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THIS ISSUE'S REVIEWS

August 9, 2022 Issue

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CHILE

White:

Morandé, Casablanca Valley (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva 2020 ($20, International Wine & Spirits Inc.):  Morandé’s Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc’s pleasantly weighty texture makes one believe that this variety can have something important to say.  In fact this feeling persists as one savors the fruit balanced in tandem with the alcohol (13.5%) and the discreet suggestions of the French oak foudres in which it was fermented (a portion of the grapes was also fermented in cement eggs).  The vineyard is free of chemical fertilizers and herbicides.  We often tend to think of Sauvignon Blanc as a light wine but here’s an example of it flexing its handsome muscle.  Citrusy and lightly floral, it is a good companion to foods including white meats, seafood and pasta.      
93 Marguerite Thomas Aug 9, 2022


FRANCE

Bordeaux:

White:

Château Couhins-Lurton, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) Blanc 2020 ($60):  This wine shows the majesty of white wines from Pessac-Léognan.  You would never suspect it is made entirely from Sauvignon Blanc because the focus is not on fruitiness, but rather on hard to describe flavors of wet earth and minerals.  A subtle, but haunting, bitterness in the finish adds complexity and makes the wine even more appealing.  Far tighter and more youthful than their Acte II, this one, their Grand Vin, needs time.  I’ve enjoyed many bottles of well-aged Couhins-Lurton.  It’s a white wine that develops beautifully with a decade, or more, of bottle age.  This and their Acte II, are, as winemaker Jacques Lurton points out, two entirely different wines for two entirely different settings.  Drink Acte II now and enjoy — it’s very good — and cellar this one.            
95 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2022

Château Couhins-Lurton, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) “Acte II” Blanc 2020 ($50):  André Lurton, a master of white Bordeaux, saved this legendary estate (it was awarded Grand Cru Classé Graves in 1959) from extinction in the early 1970s when he purchased a portion of it.  He subsequently acquired the rest of it, rejuvenated the vines and the cellar, and, as they say, the rest is history.  With the 2020 vintage, Château Couhins-Lurton released another wine, called Acte II, from the estate.  Winemaker Jacques Lurton insists that Acte II — also made entirely from Sauvignon Blanc — is not a “second” wine in the usual sense, but rather is made from grapes chosen from specific plots within the vineyard and vinified differently to make a wine ready to drink earlier.  The focus on whether Acte II is a “second” wine or not may be misplaced, and risks detracting from the wine’s charms.  Though the scents and bite of Sauvignon Blanc is apparent, this is far more than a varietal Sauvignon Blanc.  It shows the elegance of white Bordeaux, especially those from Pessac-Léognan.  There’s a gracefulness here, not the shocking electricity varietal Sauvignon Blanc can convey.  Couple that gracefulness with good weight, a fine finish, and balancing acidity, you have a wine that is delicious to drink now.        
92 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2022

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Languedoc-Roussillon:

Red:

Luc Pirlet, Corbières AOP (Languedoc-Roussillon, France) 2020 ($11, Silver Lake Imports):  Luc Pierlet’s Appellation D’Origine Protégée series focuses on making wines true to their terroir.  His Corbières is excellent.  It threads the needle between earthy and fruity characteristics.  The wine pairs easily with food and has no harsh edges.  At $11, you should buy two bottles.  One for yourself to try ahead of sharing the second.         
89 Vince Simmon Aug 9, 2022

Le Fat Bastard, Pays d’Oc IGP (Languedoc-Roussillon, France) Pinot Noir 2020 ($12, Winebow):  The story of the name of this wine is of two friends, Thierry and Guy, who collaborated on wine projects.  Thierry (the experienced French winemaker) was showing Guy (the British wine rebel) the result of an experiment with a wine that was left on its lees, the expired yeast cells from fermentation.  They were both happily surprised at the result, and Guy — speaking in a French accent — called it a “fat bastard.”  They both agreed, and a brand was born.  This is a very likable wine with a dark ruby color, forward black cherry and raspberry fruit spiked with dried roses balanced with palate cleaning acidity, and finishing with ripe, smooth tannins.      
90 Rebecca Murphy Aug 9, 2022

White:

Le Fat Bastard, Pays d’Oc IGP (Languedoc-Roussillon, France) Chardonnay 2020 ($12, Winebow):  You might find it easy to dismiss a quirky label as a gimmick to sell an inexpensive wine, but you would miss out on a delicious better-than-it-has-to-be Chardonnay.  Véronique Torcolacci has been the head winemaker for 20 years.  After the grapes are crushed, she allows the juice to remain in contact with the skins to extract flavors.  The wine does not go through malolactic fermentation, which changes malic acid (think green apples) to lactic acid (think milk), so the wine is crisp and lively.  After fermentation, she allows the wine to remain in contact with the lees, the expired yeast cells from fermentation, which gives the wine a creamy texture.  Her final touch is to age a portion of the wine in oak to add roundness and vanilla notes.  The result is a fresh, round, juicy wine with apple, pear and pineapple flavors laced with a touch of vanilla and crisp, citrusy acidity.  Enjoy it with a fried fish sandwich or to appreciate a summer sunset.     
91 Rebecca Murphy Aug 9, 2022

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Provence:

Rosé:

Château De Pourcieux, Côtes De Provence (France) 2021 ($17, Baron François Imports):  If, like me, you prefer your Rosé dry rather than sweet, be sure to check out Château de Pourcieux.  Pale pink in color highlighted by a subtle orange tint, and with citrus and peach among the fruit flavors, this wine is deliciously fragrant and fresh.  It is one of those rare rosés that is truly crisp and dry and is therefore perfect for warm-weather dining (I enjoyed it recently with a Salade Niçoise).  Porcieux's vineyard is free of chemical fertilizers and herbicides.  Château de Pourcieux has been owned by the same family since it was founded in 1716 in Pourcieux, a small Provençale village.     
92 Marguerite Thomas Aug 9, 2022

Mirabeau, Côtes de Provence AOC (France) "Classic" 2021 ($19, Massanois):  Many people may have the dream of moving to France to make wine, but Stephen and Jeany Cronk did it.  They moved with their children from London to Provence in 2009.  Although they had no experience in winemaking, Steve had previously owned a small wine import company, so he had an understanding of the business of wine in France.  They worked as negociants, buying wine from producers and working with British Master of Wine Angela Muir to create this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault to create their first wine, “Classic.”  It was such a success they now have several Rosé wines, as well as a gin.  In their tenth year, they invested in a property where they are growing their grapes with advice from Oregon winemaker and advocate for regenerative agriculture, Mimi Casteel.   The 2021 Classic is a delight with its shimmering pale pink color and juicy, strawberry, raspberry, stone fruit flavors.  It is fresh, dry and crisp, perfect as a warm weather aperitif, or at the table with Ratatouille.          
92 Rebecca Murphy Aug 9, 2022


ITALY

Marche:

White:

Casalfarneto, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore (Marche, Italy) “Fontevecchia” 2020 ($17, Enotec Imports):  Getting all the verbiage straight in this wine’s appellation of origin may be difficult, but enjoying the wine could not be easier.  It hits the sweet spot precisely situated between richness and freshness, with notable palate weight and flavor impact but also excellent acidity.  Indeed, so refreshing is the wine that I was quite surprised to see that the vintage I was tasting was 2020 rather than 2021.  But that’s good news, showing the quality of the fruit as well as the continuing viability of the wine.  The fruit notes recall golden apples and autumn pears, graced with a spritz of lemon juice and wonderfully accented with mineral notes that ride alongside the fruit through the persistent finish.  Ultra-versatile and completely delicious.      
92 Michael Franz Aug 9, 2022

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Piedmont:

Red:

Tenuta Carretta, Barbaresco (Piedmont, Italy) Garassino 2017 ($35):  The 2017 vintage in Piedmont has the potential to be overlooked because of all the justifiable praise for the 2016 vintage there.  Don’t overlook this engaging Barbaresco from the Garassino vineyard located in Treiso.  Wines from vineyards in this northwestern part of Treiso tend toward elegance rather than power.  Tenuta Carretta’s Garassino epitomizes that character.  Its explosive floral nose draws you in immediately.  Firm, but not aggressive, tannins support a captivating and elegant array of fruitiness underpinned by mineral qualities.  The overall impression is graceful, not powerful.  A delightful hint of tarriness appears in the finish.  Its elegance makes this youthful Barbaresco approachable even now with a robust pasta dish or grilled meat.      
93 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2022

Tenuta Carretta, Barbaresco Riserva (Piedmont, Italy) Cascina Bordino 2016 ($55):  Like Garassino, the Cascina Bordino vineyard is in the Treiso portion of the Barbaresco DOCG.  As much as I liked Carretta’s 2017 Garassino, the stature of the vintage stands out in this 2016 Riserva.  It delivers richness and depth — more power — without losing any elegance.  Tannins here are more apparent than in the 2017 Garassino, as you would expect both from the vintage and the Riserva designation.  Consequently, the Cascino Bordino needs substantially more bottle age, which is fine because there are plenty of others in the Carretta stable that are lovely to drink now.      
94 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2022

White:

Cordero di Montezemolo, Langhe Arnesi DOC (Piedmont, Italy) 2020 ($21):  Though Arneis from the DOC Langhe may be less prestigious than Arneis from the DOCG Roero, the wines can be very good, and well-priced, especially from a top producer, such as Cordero di Montezemolo.  Take this one, for example.  Refreshing and cutting, this chiseled Arneis has good depth and an appealing saline-like minerality.  A hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  It is an ideal match for steamed clams or other hearty seafood this summer.         
90 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2022

Vietti, Roero Arneis DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) 2021 ($24, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  Much of the acclaim for the wines of Piedmont goes to their reds, which certainly deserve it.  But let’s not forget about the whites from Roero made from the Arneis grape.  Arneis, in the local dialect means "little rascal," because it is difficult to grow.  In the past, Arneis was not prized for wine but rather for protection of the more revered Nebbiolo from the birds.  Birds were attracted to it because of its aroma, eat the ripe berries and leave the Nebbiolo untouched.  Now we get to experience its charms with this example from Vietti, one of Piedmont’s top producers.  Subtly floral, it displays a stony character, which is enhanced by racy acidity.  It is a great antidote to the heat and humidity of summer.  It is wonderfully vibrant, which makes it a great match for anything from, yes, a grilled steak, to a fried softshell crab.  And it’s a bargain.          
91 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2022

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Tuscany:

Red:

Il Poggiolo, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($70, Enotec Imports):  It is undoubtedly true that the gloriously, historically great 2016 vintage for Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco will forever overshadow the excellent 2015 vintage wines that were made in these three great growing regions in Italy, but savvy buyers will look for excellent examples from this vintage.  This wine is among them.  It shows the ripeness of the year without any raisin-y characteristics, which is the dividing line that separates the excellent 2015s from the lesser examples.  The ripeness — as well as the long aging that comes with the Riserva vinification regimen — shows in the forms of textural softness, emerging (but not assertive) leathery and balsamic notes, and ripe Sangiovese Grosso fruit recalling delicious black cherries first and foremost.  The wood is totally absorbed so that it lends some spiciness at an almost sub-sensory level, without any overt obtrusiveness.  Delicious now, this can surely get a bit better with time, but there’s no reason not to pull the cork now.         
93 Michael Franz Aug 9, 2022

Dei, Rosso di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) 2019 ($22, Enotec Imports): Having written so-called “progressive” wine lists for more than 20 years, I find it ever more difficult to find authentically light-bodied red wines to list as such.  Here is an exception, and thank heavens, as most of us are eating fewer steaks and more dishes like grilled fish or roast chicken in an attempt to… well, avoid congestive heart failure.  This offers up lovely, lively Sangiovese aromas and flavors of red cherries and berries with a delightfully fresh tang to the finish, but also subtle savory notes that lend complexity and some “bass” to go with all the tangy “trebble.”  Climate change and winemaker over-reaction to “Parkerism” conspire against wines such as this, but thankfully they survive.        
90 Michael Franz Aug 9, 2022

Dei, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) “Bossona” 2015 ($80, Enotec Imports): I’ve tasted this producer’s wines sporadically for nearly 30 years, but this is the best of any of them.  Still full of perfectly ripened primary fruit at seven years of age and despite the lengthy aging regimen for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva (a minimum of 3 years, including at least 12 months in wood), this wine is absolutely singing at this point in its evolution.  Savory notes from time in bottle are just beginning to show prominently, and though the wood influence is moderate and unobtrusive, it lends a spicy tinge as well as some additional textural grip, which the lovely fruit can easily counterbalance so that the finish doesn’t seem astringent.  All of the aromatic and flavor elements seem perfectly symmetrical in this wine, and all of them are harmoniously related to one another.  I grant that $80 is an asking price that will make many Italian wine lovers ask, “why wouldn’t I buy a top Brunello or even a Brunello Riserva for that much money?”  Well, this wine answers the question, and quite emphatically.  It is better than and 2015 Brunello Riserva that I’ve tasted to date in 2022, and is so good that I’m worried my score may be low by a point or two.  Simply gorgeous.    
95 Michael Franz Aug 9, 2022

Fanetti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2015 ($28, Enotec Imports):  This traditional wine is so traditional that I can barely recall some of the aromatic and flavor nuances from my initial studies in wine in the latter half of the 1980s — and that is a good thing.  A very good thing, for me at least.  I love it that producers still exist who will stick to their guns to make a Riserva like this and that there are still importers who will bring them to our side of the Atlantic.  To be technical for starters, there are obviously oxidative characteristics that are throwing off the balsamic and leathery notes that are so striking about this, and yet it would be a mistake to simply write that “the wine is oxidized.”  That’s not true, due to the fact that there are still primary fruit notes present, and a layer of fruit sweetness that counterbalances the panoply of tertiary subtleties, making for a compelling combination of fresh and aged aspects that I find irresistible.  I’m sure that this won’t prove to be everyone’s “cup of tea,” but for me it is a wonderfully endearing time capsule in a bottle.  I have deliberately scored it conservatively because I know this will prove a bit surprising for those who only drink technically orthodox, ultra-modern New World wines, but even then, this chalks up 91 points as a recommendation for anyone and everyone — though it would earn another couple of points if only my taste were at issue.     
91 Michael Franz Aug 9, 2022

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Umbria:

White:

Cantina Fratelli Pardi, Montefalco (Umbria, Italy) Grechetto 2021 ($20, Enotec Imports):  I can’t truthfully lay claim to having tasted lots of examples of Grechetto from Montefalco, but I swear that this one is worthy of experimentation on your part.  Light golden in color, with very ripe fruit notes recalling apricot preserves but freshened by bright citrus edging and balanced by a pleasant bitter finishing note akin to the impression of walnut skin.  Quite complex and distinctive, but much tastier than a wine that would be a mere “curiosity.”       
89 Michael Franz Aug 9, 2022


NEW ZEALAND

Rosé:

Greyrock, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc Rosé 2021 ($16, Prestige Beverage Group):  You are likely familiar with New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs -- the rich grapefruit-bombs with good acidity that have been a huge hit in U.S. markets -- and it appears they’ve started to find a way into the U.S. Rosé scene too.  The good news is that the wine drinks just like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with rich grapefruit and pear notes.  It’s delicious.  Like other New Zealand winemakers, Greyrock’s Rosé gets its color from a splash of red wine, which is not intended to change the flavor profile.  Just like that, New Zealand is ready to sell to the Rosé-all-day crowd.      
89 Vince Simmon Aug 9, 2022


PORTUGAL

White:

Torre de Palma, Alentejano (Portugal) Arinto - Alvarinho 2021 ($40):  If you are looking for Champagne-like acidity to cut through a particular dish but don’t want the carbonation, this is a wine that promises to delight.  To say that it is bright won’t quite get the idea across — think of it as a paparazzi photo swarm of flashes popping.  All that brightness carries pineapple, coconut, lemon and a dash of mint through a midpalate with good texture to a crisp and cleansing finish that leave a bold retronasal fruit impression.  In other words, feel free to sauce things up when pairing.    
92 Rich Cook Aug 9, 2022

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Dao:

White:

Boas Quintas, Dão (Portugal) “Altimo” Branco 2020 ($14, Prestige Beverage Group):  This is an excellent Portuguese white wine from the central Portuguese appellation of Dão.  Stylistically, it is a summertime white, and it is not too late in the season to buy and enjoy a bottle.  Dão’s warm summertime climate ripens their white grapes fully, so that they display delicious tropical fruit notes.  The result is a fresh and fruity white with a creamy texture.  With a price under $15, this is an easy go-to white to share with your friends.           
89 Vince Simmon Aug 9, 2022


UNITED STATES

California:

Red:

Tablas Creek Vineyard, Adelaida District, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Grenache 2020 ($35):  Most of the Grenache grown in the Tablas Creek’s estate biodynamic vineyard goes into its Rhône-style blends, and with its varietal Grenache, the winery aims to emphasize a bright fruit, moderate alcohol and fresh style.  Aging takes place in large, neutral, 1,200 gallon oak foudres.  The color is a light red, and the aroma is a pretty cranberry with light spice.  Light- to medium-bodied, it delivers plenty of bright berry flavors laced with suggestions of cherry and licorice.  On the plate, the acidity asserts itself in the fresh, lengthy finish.  Though the winery suggests it can be cellared, it has minimal tannin and strikes me as a wine to enjoy over the next year or two for its delicacy and freshness.       
91 Norm Roby Aug 9, 2022

Eden Rift Vineyards, Cienega Valley (San Benito County, California) Pinot Noir “Palmtag Block” 2019 ($84):  One of the oldest blocks in the estate vineyard, Palmtag covers 4 acres and was replanted in 1989 to the Mt. Eden clone.  The yield was a scant 1.35 tons per acre in 2019, and the  fermentation was with native yeasts and included 40% whole clusters.  The wine was aged 15 months in French oak, 25% new.  The end result is an elegant Pinot that is velvety smooth.  It offers refined red fruit, raspberry/ cranberry, aromas and flavors with well-integrated oak.  There is a tantalizing hint of plum and a subtle rose petal note leading up to its smooth, polished finish.  Nuanced and elegant.    
94 Norm Roby Aug 9, 2022

Rivers-Marie, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Herb Lamb Vineyard 2019 ($165): Founded by husband-and-wife team Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Walsh, Rivers-Marie is known for its site-driven bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.  Brown is also responsible for cult classic winemaking projects in Napa and Sonoma, including Schrader Cellars, Outpost, and Revana Family Vineyard, to name a few.  So, it's not surprising that this renowned winemaking duo produced a perfectly crafted Cabernet.  Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, their 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Herb Lamb Vineyard offers aromas and flavors that are lifted and complex.  Black cherry, wild blueberries, cassis, cracked black pepper, mint leaves, and orange zest notes jump out of the glass.  Earth and spice components balance the well-composed fruit and reveal a classic snapshot of Herb Lamb Vineyard terroir.  It is drinking beautifully now, with well-integrated tannins and freshness; however, this will be an excellent cellar selection if you so choose.        
97 Miranda Franco Aug 9, 2022

Rios Wine Company, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($75):  Growing up in the Napa Valley, Manuel Rios grew up working in the vineyards.  His extensive knowledge and passion for vineyards led him to establish Rios Farming Company in 1998. In 2004, he created Rios Wine Company, LLC.  His expertise shows in this seamlessly constructed 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet from the Stags Leap appellation.   It erupts with aromas of black raspberry liqueur, blueberries, vanilla beans, and espresso.  The full-bodied palate is opulent and luxuriously smooth with lush layers of dark fruited textures that carry over to a long and persistent finish.  It's irresistible now but balanced enough to hold a few bottles back to enjoy in the coming years.     
95 Miranda Franco Aug 9, 2022

Ladera Vineyards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Pillow Road Vineyard 2019 ($55):  This bottle shows the funky side of Russian River Pinot in this vintage, delivering rich damp earth character over black cherry and mushroom notes.  Taut acidity keeps this from turning muddy and lets the layers of flavor keep re-presenting on the palate.  A portion of the fruit was fermented whole cluster, and the final blend is deeply attractive thanks to the spice tones that the procedure affords.    
93 Rich Cook Aug 9, 2022

White:

Morgan Winery, Arroyo Seco (Monterey County, California) Albariño 2021 ($24):  Albariño continues to make inroads in the Golden State, with more and more locations coming on line each year.  Morgan has been producing this offering for a few vintages now, and vine maturity is becoming evident.  The choice of a little new oak aging in the mix shows another facet of what the variety can do, here adding a creamy texture at palate entry without sacrificing the fresh character you would expect.  Nectarine, Meyer lemon, pear and wet stone are the main players, with a touch of lime zest in the finish adding lift and length.  Nice!       
91 Rich Cook Aug 9, 2022

Sarah’s Vineyard, Edna Valley (California) Albariño Davenport Creek 2021 ($29):  Winemaker Tim Slater leans into the bracing characteristics of the coastal fruit here, with aromas of flintrock, lemon, melon and sea spray translating well on the palate in mouthwatering fashion.  It’s got the kind of refreshment factor this time of year demands, whether as a soloist or a pairing foil for fish, oysters or white sauce pasta dishes.  Now I’m hungry!         
91 Rich Cook Aug 9, 2022

Alpha Omega, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc "1155" 2020 ($85):  Alpha Omega's 2020 1155 Sauvignon Blanc is a glistening straw-gold bursting with aromas of lemon and lime, nectarine peel, oyster shells, wet stones, and a hint of lemongrass.  It is mouth-watering and invigorating with exploding citrus flavors and acidity that intertwine beautifully.  This has a long, fresh, intense finish.  It will evolve gracefully over the next few years, but is a joy to drink now.
93 Miranda Franco Aug 9, 2022

Morgan Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Riesling Double L Vineyard 2021 ($24):  Here is a technically off-dry Riesling that presents as though it were quite dry thanks to racy acidity.  Riesling used to be big on the Central Coast of California, and when you taste this, you will wonder why you don’t see more wineries getting into the act.  It is an apple, citrus and tropical fruit mix that will have you reaching for more.  True confession:  While making Aperol spritz cocktails for party guests on a hot summer afternoon, I was secretly sipping this.  Appreciate the low alcohol!    
92 Rich Cook Aug 9, 2022

Morgan Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Chardonnay “Highland" 2021 ($28):  Keeping twenty percent of the fruit from undergoing malolactic fermentation keeps this wine bright and allows for a clean finish in what is otherwise a hearty, nicely oaked offering.  Lemon creme, apple and a touch of butter make this a crowd pleaser at a price that will please your budget.  I would look to roast chicken with a generously herbed butter rub as a pairing here.       
90 Rich Cook Aug 9, 2022

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