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02.23.2010

Napa's Best Cabernet: Tasting at Premiere Napa Valley 2010

One of my favorite events each year involves the opportunity to sample some of the best wines that Napa produces in a given vintage. At Premiere Napa Valley, an auction that serves as the world's most expensive "bake sale" to support the efforts of the non-profit Napa Valley Vintners Association, journalists like me get a chance to sneak a taste of hundreds of unique wines that are purchased by the nation's top wine retailers at staggeringly high prices.

This year, as every year, 200 member wineries each crafted a unique auction lot of wine that in most cases represents the very best wine that they are capable of producing. Some bottle five or ten cases of wine from their best barrel and some make a unique blend from their two best vineyard blocks. No matter what their composition, each auction PNV2010.jpglot must be a unique wine that will never be available anywhere else, and implicitly, it must be as good as possible, to ultimately fetch the highest price.

So what's the good in me tasting wines that neither you nor I will ever get a chance to taste again, let alone purchase one day? As I swoon over some of these wines, I often ask myself the same question.

Some of these wines can actually be purchased by the public, though they require persistence to track down, plus a cavalier attitude towards the price of wine. When the 5 cases of Shafer Sunspot Vineyard Cabernet that sold for $37,000 last Saturday eventually get sold, I shudder to think what the price per bottle will be. The event web site lists the buyer of each lot and their contact information if anyone really is interested in finding one of these wines.

Many of the lots are spoken for well before the gavel falls -- purchased by wine retailers and brokers who essentially take orders (and bundles of cash) from their best customers, and then show up to invest, as if they are managing a wine hedge fund.

For the rest of us, apart from offering a ringside view on the uppermost echelon of California wine buying, the Premiere Napa Valley auction provides three main insights:

1. The measure of demand strength for the luxury end of the Napa wine industry
2. A gauge of the quality of wine that a large number of Napa producers can make when they really try
3. A broad sense of the qualities of a particular vintage -- in this case, 2008

I attend every year for these insights, along with the fantastic food and laid-back camaraderie that accompanies the event.

This year's event was a marked contrast to last year's, which came hard on the heels of the recession. The room was packed, the energy high, and the bidding enthusiastic, if somewhat less extravagant than in years past. However, while the highest price that any lot fetched was $37,000, many of the final prices were higher on average than in many past years. This translated into auction proceeds of almost $2 Million, a significant jump from last year's $1.5 million, and slightly lower than the $2.2 million raised in 2008 before the stock market crash. It can be dangerous to extrapolate anything about the larger wine economy from the bubble-like world of Napa, but that didn't keep the optimism out of the room, nor the spring out of many steps. In general, it felt like a recovery.

As for the 2008 vintage in Napa, the best word to describe it is: massive. The wines are huge, brawny, and rich, but the best maintain a good acidity and balance that will make them truly tremendous by the time they are release 2 years from now. Some wines suffer from extremely aggressive tannins, though they are on the whole much smoother tannins than in 2006. My sense is that well balanced wines from this vintage, like 2007, will age extremely well.

The Premiere barrel tasting is quite a marathon, especially for a guy like me who sets out to taste literally every single one of the 200 wines on offer. I have to work my ass off in order to get through them all. This year, I tasted all but one. When I first got to Anomaly Vineyards' barrel they weren't yet pouring, so I skipped them and forgot to go back. Oops.

Despite being a several-hour-slog through a lot of big wines, I really enjoy the opportunity to sample fabulous work of 200 master craftsmen and women. This year included some real highlights, including another phenomenal late-disgorged sparkling wine from Schramsberg, the still cloudy late harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Honig, and several Cabernets and Bordeaux blends, including the stellar offering from Spottswoode. And while I can't get my hands on any of these specific wines, having tasted "the best they can produce" I am always reminded which labels to look out for as I'm in search of great reds from Napa.

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2008 Barnett Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 Cardinale Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
2008 Chateau Boswell Winery "The Fourth Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2008 Corison Winery "Premiere Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 HALL "Sacrashe Vineyard - Block 2" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2009 Honig Vineyard & Winery Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford
2008 Hourglass "36-24-36" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 J. Davies Vineyards "Jack's Block, 96 Vines" Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District
2008 Lang & Reed Wine Company "Parcel 33" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley
2008 Larkmead Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Lewis Cellars "Premiere Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 PlumpJack Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Porter Family Vineyards "Duet" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Schrader "Double Diamond Turbo X" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
1994 Schramsberg Vineyards "1994 Reserve - Late Disgorged" Sparkling Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard "Vertical Gobelet Vines" Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Venge Vineyards "Family Reserve, Oakville" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
NV ZD Wines "Petit Abacus" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2007 Astrale e Terra Syrah, Atlas Peak
2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Blackbird Vineyards Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
2008 BOND "Quella" Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
2008 Cain Vineyard & Winery "Francois' Pick" Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 Carter Cellars "Envy" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Clark-Claudon Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Cliff Lede Vineyards "Let It Be Layla" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 Coho "SummitVine Ranch Upper Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District
2008 Coup De Foudre Winery "Upper/Lower Valley Love Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Diamond Terrace "Two Mountains" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Domaine Chandon "Barrel Select" Pinot Meunier, Los Carneros
2008 Duckhorn Vineyards "Three Palms Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Ehlers Estate "The Geomancer" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Fantesca Estate & Winery "Tastes Like a First Kiss" Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 Farella-Park Vineyards "Terrace Reserve" Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
2008 Gargiulo Vineyards "OVX Estate Blend" Meritage, Oakville
2008 Gemstone "Essence of Gemstone" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville
2008 Girard Winery "Mountain Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Hestan Vineyards "Stephanie Selection" Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2009 Hill Family Estate Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Los Carneros
2008 Howell at the Moon "Knoll Vineyard Clone 4" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2008 Husic Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 Jones Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Joseph Phelps Vineyards "Backus Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2008 Kuleto Estate "El Coyote" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2008 La Jota Vineyard Co. Red Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Ladera Vineyards "Two Mountains" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Livingston Moffett Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville
2008 Martin Estate "Premiere Row" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Mi Sueño Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Newton Vineyard "Piece of the Puzzle" Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2008 Ovid Napa Valley "Block 1A" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Page Wine Cellars "Your Personal Stash" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Parallel Napa Valley "Two Hills" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 PEJU "P.S. We Love Rutherford" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Pillar Rock Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 Pride Mountain Vineyards "Premiere Napa Valley Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Realm Cellars "Premiere Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Reynolds Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 Rocca Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville
2009 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch" Pinot Noir, Los Carneros
2008 Seavey Vineyard Red Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Shafer Vineyards "Sunspot Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 Signorello Estate "Big Rock Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Silverado Vineyards "SOLO, Double Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 Sodaro Estate Winery Petit Verdot, Napa Valley
2008 Stags' Leap Winery "Ne Cede Malis Estate-Grown Field Blend" Petite Syrah, Stags Leap District
2008 Sterling Vineyards "Three Palms Vineyard" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley
2008 Swanson Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Terra Valentine "Fleur De Lys" Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District
2007 Tom Eddy Winery "Block One Plus" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 TOR Kenward Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2008 Tuck Beckstoffer Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 White Rock Vineyards Petit Verdot, Napa Valley

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2008 Amuse Bouche Winery Merlot, Napa Valley
2009 Arietta "A-grec" Semillon, Napa Valley
2008 Ashe Family Vineyards "One Acre" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2008 Barlow Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Behrens Family Winery "Cemetery Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Bennett Lane "Calistoga Appellation Lot" Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga
2008 Beringer Vineyards "Mountain to Valley" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Black Coyote Chateau Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak
2008 Bravante Vineyards Red Table Wine, Howell Mountain
2008 Buoncristiani Family Winery "Fratelli Fervor - Stagecoach Vineyard" Malbec, Napa Valley
2008 Cakebread Cellars Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Chappellet Winery and Vineyard "Heaven on the Hill" Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
2008 Chateau Montelena Winery "Montelena Estate G Block Old Vine Finale" Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga
2008 Cimarossa "Poppy Flats" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2008 Conn Creek Winery "Lucky 13" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Continuum Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2008 Dyer Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Diamond Mountain District
2008 Elyse Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Etude "Vine Hill Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2008 Far Niente "Martin Stelling Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2008 Fontanella Family Winery Merlot, Mount Veeder
2008 Frank Family Vineyards "Winston Hill Block 5 (Heart Block)" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Frazier Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2009 Frias Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 Grgich Hills Estate "Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville
2008 Groth Vineyards & Winery "Core Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2008 Hess Collection Winery, The Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder
2008 Hewitt Vineyard "Unique Hewitt Vineyard Blend with Petit Verdot" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2007 Hopper Creek Winery "Proprietor's Private Estate Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville
2008 John Anthony Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley
2008 Keenan Winery "Tribute Part 3: Grand Classique" Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 Krupp Brothers "Two Bald Heads Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Meander "The Twist" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Miner Family Vineyards Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
2008 Monticello Vineyards "Yewell Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder
2008 Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 O'Brien Estate Cabernet Franc, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley
2007 O'Neill Vosti Estates "3x3" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Oberon Wines "Hillside Reserve, Michael Mondavi Family Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Paradigm Winery Cabernet Franc, Oakville
2008 Paraduxx Red Wine, Howell Mountain
2008 Raymond Vineyard & Cellar "The Final, Final" Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Renteria Wines "Vintner's Cuvée" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Revana Family Vineyard "Premiere Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Rombauer Vineyards "Proprietors Reserve Stice Lane" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Round Pond Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Rubicon Estate "Estate Clone 29" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Rutherford Hill Winery "Premiere Blend" Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Schlein Vineyard "Schlein Vineyard Special Cuvee" Bordeaux Blend, Oakville
2009 Snowden Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
2008 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars "The Alchemist" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Tetra "ARTET" Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Thirteen Appellations Red Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Tierra Roja Vineyards "Katharine's Blend" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2009 Truchard Vineyards Pinot Noir, Los Carneros
2008 Viader Vineyards & Winery "Roaring Twenties" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Vineyard 29 "The St. Helena Special" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Volker Eisele Family Estate Bordeaux Blend, Chiles Valley District
2008 von Strasser Winery "Rudy's Choice" Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2008 Alpha Omega "Proprietary Red Wine" Red Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Ardente Winery "Organic" Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak
2008 Atalon Winery "W.S. Keyes Vineyard" Merlot, Howell Mountain
2008 Barbour Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2009 Bouchaine Vineyards "Auction Select Best Barrel" Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
2008 CADE Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2008 Clos Pegase "Tenma Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2009 Coquerel Family Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
2008 Emblem Wines "Michael Mondavi Family Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Faust "A Faustian Bargain" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Frog's Leap "Galleron Vineyard" Petite Sirah, Rutherford
2009 Gamble Family Vineyards "Gamble Vineyard" Sauvignon Blanc, Yountville
2008 Ghost Block Bordeaux Blend, Yountville
2008 Judd's Hill "Friends at Harvest / Lot 15" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Juslyn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 Kenefick Ranch Winery Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley
2008 Lail Vineyards "Henry" Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
2008 Larkin Wines "Pritchard Hill" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Long Meadow Ranch Winery "Spice Rack" Petite Sirah, Rutherford
2008 Louis M. Martini Winery "Premiere 254" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2009 Madonna Estate "Barrel Selection" Pinot Noir, Los Carneros
2008 Merryvale Vineyards "St. Helena Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Moone-Tsai Vineyards "Caldwell Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Oakville East Wine Company Red Table Wine, Oakville
2008 Oakville Ranch Vineyards "The Queen" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2007 Palmaz Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Paoletti Estates Winery Malbec, Napa Valley
2009 Pine Ridge Vineyards "5 x 5" Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
2008 Robert Craig Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
2008 Robert Mondavi Winery "To Kalon Vineyard, Monastery Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
2008 ROY Estate "Voix Basse (a whisper)" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Sequoia Grove Vineyards "She Walks in Beauty" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley
2008 Silver Oak Cellars "A Tale of Two Ranches" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Soñador Cellars "Dream Weaver" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2009 Spelletich Cellars "Premiere Pinot" Pinot Noir, Napa Valley
2008 St. Clement Vineyards "Armstrong Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District
2008 St. Supery Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
2008 Steltzner Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 Summers Estate Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Terlato Family Vineyards "Premiere Assemblage" Red Table Wine, Napa Valley
2008 Trinchero Napa Valley "East to West Mountain Cabernet Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Turnbull Wine Cellars "Courage" Cabernet Franc, Oakville
2008 Twomey Cellars "SCR" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley
2008 Vineyard 7 & 8 "Collaboration" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 VinRoc Wine Caves "Koko's Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 William Hill Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Zahtila Vineyards Zinfandel, Calistoga

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2008 Ahnfeldt Wines "Quid Pro Quo IV" Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
2008 Antica Napa Valley - Antinori Family Wine Estate "Ante Up in '08" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2007 Boeschen Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena
2008 Chimney Rock Winery "Tomahawk Vineyard, Premiere Cuvée" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District
2008 David Arthur Vineyards "Prima Annata" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Freemark Abbey "York Creek Cabernet" Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain District
2008 Harris Estate Vineyards "Melange Magique" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Hendry "Vintner's Barrel Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 JAX Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Work Vineyard "Napa Valley Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
2008 Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley

Comments (11)

1WineDude wrote:
02.24.10 at 5:46 AM

It's interesting how our tastes differ. I also loved that Schramsberg and the Hestan - both were screamin' good. I really enjoyed the Trefethen though (bottom on your list).

Of course, in this kind of event, almost all of the wines are stellar so we're probably squarely in the "splitting hairs" territory.

Bruce Schoenfeld wrote:
02.24.10 at 10:49 AM

Wow, you deserve combat pay for tasting so many Napa Cabs. Great to see such high scores, though. Kind of makes me wish I'd stayed around ...

tom farella wrote:
02.24.10 at 12:31 PM

Tough job, someone has to do it and none better. It will be so very interesting to see how 2008 will rank in the long run. My bet is on a '99 type vintage: slow to evolve, dense and great candidates for laying down. Thanks Alder.

02.24.10 at 7:21 PM

Alder, thanks for this incredibly comprehensive report. All of the donate all of these wines for the benefit of the Napa Valley Vintners. We hope you readers will come to Napa to try all of our "regular" great releases soon.

Bryan Kane wrote:
02.24.10 at 8:20 PM

Another great synopsis of a tasting with a large number of wines. Thank you, as always, for sharing.

02.24.10 at 9:08 PM

Alder...you are AMAZING!!! Your discipline and passion is admirable. Thank you for your dedication to the wine business and for The Napa Valley!

See you in a couple of weeks at a very different yet also exciting tasting I hope!

Gordon Ritchie wrote:
02.28.10 at 8:43 PM

What a great job of tasting. This information along with other sources will help me decide on what I want to taste and buy.

03.01.10 at 7:21 AM

Alder, I agree. The enthusiasm was a breath of fresh air & the wines were great-though I didn't come close to your tasting number. Now that is dedication! Thanks for your comprehensive review. You are an asset to the industry!

Cliffewood Wine Syndicate wrote:
03.01.10 at 9:53 PM

Alder: The enthusiasm indeed was refreshing and the bidding wars were a pleasant surprise. I truly expected a replication of PNV 2009, and was pleased to see that it was closer to PNV 2008. I enjoy your blog and always like to check your ranking recap after PNV. While our tastes obviously differ (I had Alpha Omega, Juslyn, Moone-Tsai & Hill Family in my top tier group), it's nice to see someone weather the tasting storm and make a run at all 200 in 3 hours. Like you, I am bullish on the 2008 vintage, though I question whether it has the aging potential of 2007. In any event, keep up the great work. Hope to pop a cork with you at PNV 2011. Cheers! John Wade

Alder Yarrow wrote:
03.02.10 at 2:49 PM

Cliffewood,

As a member of the press, I get 4 hours with the wines, which is the only way tasting all 200 is possible. Even then, it's a marathon.

03.03.10 at 12:45 PM

Alder, You give new meaning to the Napa Valley Marathon. What an impressive summary. Thanks for taking the time to sort through the volume and for sharing your findings.

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