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Guide to Gerry Dawes's Spain: Customized Culinary Tours, Epicurean Ways Scheduled Tours, Photography, Articles and Archived Posts

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Gerry Dawes & Lucio Blázquez, owner of Casa Lucio in Madrid, during Madrid Fusión week, January 2009.
Photograph by John Sconzo ©2009.

Customized Tours:

For Scheduled Tours, Go to Epicurean Ways:


Guide to Gerry Dawes's Spain & Recent Posts & Articles:

- - Innovation vs. Tradition in Spanish Cuisine

9/01/2008 Food Arts Over the Foaming Wave Article on Ferran Adriá

8/15/2008 Spain’s Surprising Terroir-Driven Reds: Slate-laced Glories

8/04/2008 Some men are born out of their due place

7/12/2008 Navarra: A Spanish Kingdom's Wines Wear the Versatility Crown

7/02/2008 Mencía: Terroir and Balance Mark Spain's Next Great Red Variety

6/12/2008 The Surprising Wines of Valencia - Spain - U.S. Chamber of Commerce Gala Issue

5/10/2008 Foods From Spain News Interview with Chef & TV Personality José Andrés at Madrid's Salón Internacional de Gourmets

1/17/2008 Spain’s Food & Wine Fairs: A Perpetual Feast

11/07/2007 The Great Don Pohren: His Passing & His Significance

4/20/2007 Galicia’s Green Gold: White Wines from Native Spanish Grapes

About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine. And in 2004, he was awarded First Prize for Journalism on Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) by the Cava Institute .

Gerry Dawes has been traveling in Spain for more than 35 years with over 100 (60 in the past decade ) extensive food and wine trips to Spain. He has been cited for his knowledge of Spain in The New York Times and New York Times Magazine, New York Newsday, The Wine Spectator, The James Beard Foundation Newsletter, Food Arts, Men's Journal, and Spain's El País, El Mundo, Cambio 16, and Restauradores. Dawes has led numerous culinary and wine tours to Spain. His clients have included The World Trade Center Club, Club Managers of America Wine Society, Chef Mark Miller and his management team, the mythical 61st Tactical Fighter Squadron and The Commonwealth Club of California.


EO Agency pilot for a reality television series
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Gerry Dawes can be reached at

Posted by Picasa


7 Days, 7 Nights Television Pilot - Valencia with Gerry Dawes

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About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.

Trailer filmed in Valencia & Alicante, Spain with New York Chef Terrance Brennan 
for a proposed reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Gerry Dawes can be reached at


Madrid Fusión 2009 in Pictures by Gerry Dawes

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Madrid Fusión 2009: VII Cumbre Internacional de Gastronomía

Rumbles from the Building Culinary Earthquake

A Sea Change in Cocina de Vanguardia?


How Are We Going to Sell This Stuff Now?

Paco Ron & Peter Nilsson

Alta Cocina Pobre: Imaginación Tiempos de Crisis

(Poor Man's Haute Cuisine: Imagination in Times of Crisis)

Alchemy: Turning comfort food flavors--potatoes, chestnuts, eggs & cornbread into gold.

Madrid Fusión 2009: Peter Nilsson demonstrates a dish as Juanma Bellver looks on.

Gastrobares Galore:

Tapas Bars Owned by Cocina de Vanguardia Chefs Who Are Tired

of Experimenting with Weird Food and Want to Make Some Money

(Albert Adria, Inopia, Barcelona; Benito Gómez, Tragatapas, Ronda; María José San Román, La Taberna del Gourmet, Alicante; Paco Roncero, Estado Puro, Madrid; Carles Abell n, Tapaç 24, Barcelona; Quique Dacosta, Sula, Madrid; Dani García, La Moraga, Málaga; and Paco Ron, Vía Vélez, Madrid; and Juan Pablo Felipe, Arís (El Chaflán), Madrid to name the most prominent ones.)

(Click on the arrow to activate slideshow, click on the lower left corner box to turn captions on or off; double click on the image box to go to a Picasa webpage where, by clicking on "slideshow," you can see the images enlarged full frame.)

"Where's Santi?"

Will Santi Santimaría, Catalunya's Six Michelin Star Bad-Boy Chef Ever Be Allowed to Bring the House Down Again at Madrid Fusión?

(Like he did at MF07 when he denounced cocina de vanguardia, received a raucous 10-minute standing ovation and was then followed by Heston Blumenthal's presentation that required 3-D glasses?)

Inquiring minds want to know!

(At MF10, perhaps?)

(Stay tuned for an exclusive interview and photos direct from El Racó de Can Fabes and watching futbol with Santi in La Bodegueta in San Celoni: Atlético de Madrid 4, Barca 3)

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January 20, 2009

Ciencia y Cocina (Debate): ¿Existe La Cocina Molecular?

Science and Cuisine (Discussion): Does Molecular Cuisine Exist?

During Which Several Grown Distinguished Culinarians, Scientists and Chefs Discuss How Many Chefs Can Dance on the Head of a Pin (still no conclusion except the pin ain't molecular!)

(Click on the arrow to activate slideshow, click on the lower left corner box to turn captions on or off; double click on the image box to go to a Picasa webpage where, by clicking on "slideshow," you can see the images enlarged full frame.)

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January 21
Super-Star Chefs Awarded the Delantal de Oro (The Golden Apron)
(The apron was black!)
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Ferran Adrià, Juan Mari Arzak, Michel Bras, Pierre Gagnaire, Heston Blumenthal, Nobu Matsuhisa, Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Pierre Hermé, Gualtiero Marchesi & Alain Ducasse
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Pepe Barrena & José Carlos Capel Host the Lively
"Armonías Trasgresoras" Debate at Madrid Fusión 2009

In which a series of star chefs defend (or try to defend) some of their most outlandish creations. Pay particular attention to Ferran's 2008 "Swamp thing" creation. ;-) And especially Joan Roca's Beet with Dirt, which may be the ultimate creation of cocina de vanguardia, teatro cocina, techno-emotional, cocina molecular or whatever you call it. The question is: Does it taste better than a real beet?
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One thing for sure it is indeed a work of art, a beautiful creation that looks like a museum piece.
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There was a presentation of "play food" at Madrid Fusión and here are some pictures of some of the attendees at play (and at work) before and during Madrid Fusión with special thanks to my friend Docsconz (John Sconzo; see photo credits for some memorable shots.)
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(Click on the arrow to activate slideshow, click on the lower left corner box to turn captions on or off; double click on the image box to go to a Picasa webpage where, by clicking on "slideshow," you can see the images enlarged full frame.)

About the author

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television
series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.
Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Culinary Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain

Gerry Dawes can be reached at; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):


The Triumph of Sherry Married to Modern Cuisine Dishes - COPA Jerez 2009

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"I believe the more Sherry is used as a pairing by reputable chefs and sommeliers, the more people will start to take them on, on their own. I have always included sherries with our wine pairings at any event possible (our Pata Negra dinner, James Beard House appearances, our in house pairings, etc.) and we have always seen a tremendous, positive response. Sherry is still an unknown to many people and by offering a glass as part of a pairing, there is far less fear to be had and people are far more likely to experiment than if left to order it on their own." - - Roger Kugler, Wine Director, Suba and the Boquería restaurants, New York City; Winner 'Top Sommelier', COPA Jerez 2009

Roger Kugler, Winner 'Top Sommelier', COPA Jerez 2009
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COPA Jerez

Sherry Pairings with Modern Cuisine Dishes

Heavenly Matches Made in Jerez

I have been drinking sherries and visiting sherry bodegas for forty years and have written at least a dozen articles, some with extensive notes on the wide range of sherries available. I have taught courses at Artisanal Cheese Center , pairing a range of seven different sherries with seven different cheeses and I have done the same at the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone in Napa Valley at the Worlds of Flavor conferences. Here and there, I have been running into sherry and star chefs' dishes over the years. Most notably, the great pairings that Juan Pablo de Felipe has done over the years at El Chaflán in Madrid and at Terrance Brennan's Picholine. Recently at Picholine, I have had sherries with Brennan's tapas menu in the bar--paella spring roll with manzanilla--and with some of the dishes in his new 16-course "small plates" tasting menu (a virtuoso parade of artistic tapas-sized portions). At a recent dinner, Emilio Lustau Pata de Gallina Oloroso was matched to "bacon-n-eggs" (a brioche-wrapped quail's egg with American caviar and a thin slice of Ibérico ham wrapped around a fig with fig jam), followed by a trio of foie gras interpertations, for which the oloroso was also an excellent pairing.

But, not until this year, when--along with Andy Nusser, Chef and proprietor, Casa Mono, New York City; Michael Weiss, Director of Wine Studies, Culinary Institute of America-Hyde Park; and Steven Olson, aka wine geek, Beverage Alcohol Resource--I was invited to judge the 2009 COPA Jerez Food and Sherry Pairing Finals in New York City, did I begin to grasp how versatile Sherries really are. The finalists were a star-studded lineup of chefs and their sommeliers- wine directors from around the country: Chef Wylie DuFresne and Dewey DuFresne, WD-50, New York City; Chef Seamus Mullen and Roger Kugler, Suba (and Boquería Restaurants), New York City; Chef Michelle Bernstein and Allegra Angelo, Michy's, Miami, Florida; Chad Johnson and Kevin Pelley, Sidebern's, Tampa, Florida; and Matthew Accarrino and David Lusby, Tom Colicchio's Craft, Los Angeles.

Each chef presented three dishes each and matched them to a Sherry in three different categories--dry, medium and sweet. The fifteen dishes each paired to a Sherry chosen by each team was a tour de force that was like a wakeup call for a Sherry lover (see the list of COPA Jerez winners and their matches below). The quality of these matches opened up an personal awareness that there was an entire new world of possibilities for this classic wine in the era of modern cuisine, or as it is often called in Spain these days, cocina de vanguardia.

The COPA Jerez competition demonstrated that Sherries are not just perfect matches for Spanish tapas, for which they are a classic accompaniment, it revealed conclusively that Sherries make an incredibly good match for a wide variety of modern cuisine dishes. And that they are especially suited for the menus de degustacion being offered by many restaurants, like Picholine, who are offering such menus and switching to "small plates" menus in this era of changing tastes and economic downturn.

With some of the top chefs in America --Terrance Brennan, Wylie Dufresne, Michelle Bernstein and many others--discovering the virtues of matching sherries to some of their best dishes-it may come as a surprise that, from an economic standpoint, Sherries are an incredible bargain in an over-inflated wine market. A single bottle of Sherry, served in 3-4 ounces pours (or six - seven servings per bottle), goes a long way--in restaurants or at home--and that quality-price ratio, makes pairing Sherries to tasting menus a natural. Plus the range of Sherries--manzanillas, finos, amontillados, palo cortados, dry olorosos, sweetened olorosos, ultra-sweet Pedro Ximénez wines and moscatels--offers a stunning array of flavors, aromas and colors to play with. A chef and sommelier, as underscored by the COPA Jerez competition, can come up with an endless list of combinations to enhance and add an exotic touch to their tasting menus.

This market niche for Sherries could open up to reveal a whole new breed of sherry drinkers, especially with the proliferation of tapas bars, gastrobares, gastropubs and restaurants specializing in "small plates" that have been opening in the past two years in the United States and in Europe. Sherries may be finally be poised to make a big comeback and recuperate some of their mislaid glory and popularity.

(Double click on the images to see a full-size slideshow from the USA COPA Jerez Finals.)

The winners of the USA COPA Jerez Finals

First course and dry Sherry pairing:

Suba's Roger Kugler, the eventual Top Sommelier in the New York competition, who went on the wine the Top Sommelier honor in the finals in Jerez, justified his pairing of Chef Seamus Mullen's dish (Sardina Ahumada Y Ajo Blanco) paired with González-Byass "Tío Pepe" Fino (kosher)

"This is a dish of strong texture, which needs a wine with depth, but not necessarily weight to compliment it. Both the dish and the wine are wonderful on their own, but together they create a beautiful symbiosis of food and wine. Contrasts of light and dark, strong/sharp flavors to cool/round crispness abound in leading the diner through the experience. . ."

Second course and medium Sherry pairing

Sommelier Allegra Angelo talked about his pairing of El Maestro Sierra's Oloroso 1/14 VORS (aged 30 years in solera) with seared sea scallops with rabo encendido from Chef Michelle Bernstein of Michy's in Miami:

"The Maestro Sierra Oloroso has different layers of taste: burnt orange, candided kumquat, allspice, toffee, roasted hazelnuts, cinnamon, chinese five spice. These flavors are robust and intense, like the rabo encendido. But the VORS 1/14 has elegancy, a dainty, clean fisnish. Its texture and delivery mimic the scallop, soft and feminine. The oloroso, thus, has dual personalities."

Third course and sweet Sherry pairing

Dewie Dufresne of WD-50 talks about Wylie Dufresne's Soy Custard, Banana, Caramel, Granola paired with Lustau East India Solera:

"The sherry's exceptional smoothness with flavors of raisins, candied peel and nuts sings an accompaniment to the banana, caramel, and granola. This great wine with a dash of salinity and a bit of Pedro Ximénez is a palate seducer."

And this justification by COPA Jerez Top Sommelier winner, Roger Kugler, for his pairing with Seamus Mullen's Rouget a la plancha, Pata Negra ham, La Ratte potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms and fava beans) to a Hidalgo Amontillado "Viejo" VORS sherry from Sanlúcar de Barrameda:

"This extraordinary wine compliments all the participants. . .the saltiness fo theis seaside amonillado is perfect for the soft fish, sweet vegetables and mushrooms while the rich texture. . . stands up to the crunchy pata negra ham. . .a metaphor might be a fully ripe heirloom strawberry. . . Full flavor balanced with perfect acidity, a bright nose and deep, but not dusky color. . . retaining much of the blush of youth."

And by Dewey Dufresne of New York's WD-50, explaining his match of La Cigarerra Manzanilla to his son Dewey's dish of foie gras, fennel, malt & sherry vinegar jam:

"The fresh minerally sherry with its briny notes and sea sweet aftertaste is an agreeable foil to the velvety foie gras. . .The malt presence in the dish is a reminder to us of the flor (yeast) used in the sherry's development."

(Stay tuned for a Report on the COPA Jerez finals in Jerez de la Frontera, where Roger Kugler won top sommelier, Juli Soler of El Bulli & Pitu Roca of Can Roca were judges and the teams from the United States and several European Union countries showed why sherries are a stunning complement to modern menus. Plus Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Maestro Sierra and Emilio Lustau of Jerez de la Fronteraand Gútierrez Colosía of El Puerto de Santa María, four Sherry greats and, of course, lunch at Bigote in Sanlúcar and more, plus plenty of photographs.)

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From "Spanish Wine & Food Pairing: Possibilities Are Limitless", and article on the Culinary Institute of America-Greystone's new Worlds of Flavor Spain-dedicated website:

"Sherry (Jerez) Spain’s great classic wine, sherry, has long been pigeonholed as a wine to be served with Spanish tapas or perhaps, in its sweeter versions, sipped in front of a fireplace, accompanied by quiet conversation or a good book. Relatively few people understand that sherry and its nearby cousin, montilla, range in style from bone-dry to richly sweet, which makes them excellent matches for anything from Japanese (especially sushi and tempura) and other Asian cuisines, to fried foods, to a broad range of artisan cheeses (sweet sherries matched to blue cheeses are spectacular).Among dry sherries, all of which should always be served chilled, crisp, fresh, salty, apple-y manzanilla is a great match for shrimp, oysters, scallops, clams, and other shellfish; it is a quintessential accompaniment to tapas; and it offers a refreshing counterpoint for cheeses, especially Spain’s aged ewe’s milk cheeses. Fino, from inland Jerez, is also bone-dry and a bit weightier, gutsier and more alcoholic, but is still a good match with many of same foods and a fine substitute for sake with Japanese food.

Amontillado, in some of its best versions, is also dry, but many amontillados have been sweetened for broader market appeal. The drier versions are longer-aged and more complex than manzanillas and finos, and are splendid with richer dishes like game, duck risotto, and organ meats, as well as superb companions to cheeses. The sweeter amontillados also go well with cheeses and especially foie gras.

Olorosos come in both dry and sweet versions and can be among the most monumentally great and emblematic sherries. Dry oloroso, it is often said, is best in front of a fireplace with a serious contemplative attitude, a good book and a dish of nuts, but these wines are also superb when sipped as a course match on a tasting menu, especially with a game bird or a dish with cheese in the sauce. Sweet olorosos and cream sherries make for lovely sipping, good matches for foie gras and game courses, and may just be the perfect match for sipping with espresso, or café con leche (milky coffee).

Super sweet, syrupy Pedro Ximénez sherries, redolent of orange peel, raisins, prunes, figs, and baking spices can be sipped alone, but are used by many chefs to sauce foie gras and game dishes, but can also be poured of ice creams as a fabulous sauce, especially when blended with chocolate."

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About the author

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.


Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television

series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.


"Rey muerto, Reina puesta" - Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía conference to be supplanted by Roser Torras GSR-run "San Sebastián Gastronomika"

After the 2008 Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía conference ended in November, rumours immediately began to fly that, after ten years, this would be the last Lo Mejor conference to be held in San Sebastián. It now appears that the rumours were true.

As the Spanish sayings goes, "Rey muerto, Rey puesto" ("The King is dead, another one is put in his place.") In this case it is "Rey muerto, Reina puesta," because the brilliant Roser Torras, the head of Grupo GSR and one of world's greatest organizers of gastronomic conferences, in a golpe de estado culinario (a culinary coup d'etat) has established a new conference, "San Sebastián Gastronomika," which will take the place of Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía during the same date slot-the third week in November--and in the same Rafael Moneo-designed convention center and under the auspices of the same El Diario Vasco (Grupo Vocento) newspaper group.

From Alimentaria selected shots 2008 & 2006
Roser Torras, the head of Grupo GSR, one of world's greatest culinary conference organizers.

The new conference will be organized and directed by Torras' Grup GSR-Produccions de Gastronomia, which organized stellar culinary conferences at the Culinary Institute of America-Napa Valley (the historic Worlds of Flavor Conference dedicated to Spain in 2006), São Paulo, Alimentaria (BCNVanguardia) and, for the past three years had helped organize Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía with Rafael García Santos, the controversial Spanish food critic who founded the event.

From San Sebastian Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia & EVOO Jaen

Rafael García Santos

At this stage, it is rumoured that Santos plans to mount a similar conference in Alicante, Portugal and, perhaps, even in Germany. ¿Quien sabe? Stayed tuned for more on the culinary star wars, photographs and maybe even an interview with the also very controversial Santi Santamaría.

About the author

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.


Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television
series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Culinary Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain

Gerry Dawes can be reached at; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):


Lo Mejor de La Gastronómía: San Sebastian Chefs' Conference Celebrates Spanish Extra Virgen Olive Oil with an Epilogue-Slide Show of the Olive Harvest

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Lo Mejor de La Gastronomía*

Star Chefs Compete Using Jaén Province’s Picudo Variety Olive Oil

Plus An Epilogue Featuring Slide Shows of the End of the Olive Harvest in Jaén with Bailén de Oro & in Córdoba with Soledad Serrano at Beloyana

With a visit to the fabulous Mesón Juan Peña in Córdoba

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By Gerry Dawes

Premio Nacional de Gastronomia 2003

(Click on slide show to amplify and see full screen.)

The Lo Mejor de La Gastronómía chefs’ conference, held each November in the Rafael Moneo-designed Kursaal center in the stunning Basque seaside city of San Sebastián, is among the world’s top five culinary events. But Lo Mejor de La Gastronómía is a culinary conference with a difference, since almost all the attention is on chefs, primarily cocina de vanguardia - avant-garde cuisine chefs from around the world, but with a focus on Spain’s star chefs who come at the end of each year to show their best dishes and techniques from the current year and give glimpses of what is to come the following year.

This year’s Lo Mejor de La Gastronómía this year included a standout presentation from Ferran Adrià, the man called “the world’s greatest chef,” and jaw-dropping demonstrations from Can Roca’s Joan Roca, El Poblet’s Quique Dacosta and super-star pastelero (desserts and chocolates) Paco Torreblanca. Torreblanca, one of the greatest pastry chefs in the world, has devised ways of using Spanish olive oil instead of butter in his desserts and chocolates, so now all his lines of supernal Totel and Barry Callebaut desserts and chocolates use no animal fats in their preparation.

One of the highlights of the event was the VI Annual “Jaén, Paraiso Interior” Premio Internacional de Cocina con Aceite de Oliva Virgen Extra (International Cooking Prize for the Best Dish Featuring Spanish Extra Virgen Olive Oil), which carried a an astounding First Prize of 18,000 Euros (about $25,000). Sponsored by the Junta de Andalucía and the Diputación de Jaén, the competition featured 11 chefs from Spain (Madrid, Alicante, Jaén and the Basque Vizcaya province), France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Each chef, a finalist chosen from a field of 135 contestants from seven countries in preliminary contest, presented a creative cuisine dish that used Spanish extra virgen olive as a prominent taste component.

Felipe López, President of the Diputación Provincial (regional government) de Jaén, said his administration was sponsoring the contest because Lo Mejor de LaGastronómía offers “an extraordinary showcase, since it represents cocina de vanguardia, for showing the excellence of the great olive oils of the province of Jaén.”

Rafael García Santos, Founder & Director of the conference, commenting on the leap in quality that extra virgen olive oils from Jaén have made–in the six years since they have been giving the prize at Lo Mejor de LaGastronómía–said “Jaén extra virgen olive oil producers are doing ever more select olive oils. They have changed their production techniques, harvesting and the final product, which has shown a steady evolution in quality. Before Jaén was known as the biggest producer and now the name is associated with brands of extra virgen olive oil that have become universally recognized for their high quality, which has brought world-class prestige to Jaén and raised the value of the product. This has made the oils of the province of Jaén an ever more important player in top kitchens everywhere.”

This writer came to cover the conference and the “Jaén, Paraiso Interior” Premio Internacional de Cocina con Aceite de Oliva Virgen Extra cooking contest for Foods From Spain News. But, I was soon pressed into service as a member of the jury panel by Lo Mejor de LaGastronómía’s founder and director, Rafael García Santos, whose directive I followed with honor and with gusto, since it entailed tasting all the finalists’ wonderfully creative dishes, accompanied by glasses of Spanish cava. The competing chefs, while making extra virgen olive oil a discernible component, still managed to smoothly integrate the oils into each dish and make most of them visually spectacular.

The very first dish by Vitor Manuel Da Silva from Le Poivron Rouge in Portugal, which was called Mi Conserva de Sardina, featured a olive-oil dressed sardine, a razor clam and a mussel in a shellfish tin, complete with a rolled-up lid. Fernando Pérez Arellano of Zaranda in Madrid presented a seawater-colored, arbequina olive oil-infused “gazpacho en aspic al aceite de arbequina,” which was gelatinous rectangle on which he had perched a clam, a cockle, a bit of sea urchin, a goose barnacle and several tiny mussels, with several pools of olive oil-sea urchin mayonnaise alongside. Another spectacular dish was “Tomate. . .un salmorejo con caviar,” a lovely, re-constructed light orange-red tomato “shell” filled with a delicious salmorejo--made with an extra virgen olive oil with a distinct personality--from Jaén’s own chef Raúl Clemente from Restaurante Paquito Diaz in Baeza.

The winner of the competition was Carlo Cracco’s chef de cuisine, Matteo Baronetto (Cracco, Milan, Italy) , who wowed the judges with his Crema Quemada al Aceite con Cañaillas (Crême Brûlée made with extra virgen olive and winkles, or sea snails) scented with vanilla. This sensational dish was presented in two artistic silver serving vessels, one resembling a tea steeper and holding the Crema Quemada, the other a scalloped silver dish holding butter-like ribbons of a creamy extra virgen olive oil that could have passed for butter except for their distinctive olive oil flavor.

The jury, an international panel that included Rafael García Santos, Cristino Álvarez (Spain), Duarte Calvao (Portugal), Licia Granello (Italy), Jean Paul Perez (Belgium), Bob Noto (Italy), Jacques Trefoir (Brazil) and myself, judged the creations on culinary virtuosity, imagination, originality, and aesthetics, as well as the techniques used in making each dish and on how the presence of extra virgen olive oil was handled by each chef. In all these dishes, there was a lightness and fresh, healthy flavors that would be hard, if not impossible, to achieve with animal fats, so good Spanish extra virgen olive oils have become essential to achieving this healthful effect in kitchens around the western world. Matto Baronetto was awarded the 18,000 Euro prize and a sculpture trophy designed by Jaén artist Antonio Blanca.

Surrounding this intensive star chef conference is a gastronomic fair featuring products from around Spain: Joselito and other hams from Guijuelo (Salamanca), the Dehesa de Extremadura and Jabugo; a daily walk around tasting of more than 100 wines from Navarra; a multitude of stands promoting Spanish foods–cheeses, paprika, olives, tinned seafood, etc.; cookbook publishers’ stands from Montagud, De Re Coquinaría and Everest; and, of course, Spain’s superb extra virgen olive oils. One of the most frequented stands was the “Jaén, Paraiso Interior” (Inland Paradise) pavilion itself, where there were daily guided tastings of the fine extra Virgen olive oils, sponsored by the Junta de Andalucía and the Diputación Provincial de Jaén, a province that is literally one vast picudo variety olive orchard. The olive orchards of Jaén are so vast in fact that the Spanish poet Manuel Machado (brother of Antonio Machado, one of Spain’s best known 20th Century poets), in his famous “Ode to Andalucía” described the province simply as “silvery Jaén” due to the fact that in the slightest breeze the olive trees provide a constant light show of the dark-green leaf tops of the olivares alternating with flashes of silvery grey from their flip sides.

The daily tastings, of some dozen different quality Jaén extra Virgen olive oils were led by Anunciación Carpio Dueñas, a biologist who specializes in olive oil. Sra. Carpio and Jesús Zafra Ocaña from the Tourism, Local Development and Sustainability office of the Diputación Provincial of Jaén set up and led me through a private tasting of ten high quality, mostly Picual variety-based extra virgen olive oils from their province.

Using a map to show me the location in Jaén province of each olive oil producer, they expertly explained each of the different extra virgen olive oils, which included the newly bottled Vadolivo Gran Selección Royal, a deep green-yellow, pungent, grassy, complex, silky oil made from the Royal olive variety in the wild game region of the Sierra de Cazorla; Eolea Zumo de Oliva (olive “juice”), a very pungent, grassy, piquant, almondy, full-bodied blend of Picual, Picudo and Arbequina olives grown around Mengíbar near the famous town of Bailén; Oro Bailén Reserva Familiar, a deep green and intensely aromatic (fresh cut grass, plantains) with pronounced, gutsy flavors of stone fruits, but with a smooth, silky feel on the palate and Ánima Áurea, a much lighter, more neutral flavored Picual and Arbequina blend, both from the immediate area of Bailén; and Tierras de Canena Escencia Milénario, a green-gold, finely aromatic, light, smooth, silky, balanced oil from the higher altitude Picual-based orchards near the monumental towns of Baeza and Úbeda in north-central Jaén.

From Escañuela, northwest of the capital, Jaén, the Cortijo de la Torre 100% Picual extra virgen olive oil was a pretty, deep green, had a pungent nose of fresh grass, green apples and green plantains, and was full of character with grassy, picante, almond and artichoke flavors that reached every corner of the mouth; from Torredonjimeno, just west of Jaén, Carmen Edición Limitada showed a lighter chartreuse color, had a ripe nose of apple and stone fruits and was very suave with only light bitterness and no picante flavors, which makes it ideal for dishes that call for a light olive oil flavor; from Pegalar, east of Jaén, Melgarejo Selección Gourmet was a pretty green-gold color, had a very clean nose with some typically grassy and appley aromas, and showed great structure, personality and balance with very pleasant grassy, bitter almond and olive flavors.

Two of the last oils came from the mountainous areas of northeastern Jaén province near La Puerta de Segura. Oro de Géave, which produces only 25.000 bottles of ecologically cultivated, unfiltered extra virgen olive oil was typically cloudy, had a nose of riper apple and was pungent with appley, bitter almond, picante flavors full of personality. Fuenroble, the Jaén oil with the greatest international distribution, comes from the Sierra de Segura National Park area. It had a deep green-chartreuse color, a nose with some grassiness, but more apple and green tomato and was very smooth and silky with complex, pleasing, apple, bitter almond and green tomato flavors.

I felt privileged to have been personally educated about the extra virgen olive oils of Jaén and the flavors of the Picual olive variety. Later on this same trip, at Adolfo Muñoz Tapas Bar in Toledo, right next to the Cathedral, I would get another impromptu tasting, this time with owner José I. Millán Valderrama, President of Valderrama, producer of extra virgen olive oils from orchards in Castilla La Mancha and Córdoba. And upon returning to New York, I was invited to come to the olive harvest at Beloyana in Córdoba and I still owe a visit to Extremadura to the estate of the Marqués de Valdueza, which produces oils with Arbequina, Picual, Hojiblanca and the rare Morisco olives.

I have a feeling that my education in the great extra virgen olive oils of Spain is just beginning.

–The End–


The next phase of my olive oil education produced this slide show on the tail-end of the olive harvest (la recogida) and Bailén de Oro olive oil mill (almazara) near Bailén in the Andalucian Jaén province with Anuncia Carpio and José Gálvez as my guides and luncheon hosts at the Resturante del Hotel Bailén (a former Parador de Turismo). Those of you who have ever driven through Jaén know that it is one huge olive orchard. Anuncia Carpio is emphatic in pointing out that "these photos are the last of the harvest, when the olives are too ripe (overripeness is something that doesn't stop many winemakers these days!) and most of them have fallen to the ground. The highest quality olive oils are extracted when the olives are green (during the first two weeks of November) and all of the fruit is taken directly from the trees."

Still, if you have never seen the olive harvest, even the end of la recogida is fascinating as I think you can see in the photographs in the following two slide shows.

(Double click on the image above for a large screen view

of my slide show on the fascinating harvest & milling process.)

After Jaén, I went on to take in another version of la recogida, this time with my old friend, Javier Hidalgo, owner of La Gitana Manzanilla (see COPA Jerez report and article on Manzanilla). We visited the Beloyana olive oil producing estate of Soledad Serrano near Espejo, a half hour southeast of Córdoba.

(Double click on the image above for a large screen view
of my slide show on the fascinating harvest & milling process.)

We spent the night at the Beloyana estate and my companion, Kay and I got a chance to go into Córdoba and arrived at the gates of La Mezquita just as the 5:30 bells were tolling. La Mezquita closes at six, but the security guards refused to let us in even for a quick look at it and closed the door in our faces, even after we told them that we had come to Córdoba especially for that. They were quite antipático in the bargain. These people live off tourism, but they seem to really dislike tourists, or what they think are tourists.

We strolled around the old quarter until it was time for the taberna/mesón of my old friend, Juan Peña, to open. Juan was not due until 10 p.m., but I had an employee call him and he soon appeared as did a selection of his incredible dishes, including the best salmorejo and berenjenas fritas (fried eggplant sticks) I have ever tasted. Juan makes a number of of salmorejos--his spectacularly good tomato-based one is the benchmark for this wonderful thick gazpacho-like dish that can be used like a sauce with his supernal fried eggplant. He also makes a green-and-white asparagus salmorejo and garnishes both with chopped Pedroches jamón Ibérico (a little-known, but now widely served ham from a mountain valley on the north side of the Sierra Morena mountains.

Stayed tuned for a slide show (coming soon) on la recogida at Soledad Serrano's Beloyana estate and the food at Mesón Juan Peña, one of the greatest tapas bars in Spain.

About the author

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Culinary Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain

Gerry Dawes can be reached at; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):


Towering Torres: Spain’s Mega Bodega is a Soaring Family-run Monument to Wine Quality Preparing for a Generational Changing of the Guard

* * * * *
Bodegas Miguel Torres, S. A., the 138-year Catalan bodega founded in 1870, has not only long been one of the most important and certainly the largest wineries in Spain, it has also consistently been one of the most quality oriented as well as one of the most innovative. Its 66-year old President and Managing Director, Miguel A.Torres Riera, whose family winemaking roots can be traced to the 17th century, is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most important wine visionaries. Torres, who studied enology and viticulture in Burgundy and Montpelier, has been responsible for introducing a number of technological and marketing advances into Spain. Through his leadership and his writings—he is the author of several books on the wines of Spain and Cataluña—over the past four decades, he has been one of Spain’s most influential forces in bringing the country’s winemaking and viticulture into the modern age.

Miguel Torres Riera

There is a long standing, widely believed myth about winemaking that plays on the “little old winemaker me” concept and says “the smaller, the better.” But, the truth is that there are great small wine producers and some very bad small wine producers and the inverse is true about large wine producers: there are some very ordinary-to-mediocre large producers and some producers who make a lot of wine at the highest levels of quality. There are many examples of size married to quality in the wine world: the Champagne houses of France such as Bollinger, Roederer and Pol Roger; the great Symington family port lodges in Oporto; the cava producers of Cataluña, especially Codorníu; the large Rioja bodegas CUNE, Marqués de Riscal, Marqués de Cáceres and Muga; the Sherry producers González Byass, Hidalgo and Osborne; and Robert Mondavi in California. But even in this privileged company, the Torres family winery operations, based in Cataluña, Spain just outside Barcelona in the Penedès wine region, stand out as one of the top mega size-quality marriages in the world.

In 2007, Bodegas Miguel Torres, billed some €200,000,000 in annual sales of wines from not only Penedès, but from the Catalan wine regions of Priorat, Conca de Barberà and Costers del Segre; from the Spanish regions of Ribera del Duero and La Rioja; and from California and Chile. The company prefers not to disclose annual case sales–“we don’t want consumers focuses on the number of boxes,” Miguel Torres Riera says--but the majority of the estimated millions of cases of wines Torres sells get excellent ratings at their respective price levels. And their top cuvees, including several single vineyard “finca” estate wines, including Milmanda (Chardonnay), Mas La Plana (Cabernet Sauvignon), Grans Muralles (five native varieties), Fransola ( Sauvignon Blanc), Mas Borràs (Pinot Noir) and Reserva Real (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) consistently rate at or near the top of their respective categories. The winery's new wines from Priorat, Salmos and Salmos Perpetual are already making their mark as some of the most elegant wines of the region. In fact for these top finca wines, Torres recently inaugurated their state-of-the-art showcase, €12,000,000 winery, Bodega Waltraud, named for Miguel Torres’s wife.

Torres Salmos & Salmos Perpetual

Remarkably, Torres accomplishes their quality goals without exaggerating current dubious “taste” parameters that call for overripe fruit, low acid, high alcohol and the horrid abuse of new oak that has become the dominate flavor in many high scoring modern wines. “We don’t follow these tendencies, Torres Riera says, “For us, the wood has to be in equilibrium with the wine, never as the dominant flavor factor, which has no place in our wines. Nor, for my palate, do I want wines that pass the 14% alcohol level and I certainly don’t want wines of 15-16%. That is not my idea of wine.”

In fact, the common thread that runs through all of Torres wines is not slavishness to a so-called “modern” taste profile, nor the sameness of a house style, but a method, an approach and a parameter of qualities and characteristics that they look for in each wine. Miguel Torres Riera explains, “Our finca wines are the result of many years of work, matching the right grapes to the right soil and climate and evolving a distinct style for each of the wines. And every wine has its own winemaker. We want tipicity, a wine that is typical of its region, soil, climate and terruño (terroir, or sense of place). In reds, the fruit should stand out, but it should be in harmony with the oak, and have round, smooth, not astringent tannins and whites should have the aromas of the fruit from which they came.”

This philosophy and quality orientation was an achievement that did not come easy. Miguel Torres Riera’s father ran Torres, then focused on the mass sales of the firm’s famous inexpensive red wine, Sangre de Toro, which became world-famous and instantly recognizable because of the little plastic fighting bull dangling from the neck of every bottle. Forget the play on the Hungarian Egri Bikaver name and the confusion with the black-red, powerful wines of Toro in Castilla-León, this Spanish “bull’s blood” was the engine pulling the whole Torres train. And padre Don Miguel Torres Carbó, who during the Spanish Civil War had his winery blown out from under him–along with one of history’s biggest wooden wine vats, big enough to hold a banquet for King Alfonso XIII inside. Don Miguel had painstakingly rebuilt his business and hit the international markets selling his Sangre de Toro around the world and was a no nonsense iron-fisted ruler of his little Catalan wine fiefdom.

As Miguel, Jr., as he was then called, came of age, studied enology in France and began to earn his wine spurs, he was often at loggerheads with his father as he tried to implement his ideas which would eventually modernize Torres, but more importantly, helped to modernize the entire Spanish wine industry. Young Torres’s ideas would include importing and planting foreign varietals, as their neighbor, expatriate Spaniard and Los Angeles restaurateur to the stars, Jean León, had already done in the 1960s, when he smuggled in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay vines, declaring at the border that the were to used to make lamp bases.

Convincing his father (and the rest of Spain for that matter) was no easy task, but young Miguel pushed ahead to put forward his ideas and gradually gained his father’s acquiescence with a series of successes, not the least of which was the triumph of his Cabernet Sauvignon-based Mas La Plana 1970 in a famous Gault-Millau Paris Wine Olympiad tasting in 1979 in which the Torres wine topped Château Latour and a number of famous châteaux. This tasting helped legitimize Miguel Torres Riera’s modernization efforts and bestowed world-wide fame and respect on him.

Torres Riera recalls what the Spanish wine scene was like during the 1970s, “In general, Spanish wines, including those in Cataluña, were being produced by barely adequate methods. Most of the wine produced in that period was destined for national markets; the great potential of export markets was just beginning to be understood. And the sales of Spanish wines sometimes suffered from boycotts because of the internal political situation during those years (the waning years of the Franco dictatorship). We were at the end of one epoch and at the threshold of another. However, by the end of the 1970s, modern technologies such as fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats began to be incorporated into Spanish winemaking. Because of our proximity to France and the open-mindedness of Catalan winemakers who saw that new winemaking technology could produce better wines and thus open more markets, the majority of technological advances during these years entered Spain through Cataluña, specifically in Penedès.”

Much of this modernization was possible because of the efforts and example of Miguel Torres Riera and it was not limited to technological advances and better winemaking techniques, Torres also recognized that the upward trajectory of the quality curve had to begin in the vineyards. “In the 1970s, the tendency of most producers was to work with high-yield grape varieties,” Torres recalls. “The concept of the pago (single vineyard) and terroir was almost non-existent. In Cataluña, we began to plant different varieties, including foreign grapes, which adapted well because of the diversity of micro-climates and difference in altitudes in the region. Little by little, new quality-oriented wines began to go well beyond what had been produced before.

Torres Vinoteca in Barcelona Displays the Broad Range of Torres Wines

Spain, which has been always the sleeping giant of the old world, has vineyard sites of great quality and an exceptional climate that permits grapes to ripen very naturally, which is to say that we have the best conditions for cultivating grapes and, thus, the potential for producing wines of very high quality. Spanish bodegas have made big investments in their vineyards and in new winemaking technology and our enologists are much better trained now, so we have seen significant improvements. Among Old World wine-producing countries, Spain has gained recognition for the quality of its wines. This is not a passing fad, it a trend that is here to stay.”

Looking back over his more than four decades of winemaking, Torres considers his achievements in the 1970s–leading the changes, innovation, trying to motivate his employees and Catalan and Spanish winemakers in general to make changes and introducing foreign varieties–to be among his greatest contributions to the world of Spanish winemaking. In the 1980s, as more modern techniques began to take hold, Torres continued trying to improve and evolve his wines by experimenting with recuperating ancient Catalan varieties, which he continues to research. This resulted in the development of one of the winery’s top red wines, Grans Muralles, a blend of five native varieties–Monastrell, Garnacha Tinta, Garró, Samsó and Cariñena--grown in slate soil on a single vineyard site in Conca de Barberà.

And, in the 1990s, Torres, who has never been an admirer of heavily oaked wines, began to focus on the quality of the wood in which his wines were aged. He began to work with used barrels, promoted contests for the best barrel producers, developed techniques to prevent bad barrels and employed infrared systems to detect and track the quality and origin of the oak. He has developed an ever-evolving system for oak aging his wines. He says, “Sometimes we age wines 6 months, 12 months, up to a maximum of 18 months. Wines like our top of the line Mas de la Plana and Grans Muralles are aged 18 months in new oak (which unlike some wineries is not in new virgin oak barrels that have not be properly seasoned before use). After the barrels are used for our top single vineyard wines, they go for the reservas, so a Gran Coronas (Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo), for example may only be 30% new oak. From ageing wines such as Gran Coronas and Gran Sangre de Toro (Garnacha and Cariñena), the barrels are used to age other wines and are used for six-to-seven years, then they are used to age our brandies.”

Still indefatigable in the twilight of his career as the Director of Torres, Miguel Torres is taking the lead and tackling yet another big challenge to wine in Spain (and elsewhere), climate change. “Climate change is what preoccupies me most. We are making changes and investing €10,000,000 to study what we need to do to deal with climate change. For instance, we are trying to delay maturation as much as we can, so we can take advantage of cooler nights later in September. Formerly, wanted to have the grapes mature as early as possible because of the possibility of rain, botrytis, mildiu, etc., but now we try to delay maturation through management of the leaf canopy, using good later maturing vine stock selection that can delay maturation almost two weeks more than standard ones. We leave more leaves instead of pulling them. We are paying more attention to finding higher altitude vineyards and planting them where there can be a degree or two of difference in temperature. One of our prime new sites is our high altitude Tremp Sant Miquel vineyard in the denominated region of Costers del Segre in Lleida province, located in the Catalan Pyrenees at an altitude of 850-1200 metres above sea level and among the highest vineyards in Spain. We have planted 132 hectares of Merlot and Chardonnay.”

So, why am I reviewing the career of Miguel Torres Riera? Because this man has had a monumental influence on the evolution and modernization of the Spanish wine industry, is a widely respected, revered and emulated figure in the world of Spanish wine and his reign as the king figure on the Spanish wine scene is drawing to a close just after the end of this decade. Now approaching the age of 67, Miguel Torres will step down when he reaches the family council mandated retirement age of 70 (his father ran the company until his death at 82). Miguel’s children, Miguel Torres Maczassek, and, with his sister Mireia, an enologist who is the technical director, are in line to take over the reins of the Torres empire in a generational changing of the guard. when their father reaches retirement age.

Miguel Torres Maczassek

I asked Miguel Torres Maczassek to reflect upon his and his sister’s planned ascension to leadership positions at Torres. “Both my sister and I have a great deal of illusion about the project, moving into leadership roles at Torres. Especially since there is a great difference between our generation and the third and fourth Torres winemaking generations of my grandfather and father. My father had big problems with his father, he was the patriarch and he wanted to control everything,” Torres said. “My father has learned to have confidence in us, his children, and he has permitted us to work as we see fit. He gives us some leeway with our projects. Sometimes we make mistakes, but we also get it right sometimes, too. But, we know that our father has a lot of experience, so we usually ask him what he thinks of something before going ahead. My sister and I have it very clear that we have to opt for high quality wines for the future and at the same time for the best possible value for our wines.”

Miguel Torres Maczassek, talking about the Torres winery’s size, philosophy and the generational changing of the guard in an interview with this writer in July at Monvinic wine bar in Barcelona, summing up “I would say that Torres is something quite special. There are other wineries around the world like the Rothschilds, the Drouhin family, and others who make somewhat less or more wine than we do, but this is not really the most important point. We only grow as a company when we are sure that we can control the quality and have the qualified people and quality control mechanisms in place to make good wines. If not, we will not grow just to be growing so we can be bigger. Our idea is to achieve growth correctly in the direction of higher quality.”

Torres Maczassek, who spent several years preparing by running Torres’s Jean León winery and then moving to the parent company to direct their marketing effort, when asked how he felt about filling his father’s formidable shoes, told me, “Of course I want to be the Director of Torres, but it is not enough just to want the job, you have to demonstrate that you can do the job well. It is planned for my sister and I to take over, but that will depend on the shareholders, all members of the family, who will have to approve us. I have three more years ahead to develop projects and continue preparing myself to handle the position. I have a lot ahead of me.”

By Gerry Dawes

About the author

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine.

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Culinary Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain

Gerry Dawes can be reached at; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):

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