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The Nero D'Avola Grape

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About Nero D'Avola

(Synonyms: Calabrese, Calabrese D'Avola, Calabrese De Calabria, Calabrese Di Noto, Calabrese Dolce, Calabrese Pittatello, Calabrese Pizzuto, Calabriai Fekete, Negroamaro, Raisin De Calabre Noir, Struguri De Calabria)

Background

Nero D'Avola grapes Map showing Sicily

Nero D'Avola is a red-wine grape originating on Sicily, originally from the town of Avola. It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page).

Though many centuries old, Nero only emerged onto the world stage perhaps three decades ago. Prior to that, it was important, but only as a blending wine; now it is a "hot" monovarietal.

Though Sicily may seem a relatively small place, it has quite a few fairly different microclimates, and the better wines from the island (including, of course, Nero) reflect those terroires, so the wines are far from fungible.

The flavor qualities of a Nero D'Avola are distinctive, though (as always) not so easy to define. They tend to soft roundness and moderate alcohol levels, and are not as acidic as some Italiante reds. There is classically a dark cherry element to the fruit, but also a pleasing quality of what some call earthiness, some smokiness, and others "dust"; many associate that defining note with the volcanic soil that pervades Sicily, but that may be only psychological (volcano dust = dusty flavor). Nero wines almost all drink quite well when young, but the best will reward cellaring.

Factoid: Nero D'Avola is used in many of the fortified-wine blends sold as Marsala.


Some Descriptions of Nero D'Avola Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "[I]its wines are compared to New World Shirazes, with sweet tannins and plum or peppery flavours."

  • Wall Street Journal

    "Nero d'Avola produces dark red wines that are fairly high in alcohol (around 14%, and sometimes more) but also relatively high in acidity, which means they're not quite as overpowering as other high-octane reds like Zinfandel or Syrah. They're also intensely aromatic, with powerful, seductive aromas of cherry, raspberry and spice that practically billow out of the glass. They're usually quite soft and approachable—sometimes so soft that more tannic grapes such as Syrah are blended in to give the wines structure. "

  • Wine Searcher

    "It is often compared to Syrah because it likes similar growing conditions (Sicily has a hot Mediterranean climate) and exhibits many similar characteristics. Depending on production methods, Nero d’Avola can be made into dense and dark wine that is stored in oak barrels and suitable for aging, or young and fresh wines. Younger wines show plum and juicy red-fruit flavors, while more complex examples offer chocolate and dark raspberry flavors. Nero d'Avola typically has high tannins, medium acid and a strong body. However, it can also be very smooth if grown at higher elevations where the air is cooler and alcohol levels are restricted."

  • Best of Sicily Magazine

    "Nero d'Avola is one of those reds that you either love or hate. It's not pretentious. It can only be itself, and it can overpower, as well as complement, mild cuisine. It seems made to accompany lamb, venison and stronger beef dishes --things like a thick Texan steak with wild mushrooms. Nowadays, with culinary rules cast aside, there's really no entrenched wisdom, but our conservative opinion is that Nero d'Avola is destined to be appreciated by wine lovers in search of a 'real' red with about a thirteen percent alcohol content. This is one of those wines that would lose its luster if it were made from grapes grown anywhere but Sicily, with its unique [volcanic] soil."

  • Snooth

    "Characteristics of the grape: dark, full-bodied, rich, velvety, black currant, blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, black pepper, clove."

  • Wine Lovers Page

    "[T]his grape makes a rich, perfumed and velvety red wine that's easy to drink but that can take a bit of aging, works well in blends with other grapes, and can benefit from (but does not require) the judicious use of oak. That's a lot to like in a wine grape, and it's a description that could just as easily fit many of the most desirable red varieties."

  • Wine for Normal People

    "There's some range in the wines -- from medium and fruity to rich and spicy -- this hot-weather loving grape never disappoints. . . The warm climate ensures fruity, full, higher alcohol wines (more ripeness = more sugar to be converted to alcohol in fermentation) and that's a winning bet for California, Australia, or Argentina wine lovers. The difference: there is always a touch of earth in these wines which you won't usually find in the New World gems."

  • Boise Weekly

    "Thriving in the warm climate, nero d'Avola can sometimes become over-ripe, resulting in flabby wines that lack balance. But with proper vineyard management, the result is a lush wine with a nice complexity that displays an appealing freshness in its youth."

  • EDinformatics

    "[D]ark in color, big in fruit flavors, well-suited for oak and able to age for several years, although most are good drinking upon release."


Some Nero D'Avolas to Try

(About this list.)

Pleasingly, many fine Neros are available at modest prices. Here are a few. Note that most or all of these winemakers have higher-grade Neros as well: be sure you know which one you are reading about or pricing.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Morgante Nero D'Avola, $5 - $20.
         ($15.84 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    In the glass: Deep burgundy, opaque in the center. On the nose: Poured cool with a brief decant and swirled vigorously, shows deep oak and soft fruit. From the aroma, seems like this will be soft and easy-going. On the palate: The primary elements on the palate are in fact bold, purple fruit, still quite bright in style. That is interesting and somewhat surprising at six years from vintage date. An oaky balance surrounds the full fruit, leading to a clean and solid finish.

    Eyes: This wine is an inviting, dark ruby in the center of the glass with a lighter, almost magenta rim. Nose: Almost Syrah-like, the nose is filled with rich red cherry aromas with sweet and savory spice. Nena noted "raspberries...lots of raspberries" as well. Tongue: Definitely low tannin, but somewhat complex with intense cherry flavors and lingering spicy vanilla hints creeping in toward the end. Very well balanced given this wine's considerable acidity...which, as I said earlier, I love with food.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 90 points

    boasts a beautiful dense ruby/purple hue as well as aromas of scorched earth, black cherries, blackberries, charcoal, and graphite, full-bodied, powerful, pure flavors, and a long, heady finish.

    Nero d’Avola sometimes delivers a toasted note of pistachio or almond, and that nutty note is definitely found in this wine. Soft and smooth in texture, the palate offers notes of black fruit and plum. 87 points

    Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a delicious nose of stewed prunes, cherries, leather and vanilla. In the mouth it is reasonably well balanced with flavors of leather black tea, cherries, and damp earth. Ve/y light, almost imperceptible tannins carry the wine to a medium finish that has hints of pine sap. 8.5/9

    Fresh berry and cherry nose. Lively acidity on the palate, fresh and fruity. Cocoa and plum on finish, lightly spiced, and tapering nicely

    Smoky, with an aroma that evokes bacon, mushrooms and black olives, this Sicilian offers plenty of lush cherry and fruit flavors. There are enough tannins to keep the wine from turning sappy.

    Dark ruby garnet color. Wonderful nose of road tar, winey blackberries and cherries, with peachy and earthy components as well. . . The taste didn't quite meet the expectations set by the nose, but it was quite good nevertheless. Lots of fruit, earth, and old wine barrel flavors up front, but it wasn't as concentrated and weighty in the mid-palate as I thought it should have been. Finish was a tad shorter than I like too. Overall, I would rate the nose as excellent but the flavors and texture as good. 87.

    [It] has a beautiful, dense, purple hue. This vineyard gem is big, ripe and swaggering and suffused with opulent notes of ripe blackberries, prunes and spices followed by a warm, mouth-filling, rich taste that is balanced with good acidity.


  • MandraRossa Nero D'Avola, $7 - $20.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Sight: Light ruby red. Smell: There’s a slightly earth tinged smell lingering behind cranberries. There are streaks of herbal notes like a oregano that mix with subtle cherry and vanilla. Sip: A light body with lots of black pepper, plum, and cherry. There are notes of smoke and earth that cut through the acidic nature, and give a slightly cranberry light nature. [A.B.V. 13.5%] Savor: Slightly tannic finish with greenish wood and cran-cherry notes. It vanishes quickly. Overall, 2009 Mandra Rossa Nero D’Avola is a quintessential every day drinker from Sicily. While it’s not overly complicated, the nature of the high acid with touches of tannins will complement food well. It could be smoother, but the rustic nature gives this wine a rather nice amount of charm. It’s tasty, and enjoyable, but nothing to climb Mount Etna for.

    Deep, dark red, firm tannins, black cherry and a hint of cedar. It softens up with some time and air, but it's definitely a rich and full-bodied red wine. The low alcohol is a refreshing change from some similar powerful reds, allowing you to focus on the unique character of the grape.

    A consistent wine, year in and year out, MandraRossa’s fresh Nero d’Avola would pair perfectly with pizza or simple spaghetti and tomato sauce. It shows loads of cola, licorice, dark fruit and bright acidity on the close. 86 points.

    At first I thought I was drinking a Spanish wine, because I didn’t look at the label at first, since the flavor profile has such a rich dark fruit character. That being said, this dark ruby red wine is not overpowering and it still has a nice smooth layered taste to it, with plenty of ripe berry flavors and hints of vanilla and licorice. With medium tannins and long finish, this excellent value wine would pair very well with a variety of pasta dishes.

    Sicily was for too long known mostly for rustic plonk, but this medium-bodied wine is thoroughly modern, with black cherry and dark plum flavors, plenty of spice, and just a bit of mineral.

    The wine shows beautiful flavours of plum, is spicy and richly textured. The MandraRossa is not a blend but a single variety wine. In my view this is a wine for every day consumption. In the "Timo Mayer classification", it would qualify as an "umpf" wine: a wine with guts. My verdict: get a bottle and enjoy.

    It is hard to find a Nero d' Avola as good as this one for the price. This MandraRossa (like the others in the series), displays an up front ripe fruit character. It offers easy drinking black cherry fruit aromas, with ripe fruit flavors, excellent balance, good acidity and a dry finish.


  • Tenuta Rapitalà Campo Reale Nero D'Avola, $8 - $12.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Dark ruby in colour, after decanting aromas of cherry, clove and warm oak swirled about in the glass. Bright red current and strawberry flavours were underscored by earthy dense raisin elements in the medium body. Spicy pink peppercorn, smooth chocolate and baking spices comprised the brief, rich finish. Straightforward and easy drinking, this is a wonderful value and fantastic at the table.

    [T]his awesome example from Tenuta Rapitala gives forth beautiful aromas of cherry jam, coffee, and a subtle stoniness. In the mouth it is fairly large-scaled and fruity with good acidity and nary a hint of the raisiny over-ripeness that can taint a hot climate wine like this. It really has great balance.

    In this remarkably fragrant wine, undeniably rich but with a surprising delicacy, the fruity aromas are dominated by plum, cherry and currant. Ripe fruit flavors fill the mouth, balanced by just the right hit of cleansing acidity. That acidity lingers on the finish, playing against creamy fruit backed by dark chocolate and spice. This is an excellent value.

    On the nose it has hints of tobacco, chalk and cherry. The palate is a firm and powerful structure, a distinct but not intrusive amount of tannin and a delicate acidity.

    The established Rapitala estate, in the island's northwest, has a welcome modesty in its basic Nero that's lost in some of its tonier bottlings. Aged for four months in old oak and steel, it shows a delicate floral side as it opens - pansies and shoe leather to match crushed fresh black currant.

    This 100-percent Nero d'Avola offers pure black fruit aromas and flavors, with hints of spice. It is well-balanced and fresh, having spent very little time in barrel, and a perfect complement to poultry, pork and even strongly flavored fish prepared with savory elements. Rating: 88.

    [It] has a bright cherry color and herbal and cherry scents. Its medium body carries a tasty mix of black cherry and blackberry-like fruit flavors. Integrated tannins give the mouth a pleasant sensation of ripe fruit, and the 13.5-percent alcohol creates warmth without overwhelming your palate.

    Dark ruby red clean colors, fragrant aromas of raspberry pie, ripe fruit, with floral notes, flavors of ripe cherries with good balance and finish.


  • Cusumano Nero D'Avola, $8 - $17.
         ($13.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This Nero has been through malolactic fermentation to make it creamy in texture, but wasn't oak-aged. The flavor belongs mostly to the grape, which in this case is a great thing. . . Color: Cranberry color -- not opaque or black like the name would imply. With the 14% alcohol, the wine had thick legs. Smell: Chocolate, leather, black raspberry and red raspberry jam aromas. And then a fresh scent like wildflowers growing in a meadow -- earthy and floral. Taste: The texture hit me first. There was a nice amount of mouth-drying medium tannin, and then stronger acid to wash out my mouth and make the wine feel lighter. The wine had a great interplay of earth and fruit. A little tar, ripe raspberry, and mocha flavors made this a nice treat.

    This wine has a beautiful, deep red color. The nose was incredibly complex, full of cedar, dates, and cassis. I really loved the nose on this wine. I got a lot of sour cherries, cassis and spices on the palate, as well as some plums, and even a hint of olives or olive oil. There was also some really great minerality. The finish was spicy, with some great acidity and maybe even a hint of a tomato sauce flavor. There was definitely some firm tannins on this one, and some pretty big acidity, but I think it was all within balance. This wine has great structure and character. I was really impressed with this wine.

    [Y]et another Sicilian wine that is stunning in its combination of value and quality. It’s made with the nero d‘avola grape, common on the island, and one that gives the wine a dark, plummy and almost earthy character. Which, of course, is not what most of us expect from a $10 red wine. There is no sweet fruit, no winemaking alchemy to take out the tannins and smooth out the acid. You get what the terroir and the grapes offer, and that’s a drinkable, impressive hearty red wine of the kind not found often enough in California.

    When I drink Italian wine, I want it to taste like Italian wine. Or else I would drink California. Blessedly, the Cusumano tastes oh-so-Italian (Sicilian, actually, in this case) and does it for around $10. It has great fruit (cherry and cranberry maybe?) and it’s fresh and interesting, aromatic and peppery and with the correct acid balance.

    The center is dark red with a pink rim. Red fruit, tomato, and spice combine for a nose that reminds me of pasta sauce. The palate is thick and tannic with hints of tomato and raspberry. This is not a sweet wine, but their are hints of sweetness on the palate. The finish is spicy and lingering. Tannins are prominent throughout. . . Not the best wine I have ever had but still rich, complex, and full bodied. At ten dollars a bottle this is a good value.

    There’s a hint of ripe fruit here that recalls strawberry or raspberry. The palate is clean, round and soft, and the finish lacks the burnt almond note this grape sometimes offers.

    [It] is not particularly complex . . . Fruit-forward with varietal-typical roasted plum, black cherry, tea and a smidge of tar, it sports enough acid to keep the sip interesting and low tannins to avoid offending those who prefer their wines smoother.

    Red currants and herbs on the nose. Medium bodied on the palate. Moderately tannic finish with wild berries and herbs. This is a good, simple, and somewhat rustic wine from one of the noteworthy producers on the island of Sicily. For $10, this is a "you get what you pay for" wine. It doesn't merit a lengthy review, but it's worth recommending as an introduction to the Nero d'Avola grape.


  • Valle dell'Acate Case Ibidini Nero D'Avola, $10 - $17.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Produced by Valle dell'Acate, a winery now under 6th generation management, this graceful red delivers the goods. A beautiful translucent ruby color yields delicate raspberry, maraschino cherry and a stony minerality on the nose. The mouth filling yet somewhat high toned medium-bodied flavors run toward tart cherry and pomegranate with bracing acidity and a long, smooth finish. . . I'll take this over Australian Shiraz any day.

    Another delicious wine, the 2011 Nero d'Avola is full of varietal character. Juicy red berries, flowers, spices and mint take shape in the glass in this radiant, generous Nero d'Avola. This is another tasty wine to drink over the next year. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2014. Case Ibidini, Valle dell Acate's second label, is a great choice for readers looking for budget friendly wines.

    This wine comes from a quality Sicilian producer [but] this is one of their more buyer friendly wines which seems to have some of the same flavors and complexities of their more expensive counterparts. This region's hot Mediterranean climate produces rich ripe fruit flavors which is evident in the 2008 Valle dell'Acat Nero d'Avola. This wines flavor profile and dominant qualities are quite similar to France's Beaujolais style wines made from the Gamay grape. In the glass the wine is bright and clear with intense ruby concentration with fuchsia around the rim. On the nose there are bold fruit aromas of ripe red cherry and raspberry with a hint of an herbal note like fresh mint. There is a very slight wood and spice characteristic, however hardly noticeable. The palate mirrors the nose of the wine with fruit and a short to medium finish. This wine is no way complex or life changing however it is great to drink with food or served slightly chilled on a warm day. I would suggest this as an everyday drinking or table wine if you are looking for something light and satisfying to the palate and your wallet.

    Stainless, this is a better version of Nero d' Avola than I'm used to. A deep magenta in the glass with a slight clear ring. Deep dark berry fruits, with a touch of red raspberry, pepper and spice and oddly a chocolate note seems to show up (Subliminal?). There is a depth of taste here that is syrah like. A blueberry and damson plum integrate well with the blackberry. Spice and pepper notes are constant as an undernote but add to decent acidity to give this a juicy mouthfeeel. Well done.

    Medium violet ruby. Lifted and very perfumed and with chalky notes. Sweet raspberry fruit. Medium bodied, lifted palate and not demanding at all.

    Medium violet ruby. Lifted and very perfumed and with chalky notes. Sweet raspberry fruit. Medium bodied, lifted palate and not demanding at all.

    Warm, sun-ripened fruit scents jump out . .  The palate has a light herbal note, with hints of thyme. A slight cherry candy core enriches this wine.

    Easy, fresh and true to the variety, this expression offers blue flower and forest berry notes, backed by almond and pistachio accents. The finish is crisp, tight and lean. 87 points

    Easy, fresh and true to the variety, this expression offers blue flower and forest berry notes, backed by almond and pistachio accents. The finish is crisp, tight and lean.

    One of the Italian island's most consistently boffo offerings is the Casa Ibidini Sicilia Nero d'Avola. Big, semi-bold and redolent of dark berries, with touches of pine and herb in the midpalate, it's a sun-baked delight.


  • Feudo Principi di Butera Nero D'Avola, $12 - $18.

    Some quotations and facts:

    This lush and impressive red has a cherry aroma with a hint of spice and a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. The liquid is a deep garnet. It's unusual and exotic, but highly drinkable. With its appealing complexity and rich fruity flavor, the Fuedo tastes like an expensive bottle of wine.

    There is so much vanilla on the nose of this wine that it almost smells like a vanilla concentrate. It also shows some cherry aromas, tucked underneath the vanilla. The palate is nice and filled with ripe cherry flavors, a little coffee, and red plum. The acidity is sufficient and it has soft tannins, adding some texture to the mouth feel. It finishes with a little bit of spice. Overall, it’s a nice, well-balanced wine at a good price. Rating 86.

    This estate in southern Sicily has been showing great momentum the past few vintages. A pure expression of Nero d’Avola, this wine shows varietal characteristics of cherry, forest berry and toasted pistachio.

    Deep violet ruby. Sweet, lively dark fruit nose and raspberry. Gentle, fluid and not too demanding, but with good persistence and with ever so slightly liquorice bitter tannin.

    This wine is dark and smoky while black cherry aromas dominate. It has a fairly mild flavor with firm, mouth-drying tannins and a long finish.

    [It] is quite good, very rich and concentrated, with a velvet mouthfeel and a perfume of deep red fruit on the nose. On the palate, one senses raspberry jam, brandied cherries, and notes of chocolate and mocha.

    Deep, dark red. Aromatic with black fruit and a hint of creosote on the nose. Black plum, black cherry, and licorice come through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity, medium, dry tannins, and a long finish.

    [D]eeply colored, warm, generous red, softly dry, loaded with fruit (reminiscent of black cherry, black raspberry and forest floor nuances), with a fairly smooth, lingering finish.


  • Tasca d'Almerita Lamuri Nero D'Avola, $13 - $23.
         ($17.44 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The wine is dark ruby-red in color and is medium-bodied. Lush ripe blackberry and cherry flavors combined with hints of smoke and vanilla, soft tannins and beautiful acidity result in a excellent Italian wine. Great value wine that can be enjoyed on its own or with your favorite pasta dishes.

    The 2008 Nero d’Avola Lamuri is one of the finest wines I tasted this year under $25. It is also a bottling that has improved dramatically over the last few years as Tasca has really dialed into an approach that has begun to payoff big time. The Lamuri showcases some of the more elegant qualities Nero d’Avola is capable of expressing. There is a wonderful clarity to the suave, caressing red berries and flowers, while the tannins possess a level of silkiness that elevates this wine to another level.

    ♣ Wine Advocate: August 2010, 92; June 2011, 91

    Tasca’s 2010 Nero d’Avola Lamuri is flat-out gorgeous. Sweet floral and minty notes meld in a seamless core of deep, expressive red fruit in this impeccable, totally gracious wine. In 2010 the Lamuri impresses for its overall balance and pure class. This is one of the more refined, polished Nero d’Avolas readers will come across. It is also a fabulous value.

    Apparently Lamuri means love in the local Sicilian dialect where this great little wine hails from. Well, a few sips of this $14.99 beauty will have you head over heels as well. It's interesting to me that a wine of such balance and finesse can be produced in such a hot climate. Perhaps the 2500 ft. altitude of the vines and the mere 2.4 tons per acre yield help with the balance before the grapes are even in the fermenter. Clay, limestone and sandy soils also contribute nuance to the flavors. Once fermentation is complete, the Lamuri spends a year in new and used French oak barrels. . . The Lamuri leads with a translucent ruby color and wonderful bright red cherry and raspberry aromas complicated with smoke and herbal elements. The palate is medium bodied and smooth in texture with the bright red berries dominating and stony elements and a cinnamon note in the background. It finishes a bit short but very smooth with silky tannins.

    The 2009 Lamuri is Tasca's mid-range Nero d'Avola, although it is a wine that regularly overdelivers for its price. Sweet candied fruit, herbs and flowers meld together nicely in this polished, mid-weight red. The 2009 is a somewhat firm Lamuri that will require at least 6-12 further months in bottle. I especially like the intensity and drive of the finish. . . From top to bottom this is an impressive set of wines from Tasca d'Almerita. The estate seems to have honed in on a refined style across the entire range.

    A hot alcohol smell was prominent so I let the air get at it for about an hour. Dark ruby in colour, very subtle aromas of cherry blossom and rosemary emanated from the glass. The body was on the lighter side of medium, with a cherry flavor supported by faint vanilla notes. Elements of black pepper did their best to amplify the rather brief finish. Although quite smooth, I found the bottle to be lacking in that lush, rustic blend of rich fruits and spices that Nero d’Avola is celebrated for. I was anticipating a big velvety, hearty glass, and unfortunately encountered an adequate yet bland glass.

    I unfairly deny Nero d’Avola it’s own identity. Rather than describing it as having bright red fruits and cherry up front with medium to strong, sweet, smooth tannins and fantastic acidity, I usually describe it as a little bigger than pinot noir but not quite as dark as some shiraz. I don’t know why I do this. It’s the most important red wine grape in Sicily and has a growing international following. This particular wine has all of the characteristics I mentioned plus a dark fruit nose, blackberry maybe. The tannins are soft though noticeable and are entirely from the skins and stems, assuming there is stem contact, as this wine is made with 100% stainless steel fermentation.

    In my mind this particular bottle does not over- deliver. The nose is mediocre at best. I can taste some fruit and herb, but I don’t find much sweet or flower. The mid-palate has a good balance and is reasonably full but the legs are weak. The wine improves with food (pasta with marinara), like many Italian wines, but not dramatically. It’s not a terrible bottle of wine, but for $16.99 I expect more.

    Lamùri is a terrific value wine from Sicily that would pair well with pizza or backyard barbecues. The wine is plump, soft and easy and driven by bright berry fruit.



For a Splurge

You might pick one of these:

  • Occhipinti "Siccagno" ($26 - $80)
  • Montoni "Vrucara" ($28 - $35)
  • Planeta "Santa Cecilia" ($29 - $100)
  • Morgante "Don Antonio" ($33 - $46)
  • Gulfi "Nerosanlore" ($38 - $49)
  • Duca di Salaparuta "Duca Enrico" ($50 - $66)
  • Feudo Principi di Butera "Deliella" ($65)


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