Archives for category: Wine

On Thursday 14th February the ICC group met for a Tasting of wines from Lebanon, backed up with other E. Med. offerings from Cyprus, Santorini and Israel. The question relating to this tasting is if we can discern anything specifically Eastern Mediterranean about the wines.

Here are my notes:


“PETRITIS” (KYPEROUNDA WINERY, CYPRUS) 2017   –   13½ %   –   TheDrinkShop £13
This wine, 100% Xynisteri, has and slightly oaked nose – with melon fruit and a vaguely Chardonnay weight. The palate has sweet fruit – Galia melon and the same structure as a richer Chardonnay too, some acidity but the sweetish balance offset more by a gravelly minerality and some spice… a little plump IMO.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

THALASSITIS (GAIA, SANTORINI) 2017   –   13 %   –   TheDrinkShop  £18
Citrus nose with a light salty impression. Palate is clean and refreshing and a line of grapefruit acidity and hints of a sour peach… rather food friendly with a saline minerality…
Ratings:        Quality:  15.5/20   Value:  15/20

MASSAYA BEKAA VALLEY ROSÉ 2017   –   13½ %   –   Tanners  £16
This is the onion skin pink of a good Provencal Rosé, and it resembles it in many ways, being 100% Cinsault!  This has a genuine hint of strawberry fruit (rather than a suggested metaphor) and lovely fruit acidity and some mineral… very balanced and very enjoyable!
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20

MASSAYA “LE COLOMBIER” BEKAA VALLEY 2017   –   14½ %   –   Tanners  £15
Hints of mint / eucalyptus / menthol on the nose and a warm dark fruit. Palate is rich with a chocolate texture, some spice and mineral supporting a plum – prune fruit… developing herby notes later in a rather Southern Rhone style (Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache make up 85% of the assemblage, together with Tempranillo!) and rather a good version!
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20

CLOS DE GAT HAR’EL JUDEAN HILLS SYRAH 2013   –   14½ %   –   Tanners  £21
Big blackberry, salty, prune notes. Palate has a sweet fruit, some woody notes and alcohol burn in a rather Californian big Shiraz style. The fruit resolution is slightly sweet with salty counterpoint making the overall impression a bit cloying and “heavy” – that said the wine’s lack of development makes it seem somehow insubstantial.
Ratings:        Quality:  14.5/20   Value:  13.5/20

CHÂTEAU MUSAR (HOCHAR, BEKAA VALLEY) 2010   –   13½ %   –   Tanners  £29
This was a very hot dry year and Musar lost about half of its Cabernet to drying out. So the mix is about equally Cinsault, Carignan and Cabernet with – especially the last – contributing dried berries. The result is amazing with hints of oily Amarone-style bitter cherry, some prune and some savoury notes in a sprity package. The palate is balanced by lovely supple acidity with some Italianate leather hints, very ripe plum fruit and some spice. One would probably guess at a, very good, Amarone – but this has a slightly wild complexity. Just fabulous and worth the money IMO…. I wish I’d bought more
Ratings:        Quality:  18/20   Value:  15.5/20

A very interesting tasting, with the Lebanese wines all out-shining the other examples – making them look a little simple or clumsy or both.

To the original question – is there anything specifically E. Mediterranean-ish about the wines – the answer is an unsurprising No!
The Island wines were rather specific and might well work with very specific food. I, at least, can imagine drinking the Santorini well-chilled while eating grilled sardines on a beach… The Israeli wine was big and very… well… New World in style, whereas the Lebanese wines were decidedly old world: two French and the Musar (very memorably) rather Italian.
Musar is a phenomenon!  I have probably tasted 15 or so vintages over the last 20 years and they are always different: different blends; different styles but always good, a sign of a great winemaker. I have to say, though, that this 2010 was the most impressive of all – an early contender for wine-of-the-year. Mmmmmmm

À Bientôt

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Actually, there is no recognised area, or group of countries, classified as the “Eastern Mediterranean” from a Wine perspective. So before planning this tasting I have had to make a decision as to which areas to include. As the tasting theme was actually entitled “Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean” I have had the central focus defined… but what else to include?

First I decided to limit how far West, and North, the term “Eastern Mediterranean” might extend – and as we had a tasting from the neighbouring Balkans earlier I decided on this map:


This basically draws the Western boundary as the Aegean Islands of Greece, but not the mainland or anywhere further West. In wine terms this probably limits us to: Lebanon; Israel; Turkey; Cyprus plus the Aegean Islands (and Crete) from Greece.

Until recently Turkey produced more wine than all the rest of these area put together – nearly 80 million bottles a year… However recent events have halved the amount produced and export has become less significant. I decided to leave aside Turkey and concentrate on Lebanon, backed up by Cyprus, Israel and Santorini.

The Lebanon has become a very fashionable country for wine in recent years. This growth in appreciation largely driven by the massive acclaim for the legendary Chateau Musar, made by the equally famous Gaston Hochar. When I started formally studying wine in the early 1990s there were only 7 wineries in the country, and Musar was the only Lebanese wine one encountered, gaining attention for it’s quality as well as its unique origin. I attended a vertical Musar tasting in 2000, the variation and interest was captivating, although the wines were then around the £10 mark… they are reaching close to £30 now!


Although the Lebanon is steeped in history (records show wine growing there in the Phoenician period and for 2,000 years before), production dwindled to nothing for over 1,200 years until modern wine-making was revived under French, English and Jesuit influence in the 19th Century. Modern Lebanon now has around 50 wineries and produces about 9m bottles. Over 80% is red and the main grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Syrah which alone count for 50% of all the wine, Most other grapes are also French with Carignan leading the also-rans. There are a few indigenous white varieties like Obaideh and Merwah: the ingredients of Chateau Musar’s white! Over half the wines are from grapes grown in the Bekaa Valley where altitude is over 1,000 metres – although the wineries are rather more widespread.

Israel has a similar history of newly revived wine production, and again most of the planting is what we might call French/International – with emphasis on Bordeaux grapes and Syrah. These account for about two thirds of Israeli wine which now amount to about 30m-40m bottles. There is a wider spread of grapes than in the Lebanon and more whites: as you might expect Chardonnay leads the way with Sauvignon Blanc prominent – although Viognier, Semillon and even Gewurztraminer can be found!


While both Israel and Lebanon look to altitude to temper the excessive heat of the general climate our other two sources use maritime influence in addition. While the mainland countries are reviving long dormant old viniculture with French grapes, Cyprus and Santorini are continuing old styles with indigenous grapes.

Cyprus produces about 17 m bottles – so in between Israel and Lebanon. There are many grapes planted, but only 5 take up more than 5% of vines: Xynisteri  (33.3%); Mavro (13.6%); Carignan (7.5%); Shiraz (6.6%) & Cabernet Sauvignon (5.1%). These first two indigenous grapes therefore make up half the planting and the white Xynisteri is the most typical grape to taste!

Santorini is tiny, although its over 4m bottles is a tad more than the whole UK. The island is most famously known for its indigenous white grape varieties Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani. Whites bearing the Island name must be 75% Assyrtiko, and unsurprisingly it accounts for about 80% of plantings. Only fair – therefore – we taste one of those wines…

So is there a distinctive Eastern Mediterranean style? – we shall see, although I’d be surprised. Distinctive Island wines based on old white grapes to suit a fish cuisine on one hand and International red grapes grown at altitude on the other. And are even the two mainland countries – with similar grapes – producing similar styles?

Notes should be with you within the week.

À Bientôt

On Monday February 4th the WING Tutored Tasting Group met for a Madiran Tasting, led by Laurie and showing wines from Domaine Pichard. The featured wines were their Traditional Cuvée from 2007 – 2011 and a special Cuvée from 2004: “Auguste Vigneau”.

Madiran is a wine area in South-West France, North of Pau and about 60 miles East, inland, from the Atlantic Ocean. It is approximately a 25 mile sided square, just South of the Armagnac area and comprises 38  communes and straddles 3 departments (Gers, Hautes-Pyrénées & Pyrénées-Atlantiques). A village in the centre of the area gives Madiran its name, but is the appellation for red wines only – whites from exactly the same area are called Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.


The climate is warm and dry, although less so than further inland, in Gaillac for example. The area is made up of five large, parallel ridges that run roughly north-south, marking the transition between the foothills of the Pyrenees and the Landes, the forested coastal plains just south of Bordeaux. The most common soils here are limestone-rich clay (more to the West, producing robust long lived wines) and relatively free-draining silts, rich in minerals, along the valleys – giving supple more complex wines. Soils often studded with pebbles laced with iron and manganese oxide, which brings a reddish tinge to some vineyards, this soil is more to the East giving (relatively) more delicate wines.  The main river here is the Adour, which lies just to the east of Madiran village. The area has fairly high rainfall, mainly in in the spring, a hot summer, an autumn of still warm days combined with ideal cool nights creating a thermal variation favouring a full maturity of the tannins.

And tannins are the real story here – the main grape is aptly-named Tannat. It has to be 60% or more and it’s main blending partner is Cabernet Franc, although Cabernet Sauvignon and Fer Servadou are used… Ripe Tannat gives big tannic wines that take from 6 to 15 years to come round, and counterpointing or taming the tannins are the job of the winemaker. Small wonder the the practice of micro-oxygenation started here, although it has had more notable (and controversial) use in Bordeaux!

The Estate we tasted was Domaine Pichard – 12 ha (11 red) of vines situated in Soublecause in the East of the area. The soil here is quartz and clay studded with lydiene pebbles. The Estate produces structured long-lasting wines. Auguste Vigneau and then his nephew René Touchouere built up the Domaine from 1955 to 2005 but then sold to Jean Sentilles and his brother-in-law Rod Cork (a Lancastrian living in Paris). They modernised the winery with new foudres and barriques, and replanted some of the vines.

We tasted the last vintage made by René Touchouere – the 2004 Cuvée “Auguste Vigneau”, and a succession of vintages of the new regime: 2007-2011.

Here are my notes:


2004 Cuvée Auguste Vigneau  (13.5%)
This is  70% Tannat; 25% Cabernet Franc & 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The nose has a brackish quality with some hints of damson fruit, quite heavy… The palate has a sustained line of prominent tannins, not too hard but overpowering any fruit, there is a grainy quality and rather a dull finish suggesting the wine is a little too old.

2007 Cuvée Tradition   (13.5%)
This, and all the following wines, are more or less 60% Tannat / 40% Cab. Franc.
This nose is rather closed only revealing some slightly greenish plum notes later. The tannic “hit” of this wine is more striking but less enduring – forming a peak in the early-mid palate. This has higher acidity and is much fresher than the previous wine.

2008 Cuvée Tradition   (14%)
This has a pungent, vegetal, first nose with a vague dried fruit hint emerging. This is smoother and has acidity and tannins balanced and “smoothed out”. Relatively silky but still a big concentrated wine. Quite satisfying.

2009 Cuvée Tradition    (14.5%)
More open nose with a heavy floral perfume and then a prune note. Sweet (slightly over-ripe?) fruit then a massive tannic hit that persists into the rather harsh finish. This is big and seems much too young, but will any fruit disappear before the tannins soften? Judging by this very hot year’s performance in other areas – maybe!

2010 Cuvée Tradition   (14.5%)
Dark fruit on the nose and some floral notes. Good fresh acidity in a line right to the finish, balancing the high levels of  relatively supple tannin.  The is better integrated, firm but enjoyable and hinting strongly at food. Good – my favourite!

2011 Cuvée Tradition   (14%)
A fruitier nose leading to supple but less fresh palate. This is a slightly lighter style than all the rest, perhaps reflecting a difficult year – but still unresolved  and not that successful.

These are all really (I mean really!) tannic wines, but with the profile of the tannins differing between the wines. Some show the tannins throughout; some early and dropping off; some mounting towards the finish… For me the more successful wines (2008 & 2010) cry out for rich Gascony cuisine, and would be enjoyable in that setting – but otherwise they are too much for most occasions. An interesting venture into dark brooding wines though…

À Bientôt

We met at the ICC on Thursday 17th January to taste wines that had all been made biodynamically. The tasting generated some interesting discussion on the topic and we tasted six very different and interesting wines. Here are my notes:

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Loimer 2017 Kamptal Grüner Veltliner. 12%. Brigitte Bordeaux – £17.35
This Austrian Grüner Veltliner has a good balance of fruit and acid with lots of fresh green apple and white pepper on the palate. It was the most popular white wine of the evening and had two votes for overall wine of the night.
Quality: 16/20  Value: 16/20

Cullen 2015 Cullen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. 13%. Brigitte Bordeaux – £23.20
This white Bordeaux blend from Margaret River in Western Australia has great flavour complexity. Although the grape composition is 74% Sauvignon Blanc and 26% Semillon, the wine has quite a strong Semillon character with pronounced notes of lanolin and beeswax. In addition, the palate has flavours of cut grass and stone fruit along with some more spicy and tropical notes. Like the Grüner Veltliner, this wine also got 2 votes for wine of the night.
Quality 17/20  Value: 16/20

Domaine De La Pinte. 2012 Arbois Savagnin. 13.5%. Brigitte Bordeaux – £26.50
This is a really interesting wine made from the Savagnin grape that is native to the Jura region of France. Flavours of sour apple and burnt toffee come through on the palate with some beeswax and a long mineral finish. This very distinctive wine split opinion with some not so keen but it got 4 votes for best white of the night and 2 for best wine overall.
Quality: 16/20  Value: 15/20

Clau de Nell 2015 Cabernet Franc. 13%. Brigitte Bordeaux – £29.90
Lots of raspberry and cherry on the palate here with barnyard notes adding complexity. Well balanced with integrated tannins and fresh acidity. Marginally my favourite of the night, and getting 3 votes in total for favourite wine of the evening.
Quality: 18/20  Value: 16/20

Bill Downie 2015 Petit Verdot. 13.5% Brigitte Bordeaux – £16.20
Another single varietal with good flavour complexity. Dark, inky colour with flavours of dark berry fruit and aniseed. Confectionary and liquorice notes and an overall herbal character. Good value and the overall favourite of 5 people.
Quality: 16/20  Value: 16/20

Domaine Cazes 2017 Ego. 15% Brigitte Bordeaux – £17.50
Overall favourite wine of the night with ten votes, this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre from Roussillon has great balance and flavour complexity. Bursting with red and black fruit, good acidity and integrated tannins, the wine also has notes of liquorice and a long peppery finish.
Quality: 17/20  Value: 17/20

In conclusion, these are all really good wines but whether of not that can be put down to biodynamics would be very difficult to prove. They were certainly all expressive and characterful and if they’ve been produced using fewer chemicals, less intervention and more respect for the land, then surely we can agree that biodynamic wine production is no bad thing!

Brigitte. x

Biodynamic wine sounds quite ‘right on’ in our current age with all of our ethical, health and sustainability concerns. It is perhaps quite a topical tasting to be undertaking in the month that some are referring to as ‘Veganuary’ (whether or not the produce of biodynamic agriculture, with its burying of cow horns filled with cow manure, could be described as truly vegan is a debate for another time). Certainly, biodynamic farming does appear to show greater respect for the earth and responsibility for its conservation. But does it, as many of its proponents claim, result in better wine?

Firstly, what is meant by the term ‘biodynamic’? As the name suggests, broadly it is all to do with ‘energising life’. Biodynamic farming is a sustainable, holistic form of agriculture which sees everything in nature and our universe as being interconnected. The principles of biodynamic agriculture try to harness this interconnectivity, nurturing the land and timing farming activities to be in harmony with celestial rhythms. Some describe it as an extreme form of organic farming, but it actually predates organic agriculture by many years. It is based on the theories put forward by Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner almost a century ago. The general idea is that the farm (or vineyard) should be treated as a self-sustaining living organism. This all sounds well and good, but some of the practices employed by biodynamic farming have attracted scepticism in some quarters and accusations of being a bit too ‘far out’, ‘hippy’ or just plain unscientific.

Although it was back in 1924 that Steiner first put forward the theories on which biodynamic agriculture is based, biodynamic winemaking didn’t actually take off in any significant way until the late 1980s. Francois Bouchet was the original biodynamic viticulturalist, having started using its practices on his vineyard in Touraine in 1962. However, it wasn’t until over 25 years later that Bouchet was called upon to aid other French winemakers in converting to biodynamics. Now there are hundreds of certified biodynamic producers all around the world, and many more who observe some of its practices or are in the process of converting.

So, what exactly does biodynamic winemaking entail? It does adhere to all of the principles of organic viticulture and vinification and is stricter than organic wine production in some of its rules and regulations. However, there are some very specific practices that are particular to biodynamics.

A major unique characteristic of biodynamic farming is the application of nine herb and mineral based biodynamic ‘preparations’ to the plants and soil. These nine preparations are numbered from BD #500 to BD #508; three of them are used in field sprays and the other six in compost. The three field spray preparations include horn manure, horn silica and horsetail herb. The six compost preparations are yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion and valerian.

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But it’s not just a case of spraying cow manure on the vines. Horn Manure and Horn Silica are prepared by burying cow horns filled with cow manure and ground quartz respectively in the vineyard for six months each (the manure is buried over the winter and the quartz over the summer). After the horns are exhumed, the material must be stirred rhythmically in water, first one way and then the other. When the direction of stirring is changed a vortex is created and the spray is ‘dynamised’ when the ‘formative forces’ in the material are transferred into the water. Horn manure is sprayed on the soil at specific times to stimulate microbial life. The Horn Silica is sprayed on vines at specific times in order to improve their health.

In addition to the use of these nine preparations, biodynamic viticulturalists are also bringing animals, such as sheep and chickens, back into the vineyard to aid its existence as a self-sustaining living organism.

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The other most significant feature of biodynamic winemaking is its timing of winemaking processes to a specific biodynamic calendar which observes the movement of the moon through the various signs of the zodiac. In biodynamics, the plant is broken down into four parts: roots, leaves/shoots, flower and fruit. Each of the four plant parts correspond to the four elements: earth, water, air and fire – each of which has three signs of the zodiac assigned to it. Vineyard processes such as planting, pruning and harvesting are all timed to take place on the days on which the moon is in front of an appropriate astronomical sign. So for example, any vineyard process concerned with roots, would take place when the moon is front in one of the three earth signs (Bull, Virgin, Goat). Work in the cellar, such as bottling is also timed to this calendar. It has even been claimed that the drinking of wine benefits from observance of this calendar. Fruit days are claimed to be the best days on which to drink many wines and benefit from their optimum taste, whilst it is also claimed that on flower days, aromatic white wines might be at their best. You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve checked the biodynamic calendar and whilst Thursday 17th January, unfortunately, isn’t a fruit day, it is a flower day so hopefully some of the whites we taste will be at their aromatic best!

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So does the burying of cow horns filled with manure and a bit of star-gazing, really make for better viticulture and better wine? Lots of established winemakers seem to think so and more and more are turning to biodynamics in their vineyards and wineries. I was lucky enough to meet a few of the makers of wines we’ll be tasting on Thursday when I went down to one of my supplier’s annual tasting events in London on Tuesday. They were very confident about the benefits of biodynamics. I’ll tell you more about their claims on Thursday evening and hopefully we’ll be able to judge for ourselves whether biodynamic winemaking really does allow the terrior to speak for itself and create a purer, more natural product that is both healthier and better tasting!

See you then,
Brigitte. x

… and on the phone…

 

The telephone rang – it would not stop
It was Jeremy Corbyn calling me up,
He said “my friend Cork,
what do we need to make the country grow?”
I said “my friend Jez: Brigitte Bordeaux,
country’ll grow….”

(apologies to Bob Dylan)

No wifi makes one a little bit crazy!

On Thursday 13th December the ICC group met for the fifth Call-My-Wine-Bluff Xmas Quiz. As usual 6 wines are served blind with “my 3 lovely assistants” each providing a claim as to what the wine was. Although the wines described are all real, two are bluffing and only one telling the truth. Everyone has to guess who’s telling the truth…

Here are my notes for this year:

The first round was “Famous Otherwise” – 3 white grapes not usually found in normal dry still wine.
This wine had some pear and peach fruit nose, leading to a softer floral hint ? Palate has a pithy slight bitterness, some acidity, more warmth – mounting to a slightly burning mineral finish.
But was it: a Hungarian dry Tokaj? A Xarel-Lo from Catalunya? Or a New Zealand – Hawkes Bay – Verdelho?
The warm minerality combined with richness tells of a more New World Style IMO.

The second round was Chenin Blanc.
Nose is of over-ripe apple with some honey notes and some wood. Palate has a warm acidity, with passion fruit hints. The wine has some weight countering the acifity, but rich with a nutty component. But was it from: South Africa? Old Vine Saumur? Or from Otago, New Zealand?
This has obvious oak and may send one towards South Africa, but the Saumur could be oaked too. I think the hardest of all 6 to guess…

The third round was Classic French Rosé.
Very Pale, onion skin pink… This has light red fruit notes, but also a heavier vegetal element. The palate is a little rinsed out but a sweet fruit tinge.
But was it a Sancerre? from Provence? Or from Tavel?
The colour and lightness on the palate rule out Tavel surely, could be Pinot Noir from Sancerre but Provence seems more likely IMO…

The fourth round was Red Bordeaux (Left Bank; Right Bank or a New World Copy)
Plum, some woody notes and a mocha hint. Palate is drying with firm tannins and a spirity cherry hint at the finish. A bit young and definitely needing food.
But was it  Ch. Chantgreve 2015 from Graves (Left Bank)? A Susana Balbo 2014 from Argentine? or Ch. Puygueraud 2013 from Cotes de Francs (Right Bank)?
This is quite difficult too – a little lacking the charm of Graves, maybe. Has the depth and flavours of an Argentinian but the plum nose and the need for time might indicate Right Bank Merlot?

Three “Lovely Assistants” reveal the one true answer….

The fifth round was Southern Italian Red 
A slightly brown tinged colour and a slightly burnt first nose, giving way to forest floor and forest fruit notes. Palate seems evolved with leather, cedar non-fruit notes… rathe renjoyable.
But was it:  2014 Negroanora? A 2008 Aglianico? Or a 2014 Nero d’Avalo based wine from Planeta in Sicily?
I think the evolution and colour of the wine point to some age – it has to be the 2008!

The last round was Off-Dry Fortified Wine!
Nose of fruit peel, some baking spice and toasted nuts. The palate follows suit with some sweetness and a warm alcohol note.
But was it: the original model Palo Cortado Sherry? Secco Superiore Marsala? Or a (Generic) Dry Madeira?
Too sweet for the sherry I think, and lacking the acidity to lift the wine that Sercial would provide – but could be generic Madeira or Marsala.

The correct answers were:


Esk Valley, Hawkes Bay Verdelho 2017
Langlois-Chateau – Saumur Vieilles Vignes, Chenin Blanc 2015
Lycastre Rose Côte de Provence (Porquerolles) 2017  Domaine de la Courtade
Château Puyguéraud 2013 Francs Côtes de Bordeaux (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec)
Cappellaccio Aglianico Castel Del Monte D.O.C. Riserva 2008 (Rivera)
Marsala Superiore Secco (Lombardo)

Only one person managed to reach the dizzying height of 5 guesses correct! So Helen is this year’s WING Call-My-Bluff Champion. Congratulations to her and thanks to my “three beautiful assistants” in conducting the quiz.

 

Finally, I’m off to France any day now and will not be on-line again until sometime in the New Year. So any posts on Tasting in early or mid-January will be by my esteemed colleague Brigitte Bordeaux!

Speaking of whom…

It will be of great interest to know that she has opened a new “Wine Emporium”: Wine Shop and Wine-Bar; of the same name in Sherwood, Nottingham.  Check it out if you are Nottingham based!

Have a look at this – still developing – website https://www.brigittebordeauxwine.co.uk/

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All that remains is to wish all my readers a peaceful, happy, complex, elegant, long-lived and pleasurable Festive Season and New Year.

À Bientôt

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