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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

September 23, 2014 Issue

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ARGENTINA

Red:

Amalaya, Salta (Argentina) Malbec Blend 2012 ($16, Hess Collection): Salta is one of my "up-and-coming" wine regions thanks to wines like this one.  High altitude vineyards and a desert climate make for a big diurnal swing in temperature and allows the Malbec to develop a different complexity than the better-known neighbors in Mendoza.  Bright acidity carries flavors of blackberry, blueberry, baker's chocolate and spice with grip that keeps the flavors integrated through the long finish.  This is a solid, dry, food friendly wine -- bring on the Parrilla!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

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AUSTRALIA

McLaren Vale:

White:

d'Arenberg, McLaren Vale (South Australia) Viognier Marsanne 'The Hermit Crab' 2012 ($17, Old Bridge Cellars): This wine just screams for seafood -- in the best way possible.  It even smells like the ocean, with hints of fresh sea spray intertwined with grilled white peach and spicy honeysuckle.  On the palate, it's very crisp and vibrant, and delivers the slightest briny note with the fruit elements, and cleansing acidity that leaves the grilled peach and a bit of lime zest to refresh you for the next bite.  Of what, you ask?  Oysters, scallops or lemon-focused fish preps will work splendidly.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

South Australia:

White:

Dandelion Vineyards, Adelaide Hills (Australia) Sauvignon Blanc Wishing Clock of the Adelaide Hills 2014 ($25): Very much in the style of a Bordeaux blanc, Dandelion's Wishing Clock Sauvignon Blanc delivers on the nose and delivers on the palate with aromas of white flowers and white peach. This well balanced Sauvignons is among the finest I've tasted from Australia. It was awarded a platinum medal at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Victoria:

Red:

Innocent Bystander, Yarra Valley (Australia) Pinot Noir 2013 ($20, Old Bridge Cellars): The trend toward beautifully made and affordable Pinot Noir is a recent phenomenon in California, and now the Aussies are getting in on the act. This spicy Pinot from the cool Yarra Valley was a huge hit with judges at the 6th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition, taking a platinum award despite its modest price. Well balanced and refined, it exhibits inviting red-fruit aromas, a spicy nose, and a long, lingering finish. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

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CANADA

Niagara Peninsula:

White:

Inniskillin, Niagara Peninsula (Canada) Vidal Icewine 2012 ($60): A stunning dessert wine from famed icewine producer Inniskillin.  Peach, apricot, spice and a hint of smoky character are incredibly intense and balanced on the nose, and the palate is soft and silky smooth, delivering the flavors in an unctuous, mouthfilling package. Then the finish -- perfectly balanced acidity -- leaves your palate completely clean, yet leaves the flavor mix hanging in your senses for a full minute.  I wouldn't dream of pairing this with anything.  Unless of course there's a fine Point Reyes blue cheese available.  Or some aged Roquefort.  Or a great stilton.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 99 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Inniskillin, Niagara Peninsula (Canada) Gold Vidal Icewine VQA 2012 ($50): A decadent example of ice wine, this beauty from Inniskillin exhibits complex aromas of citrus, tropical and stone fruits, a hint of bees wax and a long, spicy, honied finish. Judges at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition were noticeably impressed, awarding a platinum medal and a rating of 96 points. 96 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

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FRANCE

Champagne:

Sparkling:

Moet & Chandon, Champagne (France) Grand Vintage Collection Brut 1999 ($140): Moet's Grand Vintage Collection series highlights the remarkable but little-known ability of Champagne to improve with age. This 15-year-old brut is a beautiful example of that fact, with freshness that would otherwise seem unlikely at this age. The 1999 offers crunchy green apple aromas while exhibiting richness and weight on the palate, and evolved, mature aromas of caramel and brioche. Judges at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge in San Diego awarded it a platinum medal. 96 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Moet & Chandon, Champagne (France) Grand Vintage Rose Brut 2004 ($65): From the outstanding 2004 vintage, this vintage brut rose Champagne from Moet is a seductive charmer, and at a fair price considering the quality. It offers aromas of strawberry and cranberry, with a fine, delicate bead and exceptional length on the palate. Judges at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge in San Diego awarded it a platinum medal and a rating of 95 points. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Languedoc:

Red:

Chateau Paul Mas, Coteaux du Languedoc AOP (France) Clos de Savignac 2013 ($25): Paul Mas has emerged in recent years as one of the most quality driven producers in the Languedoc region, which covers a sweeping arc from the border with Spain all the way to the edges of Provence and the Rhone Valley. This GSM blend (55 percent Syrah, 25 percent Mourvedre and 20 percent Grenache) is a brilliant, savory red that expresses the exceptional terroir of this long overlooked region. The best part is that quality has outpaced recognition, so prices have remained modest. This is one of the great steals of the year in high-class red wine from France. Judges at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition awarded it a platinum medal and 95 points. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Cote Mas, Pezenas, Coteaux du Languedoc AOP (France) 2013 ($19): Cote Mas is one of the great values in the wine world today. This vintage of the Pezenas blend offers intriguing notes of black pepper, savory garrigue and pretty red fruits. It is a montage of Rhone grapes: Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. The tannins are smooth and supple and the blend is showing beautifully at this early stage. And best of all, the price is right. Awarded a platinum medal at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Loire Valley:

White:

Rue de Perle, Vouvray AOC (Loire Valley, France) 2012 ($12): Bargain hunters will have to look long and hard to find a better value than this delicious dry Vouvray. On the palate the wine is bright and lively, with aromas of citrus and melon, made all the more intriguing by a thread of minerality that adds complexity on both the nose and palate. Judges at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge in San Diego awarded this value beauty a platinum medal and 94 points. 91 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

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ITALY

Tuscany:

Red:

Ruffino, Chianti DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2011 ($10): Always a great value wine, this vintage offers cherry, blackberry, tobacco leaf and sage aromas, followed up by a palate that brings linear translation of flavors with full body and food friendly acidity. Add a long finish, wide availability and a discounted price under eight dollars and you've got a "go-to" wine for lots of occasions.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Ruffino, Toscana IGT (Italy) 'Modus' 2011 ($25): Few would argue against the proposition that Tuscany is the world's finest terroir for Sangiovese. The steep Tuscan hills and warm summers also provide a hospitable environment for Merlot (in particular) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ruffino's Modus is a blend of those three grapes and, while it has always been a fine wine, the 2011 vintage is a stunner. Full-bodied and richly structured, it's a Tuscan red that will reward those with the patience to lay it down in the cellar for a decade or more. Aromas of black cherry, blackberry and plum dominate, the tannins are beautifully integrated, and the balance is exquisite. Awarded a platinum medal at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Veneto:

Red:

Bolla, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC (Veneto, Italy) 2008 ($42):  I've tasted this wine in the past and found it a bit closed, but as usual with wines like this one, time finds a way to open things up.  This is a bold, meaty wine that shows intensity and weight on the palate, turning the aromas of meat, mixed berries and dry raisin into rich flavors that really linger pleasantly on the palate.  It's a bargain as Amarone goes, and should be fairly easy to find.  If you've never tried this unique appellation, be careful, this might be your gateway experience.  A Platinum award-winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

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UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Alexander Valley Vineyards, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County) Merlot Wetzel Family Estate 2011 ($20):  A beautiful earth and herb driven Merlot that features aromas of fresh turned field and tobacco leaf in front, with bright cherry and raspberry fruit underneath.  On the palate, the flavors are very well integrated, bring all the promises of the nose to bear, with great structure and weight.  Very impressive, and ready for a nice herb encrusted prime rib.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Howell Mountain Vineyards, Howell Mountain (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Hillside Select' 2011 ($75): The Hillside Select from Howell Mountain Vineyards is everything you want and expect in a serious mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon: Rich and powerful, full-bodied, and with ample tannin for the long haul. This is a wine to wait on. At this stage it is muscular and menacing, but with time its abundant dark fruit character will emerge in what I expect to be a fabulous expression of Howell Mountain. This vintage was challenging, but Howell Mountain Vineyards succeeded in making a Cabernet for the ages. It was awarded a platinum medal at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Eleanor, Napa County / Sonoma County (California) Red Wine 2011 ($50): This interesting red blend might make one wonder if more California wineries might attempt blends that combine Zinfandel and the Bordeaux grape varieties. Zin is uppermost here at 36 percent, with Cabernet Sauvignon making up 30 percent, and Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc making up the rest. The Zinfandel lends the fresh ripe berry flavors Zin lovers adore with structure coming from the Cabernet and other Bordeaux grapes. Well balanced and complex, this is a serious red wine that bears watching in future vintages.  Platinum award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition.
94 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Jeff Gordon Cellars, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($55): Jeff Gordon's 2009 Cabernet is a seamless expression of classic Napa Valley Cabernet, and with enough years in the bottle that it has developed an inviting bouquet of violets, spice and bright fruit. On the palate it delivers smooth, rich red and black fruit aromas, with a dazzling finish that seems to last forever. Judges at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition awarded it a platinum medal. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Sterling, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Platinum' 2011 ($55): This polished Cabernet from Sterling is aptly named Platinum, which is the medal it took (along with a score of 95 points) at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. Smooth and supple, this Cab from the difficult 2011 vintage is a reminder that careful selection and a rigid commitment to quality can produce great wine in off vintages. The nose shows hint of cedar, cassis and spice, and on the palate the fruit aromas are complex and layered, with a socko finish. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

V. Sattui, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Preston Vineyard 2011 ($55): Rich and slightly chewy, V. Sattui's 2011 Preston Vineyard Cab is a Cab lover's Cabernet. Dense and layered, it shows ripe dark fruits supported by firm tannins that will need another two to three years to come around. Those who have the patience to cellar this big, bad Napa red should hold it until at least 2018, but 2021 to 2025 would be optimum. Though richly extracted, the Preston is well balanced and inviting now even though it will not hit its peak for some time. This wine was awarded a platinum medal at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Hess Collection, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Allomi' 2012 ($30): Here's a spicy little number from Hess Collection. Deep black fruit sits just behind a huge nose of fall spice -- cinnamon, nutmeg, flowers, and a touch of pepper leading you to a palate that shows its youth, gripping your gums, yet allowing a nice dried-herb component to speak through the fruit and spice. Decant it, or age it a while, and enjoy with spicy beef or game. A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Halter Ranch, Paso Robles (California) Cotes de Paso 2011 ($32):  I could sit and smell this wine all day and be satisfied. It's a beautiful aromatic mix of blackberry, cherry, orange blossom, tar and baking spice.  Of course, pleasant aromas lead you to drink, and there's no disappointment as bracing, mouthwatering acidity turns the aromas into flavors and carries them through a long finish that will keep you coming back. This will be even better as the oak integrates more fully.  A Platinum award-winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 95 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Villa San Juliette, Paso Robles (California) Petite Sirah 2011 ($20):  This wine is everything you want in a Petite Sirah.  Huge tannic structure, blackberry, blueberry, tar, brown spice, age-worthy acidity and a long finish that  brings in a touch of tobacco.  That said, it's very approachable now with a little time in the glass, and it's capable of improving over the next 15 years.  Serve it up with wild game, or a big porterhouse.  Contains 17% Merlot and 4% Syrah.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Hawk and Horse, Red Hills (Lake County) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($65):  If you like your Cab bold, full-bodied and bright, this is a wine for you.  It's rare to find a wine that's this fully extracted that maintains solid varietal character without going over the top.  Big blackberry, cassis, damp earth, toast, mild herbs and spices are present in both aroma and flavor, all singing over solid acidic structure and supple tannins.  The finish has a firm grip, but remains bright and integrated.  It's delicious now, and will reward further aging.  Contains 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, organically grown.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 96 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

ACORN Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Alegria Vineyards 'Medley' 2011 ($45): ACORN threw everything but the kitchen sink into its delightful Medley red blend. There's a shot of Syrah, a dash of Zinfandel, a splash of Alicante Bouschet, a pinch of Cinsault, a bit of Muscat, an equal splash of Dolcetto and a small percentage of "other." And it's delicious. Judges at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition thought so, too, awarding Medley a platinum medal and 94 points. It's shows ripe red-fruit aromas, firm structure, a note of spice and a long, pleasing finish. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Michael Pozzan Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County) Pinot Noir 2012 ($20):  There's a lot to love in this budget friendly bottling.  The aroma profile has great depth, showing cherry, dry earth, cardamom and hibiscus, leading to a palate that doesn't disappoint, delivering the promise of the nose with full flavor, food friendly acidity and a long finish that brings a sweet oak note forward.  At this price, I'd stock up before word gets out!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Clos de la Tech, Santa Cruz Mountains (California) Pinot Noir Domaine Lois Louise 2009 ($42):  This late-release Pinot Noir shows vibrant cherry fruit, with dry earth and herb notes.  It's very rich on the palate, and displays vibrant acidity and excellent integration of flavors.  The long finish emphasizes the cherry and adds touches of rhubarb and spice.  It's delightful now, and has a long future ahead.  Well Done!  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Archimedes, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($52): This beauty from Archimedes is a Cab lovers dream. It exhibits a smooth, supple texture on the palate, with lovely red-fruited aromas, a slight savory note and a hint of wood spice. Well balanced and complete, this is a refined Sonoma County Cabernet that would give even the top dogs from the Napa Valley a run for their money. Awarded a platinum medal at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition in San Diego. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Cinq Cepages 2010 ($75): Long one of California's best red wines, this vintage features a complex aromatic mix of blackberry, currants, dried herbs, stone minerality, vanilla and baking spice.  On the palate, the oak is still integrating, but it's beautiful oak that will soften with further bottle aging and bring everything together. It's all there, so if you can't keep your hands off, give it a long decant before serving with aged cheeses or your favorite roast beef preparations.  Contains 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 95 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Hughes Family Vineyard, Sonoma Valley (California) Zinfandel Wild Turkey Vineyard Signature Reserve 2010 ($40):  Here's a full-throttle Zinfandel that goes right to the edge, but sits there enjoying the view rather than diving into the jam pool.  The acid profile makes this wine dance on the palate, showing rich brambly fruit, cigar and fall spice balanced by notes of citrus. The tannin structure coupled with the fruit load bodes well for a long future.  A Platinum award-winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Rocca Family Vineyards, Yountville (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon Grigsby Vineyard 2010 ($85): Wines like this have made the Napa Valley the magnet it has become for serious wine lovers. Well-heeled serious wine lovers, that is. Rich and muscular, this is a Napa Valley Cabernet that is richly layered and powerful, with aromas of cassis, blackberry and plum, firm tannins and spectacular length. Those looking for a Cab that makes a statement with its depth and complexity will love this wine. A hint of cedar and spice add notes of additional complexity. It was awarded a platinum medal and a score of 98 points by judges at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 96 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Rosé:

Halter Ranch, Paso Robles (California) Rose 2013 ($21):  It's not often that a Rosé makes it into this scoring territory, but this is worth every one of its 94 points. The nose presents strawberry, cranberry, white pepper, stone minerality and a pleasant leafy note. On the palate, it's bone dry and delivers a bright translation of the aroma profile with a long finish that integrates all the elements.  It's garden salad time!  Contains 73% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah and 7% Picpoul Blanc.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Sparkling:

Gloria Ferrer, Sonoma County (California) Sonoma Brut NV ($22):  I love it when a fairly inexpensive bottle of domestic bubbly is capable of masquerading as a pricier bottle from across the Atlantic.  This wine is crisp and bright with the citrus and apple freshness you'd expect from the best of California, and the depth of brioche and stony minerality you find in the best of Champagne.  Another fine effort from this producer -- and this is their entry level bottling!  A Platinum award-winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

White:

Barefoot Celllars, California (United States) Chardonnay NV ($7):  Producing a wine of this quality in the quantity that Barefoot does things is no small feat -- or small feet?  Winemaker Jennifer Wall manages a very attractive chardonnay that you can buy by the case to please your entire spectrum of guests, from wine snobs to the book club girls.  Apple, lemon, a touch of coconut, great acidity and a long full flavored finish that's not overly oaky - what more do you want for seven bucks?  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Fetzer, California (United States) Riesling Goosefoot Road 2013 ($8):  Fetzer is quietly producing great wine at spectacularly low prices. This Riesling is fresh and lively, with nice minerality, stone fruit and spice on the nose and in the mouth, with some fresh Meyer lemon coming forward in the finish.  Great as a sweeter aperitif, or pair it with spicy Asian fare. Then again, there's always grilled sausage…  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Sterling Vineyards, Central Coast (California) Aromatic White 2012 ($14):  A blend of 5 grapes known for their lively aromas, this wine brings the best of those five worlds together in this lovely bargain-priced wine.  White flowers, lychee, apricot, stone minerality, grilled peach and Muscat spice are all in both the aroma and flavor mix, bringing a crisp refreshing wine that will keep you interested enough to go for a second glass.  And a third.  Pair it with light appetizers or quaff it on its own.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Chalk Hill (Sonoma County) Chardonnay Estate 2012 ($22): Here's a very elegant Chardonnay at a great price.  Aromas of lemon crème, stone minerality, brioche and light touches of apple and tropical fruit translate directly into flavors on the palate, carried by bright acidity in a crisp dry style that refreshes and leaves you with the stone and lemon lingering.  Fine on its own, or served with creamy seafood dishes.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

J. Lohr, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc Carol's Vineyard 2013 ($25): J. Lohr's Carol's Vineyard Sauvignon impresses with its richness. This serious mouthful of Sauvignon goodness exhibits a scintillating minerality, an oily texture, a hint of wood smoke, and inviting aromas of peach and tropical fruit. Awarded a platinum medal at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Cass Winery, Paso Robles (Central Coast) Roussanne 2013 ($26): Paso is Rhone country in the minds of many and wines like this attractive Roussanne are a large part of the equation. It's well balanced, round and juicy, and shows notes of red citrus and ripe melon. Judges at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge awarded it a platinum medal. 92 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Oregon:

Red:

Bethel Heights, Eola-Amity Hills (Oregon) Pinot Noir 'Casteel' 2012 ($60): Those who find Oregon Pinot Noirs to be more on the delicate side than their California counterparts should give this fleshy wine a go.  Bold extraction brings us bright black cherry and flowers with notes of tea, cinnamon spice and fennel, all translated into bright rich flavors on the palate.  There's no shortage of acidity. It counters the richness and leaves your mouth watering and wanting more, but not too soon because you'll be busy savoring the long, flavorful finish.  Great on its own, or a fine match for the variety of Thanksgiving table.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 94 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

Johan Vineyards, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir Estate 2012 ($28): With an intense nose of fresh raspberry, this Pinot from Oregon's Willamette Valley is a winner from the first whiff. An estate wine that's biodynamically farmed, the Johan Pinot shows voluptuous fruit, a rich mouthfeel, and remarkable length in the mouth. Positively stunning at the price. This wine was awarded a platinum medal at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition. 95 Robert Whitley Sep 23, 2014

Virginia:

White:

Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia (United States) Paxxito 2010 ($32): A uniquely American take on the great white dessert wines of Italy.  A 50/50 blend of Moscato Ottonel and Vidal,  the grapes are dried on racks after harvest to concentrate the flavors and give a dried fruit vibe to the flavor profile.  Here we've got apricot, pie spice, celery and leafy notes present in both aroma and flavor, with a long, clean finish.  Easily one of America's most special desserts.  A Platinum Award winner at the 2014 Sommelier Challenge. 95 Rich Cook Sep 23, 2014

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