They were accompanied by food, and they caused me to consider how ordinary wines might become extraordinary, when the times are out of the ordinary.
The first, a 2011 Abbazia di Novacella Gew?rztraminer. My son, on Thanksgiving Day, came over early and took the helm of the HastyBake to smoke a turkey breast. He asked me if I had any Gew?rztraminer on hand, as it was a wine that he had cherished memories of. I pulled out an older one, from 2011, and we chilled it up.
I noticed two things about the wine right off. It was too cold, and the flavors were closed in. So, we let it warm up and breathe. Now, I?m a fan of Abbazia di Novacella. I love their Kerner and their Sylvaner. During a visit to the winery, probably ten years ago, I marveled at the amazing repository of knowledge their library held. It is on the Via Imperii and was one of the stops along the way for religious pilgrims on their spiritual path to Rome. One of the oldest wineries in Italy, it oozes history. One can spend a moment in the chapel or the library, for reflection, meditation and the hope of clarity.
The wine wasn?t oozing with spice as Gewurztraminer is often cast. It was more like a pulse, a heartbeat. I watched and listened and sipped this wine over several days. At nine years old, a white wine, and an ordinary wine at that, it was full of life and balance and even pleasure. It doesn?t qualify as a vino da meditazione by the usual parameters one expects of such a wine, but it nonetheless ignited a moment of contemplation.
The wine was so pure, so clear, so focused and clean and balanced, and it matched well with the smoked turkey my son labored over for hours. In one word? A joy.
Over this time, I had harvested the last of the eggplant from the garden. Those scraggly, twisted weather-beaten aubergines would be a challenge when making the Parmigiana. It would be a rustic version. I am already predisposed to a grittier version of the dish, as my cousin In Calabria taught me.
And this time, the Parmigiana was coming together like a nest of hornets. If it was music, it was Bartok and his peasant singers, not Leonard Bernstein and his West Side street gangs dancing till their last breaths.
A funny way to look at food? Maybe. But everything?s a little funny right now, isn?t it? So, why not?
For the wine I wanted something red and not too old or important. I chose a 2014 Barbera d?Alba ?Il Cerreto? from RobertoVoerzio. Not the cheapest Barbera by a longshot, but probably one of Voerzio?s more affordable wines. I was in the mood for a Barbera with a Parmigiana, so Voerzio?s it was.
I didn?t look at the vintage when I opened it. When I cut the umbilical cord, and the wine entered into the world at 6 years of age, at first sniff and sample, I?ll admit I was a bit disappointed. I remember saying to myself, ?Why didn?t I just open a bottle of Montepulciano d?Abruzzo?? The answer to that question would have been, ?Because I didn?t have a normal, young, everyday one in sight.? So, I set the Barbera aside and proceeded to direct the oven to make a hearty, rugged crust on the top of the Parmigiana.
The Parmigiana came out bubbling and frothing, sizzling and whistling. A musical Parmigiana, it was not Pavarotti. But it would dance well enough to Bartok?s Romanian polka.
Meanwhile, the wine, 20 minutes later, was warming up to its new life.
I was engrossed in the Parmigiana, because it was one of those times I made it and it rose above the ordinary, the just good. It was, can I say it? Yes, I can. It was perfect. It was ?last meal on earth? perfect.
So, it went from an ordinary, husky dish with an everyday Barbera, to a lightning bolt moment. The wine was right there with me and my Parmigiana.
It was like an octopus, a shape-shifter of a wine, in which one moment it was scratchy and tannic and fruit-laden, to the next, when it was velvety and rich to the point of plush. But there was no self-awareness imbued within the walls of that bottle. It was rocking into its life, dancing and swaying. Such a pleasure. No, I didn?t need to open a 20-year-old Brunello this night. Or grab my one of my last ancient bottles of Hermitage. The Barbera would suffice. And then some.
It wasn?t meant to be a night for such an epiphany. It just happened that way. And the reason why I started on this lengthy post and this perambulation was for this: You don?t always have to grab for, or hope for, a ?great? wine. You don?t need to be jealous of your friends in New York or Singapore, when they post their umpteenth bottle of Soldera or DRC. It isn?t necessary. Sometimes the shy little one in the corner is as good of a dancer as the princess or the queen, maybe sometimes better even. It really relies upon your soul and the way you look at things, to take their gifts in. If you have an open mind and an open heart, you will be rewarded. You may not get 300 likes, but really who cares? The ?like? will come from you. And that is something no one can ?block? or take away.
And that is the little secret about everyday Italian wine for everyday people.
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|[11/22/2020, 20:12] ||Doctor Notti on Italy, wine and the intergalactic dust storm of 2016|
On July 18, 2016, an intergalactic dust storm - Mendacium Collocatio ? plowed into earth, broadsiding North America. It modified the brainwaves of half the people it hit, and created synaptic disruptions in them, for which we are just beginning to understand the ramifications. It also appeared that those who were affected also acted as transmitters of turmoil, impairing about 20% of the people they came into contact with. It was during a hotly contested political campaign, and this was not noticed for what it was. It was thought at first that the activities of people were aroused due to their emotional connection to one or the other candidate. We are only learning now that was not the case. The earth had been hit with the equivalent of 15,000 kilotons of this cosmic micro dust, 10,000 times more powerful than the bomb that exploded over Hiroshima. And while the dust storm didn?t spread toxic and lethal radiation like a nuclear blast, it nonetheless caused widespread disruption. And it has been theorized that it made the human population on earth more susceptible to dormant viruses lying in wait, creating a confluence and causing a Perfect Wave scenario. The last time this planet experienced such a Perfect Wavewas 66 million years ago.
What does this have to do with Italy and wine, you might ask? Nothing and everything. Intentional wine comes out of a civilized society. And a country like Italy, being civilized for a few thousand years, has not witnessed this kind of dissonance since the Inquisition. But that was a man-made occurrence. This just came out of the blue.
What scientists are not sure of, is how long earth passed through that cloud. Or if we have even passed through it yet. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is moving at 1.3 million miles an hour. From July 18, 2016 till now, we have traveled over 50 billion miles. It is possible, in the infinite reaches of the universe, that such a cloud could be a big as 50 billion miles wide. The jury is still out on this, mainly because our instrumentation to measure these particles are not as sophisticated as it needs to be. And so, we surmise. We conjecture. We guess.
Dr. Gia Notti, an Italian scientist and wine lover, works at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. And on her Fyzzics blog, she has offered up some interesting ideas about this dust storm, and how it might be changing the face of not just Italian wine, but wine all over the world, and how the wine trade is being reformed because of this conflux. I was able to reach her, via Skype, and ask a few questions about this situation. She had only a few minutes, but was willing to share her speculations. The following has been edited for brevity:
Q. Hello, Dr. Notti. Thank you for your time. I?ll launch right into this subject and ask you: What do you think happened?
A. Hello, America. What we originally were able to determine was that this so called ?cloud? has altered the neural pathways of those whom it has affected. I?m neither a neurologist nor a psychologist by training, but my colleagues in that field back in Italy have surmised, and I agree, that the main alteration had been in a suspension of belief in the truth. Or rather, those affected are unable to tell the difference between the truth and a falsehood. Those more deeply affected, as well, have shifted to a reality that exists only inside their mind. Inotherwords, they are bereft of the sense of reality that most of us share, which allows for civilizations to grow and flourish. This is problematic in modern man, and woman, in that the basic building blocks of civility could cease to exist, causing a regression of some of the humanity on earth, mainly the poor souls in North America. Not limited to North America, even though your country took the brunt of the hit. But in time, the cloud has managed to work its way through Europe and parts of Asia, and some of the larger countries in the southern hemisphere closer to the equator. That?s the basic theory.
Q. If this affects one?s sense of reality, how does that intersect with wine and the appreciation of wine?
A. Ah, an interesting side bar in this time of crisis. Well, on the basis of something that requires sensory appreciation, if one is unable to live in the reality that most of us agree upon, then a sour wine, or a corked wine might seem agreeable to the affected person. It is capable of causing great disruption in your wine trade (and the world-at-large) in the foreseeable future, as we do not know if these symptoms are temporary or permanent. Or how long they will remain, past the duration of the time which we passed through the cloud. We are not sure if we have even passed through the cloud. So, there are still a lot of questions. But, one thing is for sure: everything you know about Italy, about wine and about the wine trade (my father had a vineyard in Liguria), it?s as if someone took a blackboard filled with information and wiped it clean.
Q. I?ve noticed a shift here in America, more towards the younger professionals, but also more toward women and black and indigenous people of color. Is this by any chance a byproduct of this gas we?ve passed through?
A. I?m not sure, and not being a sociologist, you?d have to ask someone with more expertise. I don?t think this ?sudden? shift toward a more egalitarian system, which would include women and, how do you say, BIPOC, needed a cosmic dust storm. But it might have provoked an opportunity for them to take a more ascendant role. We have run some numbers, and an unusual large percentage of people affected by the dust storm are men, and older men, and older Caucasian men. I cannot offer any conclusions from this, but it is something we are studying and following in our spare time. After all, we have another mission here and that keeps us pretty busy.
Q. Last question, and then I?ll let you get back to your work. Have you, or anyone in your group following this, noticed if any of the affected, mainly those elderly Caucasian males, have been able to shake off whatever it is that is infecting their brains and their sense of reality?
A. Ha! That?s a good one. And this is probably a question that goes beyond 50 billion miles and four years inside an intergalactic dust storm. For sure, the majority of these people have experienced profound neurological changes, but, and this is a big but, it could be they were the best hosts for whatever this dust storm was promoting. What we know now is this: the main result of those affected is the loss of reality and the inability to distinguish between the truth and a lie. I think that has been a problem on earth for a lot longer than four years. It may have just exacerbated an already endemic situation in these poor souls. Whatever it is, we?re going to have to figure out how to live with them, and they with us, for the duration of this storm, If we ever pull out in our lifetime, or our children?s children?s children lifetime.
In the meantime, I?m drinking a bottle of Pigato from my father?s vineyard tonight, with the hope that we?ll make a turn in the universe and find ourselves out of the mess we find ourselves in. I think we all could use a drink to get through this.
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|[11/15/2020, 18:52] ||An introvert?s guide to Italy (and Italian wine) in the era of Covid-19 |
It?s been an incredible journey
By now, you?re pretty sick of staring at the screens. The Zoom calls, the virtual wine dinners, the Instagram Live events. You?re tired of the ?stories? that Facebook hoists on you mercilessly like robo calls from the latest MAGA-PAC. Inotherwords, you want to go back to Italy. But there are a few problems, the first not being Covid19. You?re an incurable introvert. So, what to do?
Well, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first schlep. So, let?s get a plan together, remembering the introvert part. Oh and, it?s not like any of us, in the USA, at least, can book a flight easily to Bella Italia right now.
One of the things about being in this phase of my life, this endless summer camp, amid occupation permanently adjourned, is that I can plot this out, albeit with the sand rushing a little faster down the hourglass. Nonetheless, there are opportunities to reconnect with Italy and with Italian wine, while we wait to come through whatever cloud of cosmic dust our planet, our solar system and our galaxy seems to be traversing, causing well-nigh ubiquitous bewilderment and contagion. We are marooned on this little blue-green marble as we soar through space. And while we endure this in time, there is the Italy inside of us to tap into to.
I felt this the first time I stepped onto the soil of Italy. It was as if I?d been plugged into a telluric recharge annex. Boom, a magnetic induction baptism. And it felt so good.
One can reassemble Italy without having to step on a plane. That will make it easier, and simpler for now. What we have accessible from Italy now are pictures, videos, books, music, food and wine. It?s really all in how you assemble the components.
What do you love about Italy, and her wine? Do you love sitting in a wine bar or trattoria in Rome and sipping on Frascati? What about the foods you love? Is it all about the gnocchi? Or is it a seafood from the Maremma? Do you love anything musical about Italy? Does Vivaldi make our heart flutter? Or is it Baby K? Whatevah, get your play list ready if that thing gives you juice.
Pictures, movies, videos, whether being projected out or shown within. We introverts have a pretty good inner home theatre. But if you need to throw something up on the LG - 65", so be it. There?s a great little series by Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend. It transports me to the outskirts of Naples, just as I did the first time on my own in 1971. A website like Italian Cinema Today is a goldmine of resource for all things Italian.
Maybe you?re a hybrid introvert, or someone who had to be in sales to survive, and tamped your introvert down from time to time, when in the outside world, to get through the work week. I feel ya. Had to do that too. The extroverts had it so much easier before Covid-19. Now it?s the introverts world. This is doable.
Let?s assume not everyone has spent years collecting Italian wine, and you have to go out into the world and seek some. It?s never been easier, although there are some folks out there who will complain it needs to be less ridiculously hard like it has been, thanks to the 3-tier system. I say this: Do you want to get your Italian wine drink on? Then you will find a way, the politics and power grid notwithstanding. You can change the world when you get vaccinated. Or not. Feel free to burn everything down right now. That seems to be one of the prevalent political prerogatives of late.
One thing I learned about sales, which I was reluctantly led into, was that the end goal was to find a way to make the sale. I added ?and make sure everybody is happy.? Part of my caregiving mantra. It worked out OK for me. But we?re talking about YOU getting a cache of Italian wines that you can utilize to access that life, that world, that feeling, the one you so long for, of your Paradise lost. This can help.
|My neighborhood store (not my car)|
If you don?t have a great little Italian wine store nearby, or a wine shop that is par excellence, then you have online options. There are a lot of deals right now. Look into this. But these are the mechanicals. I?m talking about tapping into something deeper, more ephemeral.
This has been a thread of this blog ever since I started it 15 years ago. Accessing the real Italy, the one the tourists never see, really don?t want to. Because it?s a little more work than taking a flight to Rome, reading some Travel Advisor recommendations and running around to catch all the must-see sights. You didn?t come here for that.
This takes a little bit of naval gazing, I?ll admit. Or, consider this a meditation on how to find your inner Italy. Yes, music can help. Images can recall feelings. Movies are a great diversion. But something more visceral, like food, or in this case, wine, can really put you on the track to discovery.
Example. This week I opened up a bottle of Pigato from Liguria. It was bright and juicy, great acidity, healthy, fresh, lively. And then I tele-transported back to a trip I made to the region in 2007. I was in in Cisano Sul Neva in Savona, sitting with this winemaker I met, Fausto he was called. Fausto had a gray torrent of uncut hair, covering ears that have still black hairs around the openings. An Italian surf bum, but not a lazy guy. Behind the furrowed brow, two eyes peered out, full of life and not a little mischief. Fausto makes Pigato, an unlikely wine, but one that works very well in his life. As we jumped into his little 2-cycle utility truck (really a glorified scooter), he grabbed a bottle of white and we headed off to his sister's sports bar. At a table, a plate appeared, tiny piquant sausages in a fiery broth that only a Pigato can quell. Fausto teased one of the cook's daughters, and one could see his life was carefree and happy. Almost every day Fausto goes there, to eat his lunch and drink the wine that makes his life lighter and brighter. And I was back there with him. No masks, no jetlag.
This happens often. Like last week when I met my friend outside and we shared two bottles of wine, a lovely white burgundy, mine a 12-year-old Barbaresco. I knew, when I popped the cork on that Barbaresco, that I wasn?t in Dallas anymore. I smelled the earth of the Langhe. I tasted the wine as I?d tasted it in a little trattoria in Barbaresco, Trattoria Antica Torre. The food before us, in present time and space, was a little different, but my soul was right there, under the tower, eating lunch with friends. I was traveling again, this time, back in time. But not just rear-view mirror traveling, I was also going forward, with the wine. It was a magical moment. It was a miracle, considering where we?re at right now with this dilemma we find ourselves in.
No, I wasn?t eating in a Michelin starred bistro, in a swank metropolis, on the other side of the world, surrounded by an amazing wine list and a beautiful young dining crowd. But I?m an introvert, I didn?t need all that. All I needed was a catalyst, boom, to get me into the headspace. And I got it. And you can too, with a little imagination and will.
This is just an outline, not a blueprint. Italy isn?t a one-size-fits-all experience. And what it is you?re missing about Italy might be different from what I?m looking for. And if you?re an introvert, or an introvert-in-training now, until things change, it?s all there, accessible, but it?s going to take some work on your part. And a good imagination. Go forth, proceed, do it, and enjoy your own little slice of Italy, with, of course, Italian wine.
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