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MWG November 22nd tasting (4/5): Tre rossi eclettici

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Sicilia IGT 2011, Frappato, Terre di Giumara, Caruso & Minini ($16.65, 11793173)
Caruso & Minini is a Marsala-based producer of a wide range of wines made from Sicilian and international grape varieties. Could find no technical information about this Frappato, which isn’t even mentioned on the winery’s website, nor have I learned which agency represents it in Quebec. The SAQ also carries one of C&M’s white varietals, the tasty 2011 Grecanico ($16.65, 11793181), whose constituent grape DNA profiling has shown to be the same as Soave’s Garganega. Both it and the Frappato are 14% ABV.
Dusty cherry, a hint of black licorice, faint herbs and not a lot else. Quite extracted but avoiding heaviness. The ripe fruit has a candied edge, though the wine is dry and savoury, with supple tannins and just enough acidity. Dried herbs mark the finish. Easy-going and affable if far from profound. Comes across as a warmer-climate take on the grape than Occhipinti’s and COS’s supreme – and, yes, much pricier – interpretations. A fairer comparison might be the Frappato from Tami, Occhipinti’s négociant label, which beats this on elegance and quaffability but not on fruity/juicy exuberance. (Buy again? Sure.)

Cesanese di Olevano Romano 2008, Cirsium, Cantine Ciolli (c. €20, importation valise)
100% Cesanese di Affile from a vineyard planted in 1953 and located about 40 km east of Rome. Manually harvested. Fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with frequent punching down. Macerated ten days, then racked into barrels for malolactic fermentation. Aged in barrels for about one year, bottled unfiltered and aged another two years before release. 14% ABV.
Savoury, even earthy nose: horse, graphite, dried herbs, tobacco. Medium- to full-bodied, more silky than velvety, dry. The dusty red fruit is pure and intense if not remarkably deep. Rough-hewn tannins and bright acidity make for an angular structure. Good length. An appealingly rustic wine that tastes like it might benefit from a couple more years in the cellar. (Buy again? Yes, if I could.)

Barolo 2007, Fratelli Alessandria ($40.25, 11797094)
100% Nebbiolo from six vineyards. Manually harvested. Fermented and macerated from 12 to 15 days in temperature-controlled tanks. Matured 32 to 34 months in large Slavonian and French oak casks, two months in stainless steel tanks and six or more months in the bottle. 14.5% ABV.
A bit of bricking at the rim suggests quick evolution. Raspberry rose, old wood and a hint of tar on the nose; silky, savoury red fruit and dried herbs on the palate. Somewhat austere despite the ripeness, and the tannins are still a little rebarbative. The long, aromatic finish shows some heat. Relatively approachable for a Barolo of this age, though a few more years in the cellar will do it no harm. If drinking now, carafe it at least a couple of hours before serving. (Buy again? If I weren’t so distracted by the Produttori del Barbaresco single-vineyard 2007s…)

Written by carswell

December 3, 2012 at 23:07

MWG November 22nd tasting (2/5): Three dry Vouvrays

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Vouvray 2011, Les Argiles, Domaine François Chidaine ($25.55, 11461056)
100% biodynamically farmed Chenin Blanc from 40-year-old vines in several parcels. Manually harvested in several passes. Pneumatically pressed, fermented with native yeasts and matured in old wood demi-muids. No malolactic fermentation. 12.5% ABV.
A kaleidoscope of aromas and flavours: chalk, quince, melon, white and yellow stone fruit, citrus, linden, ginger and more. Thrilling balance between rich fruit and vibrant acidity. Long finish with crystalline minerals and a quinine-like bitter note. Wow! (Buy again? Definitely, for drinking now or cellaring up to a decade.)

Vouvray 2010, Clos Naudin, Philippe Foreau ($30.75, 11797220)
100% Chenin Blanc. Manually harvested in several  passes. Pneumatically pressed with the stalks. Fermented with native yeasts. No chaptalization, acidification or malolactic fermentation. Matured in old barrels. Bottled with minimal sulphur. 13.5% ABV.
Reticent nose: “green almonds,” green pear, chalky minerals. Lacking coherence on first sip. Very dry with coursing acidity, pale white fruit and a streak of bitter minerals. Gained depth and appeal as it breathed and warmed, hinting at its potential. (Buy again? Only to stick in the cellar and forget about for a few years.)

Vouvray 2010, Domaine Vincent Carême ($23.45, 11633612)
100% organically farmed Chenin Blanc from vines 45 years old on average. Manually harvested. Fermented – full alcoholic, partial malolactic – and matured in old barrels. 14% ABV.
Ripe pear, flower sap, browning apple but the flavours turn cheesy in the glass and the wine falls flat. Different from – and far less attractive than – other bottles of this I’ve tasted and probably defective. The cork on our bottle was wet all the way to the top; since the wine showed well enough when carafed, I poured it; in retrospect, I should have exchanged it. (Buy again? Yes but maybe from another store.)

Written by carswell

November 30, 2012 at 19:08

MWG November 22nd tasting (1/5): Two French sparklers

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A tasting of 15 wines, including five from the November 22nd Cellier release and one importation valise. We began with two French sparklers.

Champagne grand cru, Réserve, H. Billiot ($49.75, 11818220)
75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay from up to 18 grand cru vineyards in Ambonnay. Usually a blend of three vintages. Fermented in stainless steel tanks. Does not undergo malolactic fermentation. Unfiltered. 13% ABV.
Browning apple and bread crust. Softly effervescent. Dry but rich, with a ripe-sweet fruit core (yellow apple and dried apricot) and plenty of acidity. A suggestion of brown sugar joins the minerals on the finish. Not bad though more complexity, tension and, well, dazzle would be welcome. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Vouvray mousseux 2010, Brut, Domaine Vincent Carême ($21.70, 11633591)
100% Chenin Blanc. The estate has been farming organically since 2002 and either has recently received organic certification or is about to. Made using the traditional method, with only yeast added for the second fermentation. Zero dosage. 13% ABV.
Complex and appealing nose: sour apple, lees, yeast, barley sugar, a hint of kerosene. Fine, sharp effervescence. The abundant acidity is checked by the faint residual sugar. Not a lot of flavour depth but a crystal-like structural depth. A minerally, faintly bitter streak that one taster described as burnt match lingers through the finish. Earlier bottles of this have shown better; the current shipment is just off the boat and may need a few weeks to settle down. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

November 28, 2012 at 14:20

MWG November 9th tasting: report (5/5)

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Vacqueyras 2009, Cuvée Azalaïs, Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux ($28.25, 11796420)
70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and Cinsault from 35- to 40-year-old vines, organically farmed but not yet certified as such (the 2010 vintage reportedly will be). Manually harvested. Destemmed. Fermented in concrete vats with native yeasts and daily pumping over. Matured a minimum of six months in large barrels. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. 14% ABV.
Plum, garrigue, spice. Fluid and nicely structured, with welcome acidity and fine tannins that linger through the finish. Initial salty plum and fig sweetened and deepened, with leather, minerals and licorice adding savour. Long. An excellent, terroir-driven Vacqueyras, about the best pairing imaginable for a garlic- and herb-scented leg of lamb. (Buy again? Yes.)

Naoussa 2009, Terre et Ciel, Domaine Thymiopoulos ($28.40, 11814368)
This 100% Xinomavro is a blend of organically farmed grapes from three parcels and 40- to 70-year-old vines. Fermented in stainless steel vats with native yeasts. Matured in a mix of Burgundy barrels, 20% new. Bottled unfiltered, unfined and with a small squirt of sulphur dioxide. The estate, which has been in the Thymiopoulos family for generations, used to sell its grapes to Boutari. Now-30-something Apostolo had other ideas: he attended wine school, stopped selling grapes, started making wines under his own name and began converting to biodynamic farming. 14.5% ABV.
We’re not in the Rhône Valley anymore, Toto: marked aromas of V8 juice, black raspberry jam, kirsch and menthol. Rich but not heavy fruit and a velvety mouth-feel. Dry. The initially raspy tannins soften as the wine breathes. Long, black cherry and earthy/slatey finish with spice notes. Not exactly my style but, along with its younger sibling, easily the best Xinomavro I’ve tasted. Will be interesting to see what some bottle age brings. (Buy again? If in the market for an exotically flavoured, fruit-forward but savoury and balanced wine, yes.)

Lirac 2010, La Dame Rousse, Domaine de la Mordorée ($22.00, 11690836)
A 50-50 blend of Grenache and Syrah from 40-year-old vines. Manually harvested. Destemmed and given a long maceration. Fermented for 30 days at 34ºC (93ºF). 14.5% ABV.
Leather, spice, plum and eventually kirsch. Started off well – dry, tannic, structured, ripe – but seemed to take on weight and flatten as it breathed. That heaviness and two-dimensionality together with the alcoholic heat made for a distinctly unrefreshing mouthful. Many people love Mordorée but I’m about ready to give up on it. (Buy again? No.)

Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009, Cuvée Réservée, Domaine du Pégau ($75.00, 11521354)
80% Grenache, 6% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre and 10% other varieties permitted in the appellation. Manually harvested. Fermented with the stems for ten to 14 days with native yeasts and twice daily pumping over. Slowly pressed. Allowed to settle over the winter, then racked into old oak barrels. Blended just before bottling. Bottled unfiltered and unfined. 14% ABV.
Horsehair, garrigue, turned earth, hint of tar, savoury meat, black fruit. Rich, dense and very ripe yet quite acidic. Structured though the tannins are fine. Long with a little kirschy heat flaring on the finish. At this point early in its life, lacking cohesion and devoid of charm. Unlike the 1995, which was as approachable and seductive in its youth as it was a year ago, this bordered on galumphing. Obviously a thoroughbred and likely to evolve into something impressive. But Pégau used to be thought of as one of the more “feminine” Châteauneufs, and I have a hard time imagining anyone ever using that descriptor for this wine, even 15 or 20 years down the road. (Buy again? Probably not.)

Written by carswell

November 24, 2012 at 13:51

MWG November 9th tasting: report (4/5)

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Dolcetto d’Alba 2010, Enzo Boglietti ($20.20, 10856726)
100% Dolcetto. Fermented with native yeasts for seven days in temperature-controlled vats with punching down and pumping over several times a day. Matured for nine months in a mixture of French oak barrels and stainless steel vats. 14% ABV.
Violets, earth, plum and blackberry, a whiff of alcohol. Not expressive at first but opening up. The velvety fruit – lightened by acidity, darkened by a slatey, bitter undertow – cloaks the light but firm tannins. Perceptible in the added sweetness and vanilla note, the oak doesn’t get in the way. Long and pure. Modern but well made and tasty. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2007, Scudetto, Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio ($24.60, 11472361)
100% Barbera from 60- to 70-year-old vines. Floating-cap fermentation for 15-20 days. Matured in used French oak barrels for around 18 months. 14.5% ABV.
Clay, dried herbs, tar and blackberry/black cherry. Soft, round and a bit heavy on the palate, with somber fruit and dark minerals. The weighty feel is balanced only partially by acidity. Light tannins and some alcoholic heat (though not as much as you might expect) come to the fore on the rustic finish. A somewhat glum wine that I found myself respecting more than loving. (Buy again? Maybe in a less ripe vintage.)

Dolcetto d’Alba 2011, Fratelli Alessandria ($19.35, 11580186)
100% Dolceto from vines averaging 18 years of age. Manually harvested. Fermented six to eight days in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats. Matured six to eight months in stainless steel and cement vats. Unfiltered and unfined. The must is dosed with a little sulphur dioxide, as is the finished wine at bottling. 13% ABV.
Floral (dried rose?), cherry, currant, slate. A fluid and tart middleweight. Bright red and black berries with some earthy/slatey undertones and a bittersweet streak. Light tannins provide a little rasp, while a lingering sourness takes the finish into lip-smacking territory. A leaner, more traditionally styled Dolcetto than the Boglietti, and all the better for it. The pizza wine par excellence. (Buy again? Yep.)

Barbera d’Alba 2010, Punset ($20.70, 10985747)
100% organically farmed Barbera. Manually harvested. Gently pressed and fermented on the skins. Aged in stainless steel vats for several months. 13.5% ABV.
Spicy plum, graphite, earth, funk. Medium-bodied with a velvety texture, pure fruit, a hint of smoke and tar, light tannins and lots of acidity. Good clean finish. An honest and unadorned Barbera not without appeal. (Buy again? Sure.)

Written by carswell

November 23, 2012 at 18:44

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MWG November 9th tasting: report (3/5)

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Crémant de Loire 2004, Extra Brut, Quadrille, Langlois-Chateau ($28.40, 11791670)
A quadrille is an 18th-century dance involving four couples. Here it refers to the four grape varieties used – Chenin Blanc (50%), Chardonnay (30%), Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) – and the four Saumur vineyards where the grapes are grown. Manually harvested. Pneumatically pressed. Each vineyard’s produce is vinified separately in temperature-controlled vats and subsequently blended. Made using the traditional method. Matured on the lees for four years. The champagne house Bollinger has owned Langlois-Chateau (spelled sans circumflex, TYVM) since 1973. 12.5% ABV.
Initially odd nose – wet dog and honeysuckle – segues into more appealing sour apple and yeast. Clean and bright on the palate. Straightfowardly fruity but very dry. Fine effervesence and crisp acidity lighten the fairly rich texture. Lingering minerals. Well fashioned, even elegant, if a little short on personality. (Buy again? Maybe, though equally interesting and more characterful sparklers can be found for less.)

Champagne grand cru, Blanc de Blancs, Réserve Brut, De Sousa ($69.25, 11797369)
100% Chardonnay from the Avise, Cramant, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Chouilly and Oger grand cru vineyards. A blend of two or three vintages with a minimum of 25% barrel-aged vin de réserve. Made entirely from tête de cuvée juice (the first out of the press). Vinified in temperature-controlled metal vats. Unchaptalized. 12.5% ABV.
Barley sugar, browning apple, hints of buttered toast. Quite rich and full, with faint oxidized fruit and honey notes. The round bubbles provide lift and ripe acidity keeps things taut. Underpinning crystals and chalk add complexity. Long, tasty finish. (Buy again? Maybe, though equally interesting Champagnes can be found for less.)

Written by carswell

November 21, 2012 at 17:51

oenopole trade tasting (3/4): Arianna Occhipinti

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Based near Vittoria in the province of Ragusa in southeast Sicily, just-turned-30 Arianna Occhipinti has been making wine and olive oil on the family estate for more than a decade. She farms organically, ferments using indigenous yeasts, adheres to a non-interventionist approach in the cellar and bottles unfiltered, unfined and with minimal sulphur dioxide. In the five years since the MWG had the pleasure of hosting her at a tasting, she has gone from being a virtual unknown in North America to something of a rock star, with regular mentions in the New York Times and wine magazines.

IGT Sicilia 2011, SP68 Bianco, Arianna Occhipinti ($25.90, oenopole, NLA)
A 50-50 blend of Albanello and Zibibbo (aka Muscat of Alexandria) from ten-year-old vines. Macerated 15 days on the skins. Aged six months in stainless steel vats. 12% ABV. Albanello is an obscure but ancient grape variety grown in the Ragusa and Syracuse areas. At the private import expo, Arianna told me she feels it has the potential to make very fine wine and is experimenting with a varietal bottling.
Fragrant nose of muscat grapes, sour apple and white flowers with minerals in the background. Less perfumy in the mouth. Dry and a little disconcerting because the nose has you expecting something sweeter. Soft, fragrant, delicious. Not super fruity but pure and fresh with just enough acidity. Lingering sour chalky finish and a faint astringency. One of those wines that keeps you coming back for another sip.

IGT Sicilia 2011, SP68 Rosso, Arianna Occhipinti ($22.70, 11811765)
A 50-50 blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato from ten-year-old vines. Macerated 30 days on the skins. Aged six months in stainless steel vats. 12.5% ABV. The wine will be sold through the SAQ for the first time as part of the November 22nd Cellier release. Unfortunately, the SAQ decided to order only 900 bottles for the entire province (it was offered more), virtually ensuring a stampede by wine geeks anxious to score even a bottle or two (versus the case or two they could get when it was a private import). The monopoly moves in mysterious ways.
Lovely nose: cherry and red berries with hints of flowers, slate and old wood. Soft, supple, pure. Lightly tannic and acidic. The fruit fades leaving minerals, earth and herbs. The drying finish is kissed by bitterness. A joy.

IGT Sicilia 2010, Il Frappato, Arianna Occhipinti ($38.25, oenopole, NLA)
Arguably Arianna’s flagship wine. 100% Frappato di Vittoria from 50-year-old vines. Macerated 50 days on the skins. Aged 14 months in large 25 hl Slovenian oak barrels. 12.5% ABV. Quebec’s entire allocation was snapped up by restaurateurs, leaving even us longtime innamorati empty-handed.
Fragrant nose of dried rose, sour red berries, slatey minerals and spice. More tightly wound than usual with some tannic astringency. Still medium-bodied and beautifully balanced. Turns minerally on the long, caressing finish. The structure makes this more Burgundy-like than ever. Will probably benefit from a year or two in the cellar but plenty delicious now.

Written by carswell

November 8, 2012 at 20:34

Cellier’s lone Vetliner

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Kamptal 2011, Grüner Veltliner, Heiligenstein, Trocken, Hirsch ($23.45, 11695055)
100% biodynamically farmed Grüner Veltliner. Fermented and matured in stainless steel. 12.5% ABV. Screwcapped.
Nuanced nose of lime leaf, white pepper, quartz and honey. Medium bodied with a slightly viscous texture. Dry but rounded by a little residual sugar, which in turn is checked by a faint carbon dioxide tingle and undertowing bitterness. The green-pearish, citrusy fruit is carried on a silvery stream of acidity before fading to stones and lime pith on the long finish. Less steely than expected (perhaps due to the hot vintage): an elegant, soft-spoken wine that, while enjoyable now, will surely improve with a few years in the bottle. A satisfactory pairing for boudin blanc, it would also be a natural with schnitzel. Cellier claims it’s oyster-friendly and, for once, I can see why.

Written by carswell

September 17, 2012 at 11:05

Fall 2012 Cellier release: listing

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My copy of the fall issue of the SAQ’s Cellier magazine arrived today. As none of the other wine geeks I’ve spoken to have received their copies, as none of the local wine boards have any discussion of it or the associated releases, as the staff at the SAQ Sélection outlet I called seemed clueless about the releases and as currently has no mention of them, I’ve typed up the list of wines involved. You’ll find it after the jump.

The dates of the two Sélection releases are September 13 and 27. The Signature release is on September 20. (I cannot fathom why the dates are kept secret until a week or two before the first release, which greatly complicates the planning of Cellier tastings. The editorial staff must know the dates many weeks if not months in advance. Would it kill them to share that information with us? Announcing the dates and maybe the themes – not the wines – a month or so out might even create some sorely lacking buzz around the releases.)

The main theme is 2009 red Bordeaux. There’s also a handful of purportedly oyster-friendly whites, four non-Bordeaux reds for cellaring, a mini-vertical and a couple of big bottles.

Upmarket Bordeaux being fantastically overpriced, the Sélection releases focus mainly on lesser appellations; there are lots of cru bourgeois wines, Médocs and Haut-Médocs, Pomerol satellites, etc.

The alcohol levels are startlingly high. (In the list, I’ve boldfaced the 14%, 14.5% and 15% wines.) It’s telling that the only Bordeaux under 13% is also the only old wine in the bunch (the 1990 Château Les Ormes Sorbet). Yes, 2009 was a very ripe vintage but there’s obviously something else going on here (Parkerization? New Worldization? Global warming? All of the above?). Interestingly, none of the pricey Signature wines clock in at more than 13.5%.

The Mo’ Wine Group usually holds a tasting in conjunction with each Cellier release. This time around, I’m not sure. While it’s true that the group should probably be tasting more Bordeaux, on first glance I’m finding it hard to muster much enthusiasm for this lineup. Unfortunately, that’s beginning to seem like a trend: Cellier releases used to generate a lot of enthusiasm online and in the stores. These days, not so much.

UPDATE (2012-08-30): The “Bravo Bordeaux” listing is finally available on Going by comments online and off (here, for example), I’m not the only person who finds it lacking.

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Written by carswell

August 23, 2012 at 17:31

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MWG May 24th tasting: report (4/4)

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Douro 2008, Batuta, Niepoort ($81.75, 10912071)
A blend of local grape varieties, predominantly Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional, mainly from 60+-year-old vines in the Quinta do Carril and vineyards from 100-year-old vines near Quinta de Nãpoles. Destemmed. Alcoholic fermentation took place in stainless steel vats and wood fermenters, the must being in contact with the skins for about 50 days. The wine was then pressed directly into French oak casks for 21 months’ malolactic fermentation and maturation. 14% ABV.
Complex, nuanced: spice, cedar, black fruit with hints of oak and maple. Full-bodied but no heaviness. Very structured with a formidable yet very fine tannic framework that gives the wine a velour-like texture. Pure and juicy fruit. Long, elegant finish. A flawless, impeccably balanced wine with great aging potential. (Buy again? If price were no object, yes.)

Douro 2008, Redoma, Niepoort ($44.75, 11634375)
A field blend involving Touriga Franco, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amareia and Tinto Cão, among others, from 60- to 120-year-old vines in the Cima Corgo region. Destemmed. Alcoholic fermentation was in stainless steel vats and stone lagares; malolactic fermentation and 20 month’s maturation in French oak casks. 14% ABV.
Initially gorgeous if closed nose of plum and spice, then gaining vanilla and chocolate notes. More straightforward, less deep and precise than the Batuta, the round tannins making for a more earthbound structure. The flavours are less layered, too. The dense fruit is buoyed by vibrant acidity. The oak is a little too present for now. Long, herby/menthol finish. Will benefit from a few years in the cellar. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Douro 2008, Vertente, Niepoort ($24.25, 10371665)
Another complex blend, this time comprising Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Amareia and Touriga Nacional, from 20-year-old vines in the Quinta de Nápoles vineyard and up to 70-year-old vines in the Pinhão Valley. Stainless steel tanks and lagares were used for alcoholic fermentation; 20% new French oak casks for malolactic fermentation and 18 months’ maturation. 13.5% ABV.
Fresh nose of cassis, turned earth, volatile herbs and subtle oak. At first appears closed yet complex and complete, with good structure, ripe fruit and a fluid texture. Becomes less well-integrated, less deep-seeming as it warms. The long, spicy finish shows a bit of heat. Closer than the other wines to a classic Douro. (Buy again? Yes, for serving uncarafed and at cool room temperature.)

The inclusion of the Redoma in the May 24th Cellier release prompted this mini-horizontal, which unfortunately couldn’t include the fourth Niepoort Douro regularly stocked at the SAQ, the virtually sold-out Dialogo ($15.80, 11605591). The three bottles we did taste shared many qualities: weight, savour, balance, impeccable craftsmanship and a relatively high price, about 20% above similar wines from competing producers.

Written by carswell

June 2, 2012 at 11:26

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