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Kissing the Frogs

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so chef boy, please name the MANY GREAT american wines under $20. mr. camp has named 13 to support his stance. an almost ridiculous amount.

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I conducted a completely inadvertant, unscientific and unfair comparison this weekend that may be, nevertheless, supportive of Craig's thesis.

I dashed into one of DC's better wine shops Saturday night, looking for an under $20 Bordeaux-ish red to accompany what turned out to be overpriced and underperforming steaks. After hunting through the California section for a Cabernet or, better yet, a Cabernet with a splash of Merlot (the Bordeaux at this place tend to start at $50 and go from there,so I went Cali). There were a lot of labels I recognized as decent - I drink Hess and I'm not ashamed -- but nothing inspired me and I grabbed a $17 bottle of Clos du Bois Cab and headed towards the door. And then I saw a bin of Chateau les Grands Marechaux, a Merlot-heavy Bordeax Cotes de Blaye (an appellation I confess I'd never heard of) with a nice blurb from the Wine Advocate posted above it. What the hell. It was a little light for what I wanted, more Merlot than the Cab I was craving, but it opened up really well and, after an hour was aq damn elegant little bottle of $12.99 wine. You know, not perfect, but it kind of made you feel like you'd made a discovery.

Today, I dashed into a corner grocery looking for a bottle of red and grabbed a "Twin Fin" California Cab. What a mistake -- what a waste of $10. And as I flipped through today's posts and came across this thread, it occurred to me that, whatever may be going on out west, there are absolutely zero California wines available in DC for under $20 that aren't huge production, marketing-driven nonentities. But I can still stumble across a wine like Grands Marechaux heaped under a hand-lettered sign, for less than fifteen bucks, and have one of those moments where you look up and say, "not freakin' bad," and make a mental note to buy more.

Point to the French.

(In fairness, I had a $50 [restaurant price] Gigondas Friday night that utterly sucked, so I am under no illusion that the French are perfect).


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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(In fairness, I had a $50 [restaurant price] Gigondas Friday night that utterly sucked, so I am under no illusion that the French are perfect).

In fairness between all the middle men mark-ups that wasn't such an expensive wine at the beginning. :raz:

Still cheaper than a trip to France to avoid the middle men markups.

Brilliant piece Craig! :smile:


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Craig, I really like your piece and your tasting notes. If this had been posted to the Wine board, I might have missed it, so I'm glad it was a Daily Gullet article. This is information I can use.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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it's almost impossible to find great french wine under $20 in bordeaux, burgundy, alsace, or rhone.  there are tons, yes, but it takes hard work.

most beaujolais are crap.  most cote du rhone are crap.  but there are some really wonderful ones out there.  and muscadet? are you nuts?  talk about all wines that taste the same....most muscadet tastes the same.  That's why they are all $12.

I think if you had one of the ten beaujolais crus like those from Morgon, Chiroubles, Chénas etc you might change your mind. I recently went to a beaujolais tasting and tasted some pretty amazing wines, however I dont know if you can find them in the US. I would asume that many French wines never make it to the US market. Look for Christian Bernard, La Chaponne, Jean Foillard, Janin, Marcel Lapierre, Thivin. The key is to find a wine store that you trust. Of course there is crappy French wine out there, but I go to a small shop where I know they really care about wine and I can find great everyday drinking wines for less than 10€.

And thanks Craig for a great piece!


www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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In fairness to Craig, the thought behind the original post was a good one, I think.

First, as one poster notes there are no "great" wines for under twenty dollars a bottle.

Using most people's criteria for "great" it would be unlikely that the term could be applied to very many wines under thirty or forty dollars these days.

For the discussion at hand, let's say we are looking for the best wines available for under twenty--most would agree that there are many wines that are well made and appealing to most at this price point.

Second, to make a good wine that will sell for under twenty dollars means that economics comes into play. While the French are up against the costs added to imports in this country (and other countries to which they would export their wines) so too domestic wine makers are up against the high cost of real estate and the overhead to establish a wine making operation.

To simplify, it is not easy to make a "hand crafted" artisinal wine anywhere in the world and sell it for under twenty dollars--anywhere.

As for generalizations. There are a lot of well made wines available for under twenty dollars from many places around the world in many styles. Beyond this, one gets onto shaky ground.

Whether or not one prefers a Sancerre to a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand dep-ends upon the specific wines in question and the person making the judgment.

To suggest that the Sancerre is a better wine than the S.B. simply because it is from Sancerre is dependent upon how much one prizes the source of a wine as indicative of its quality.

So too, lumping all New Zealand SB's into one qualitative category for the purpose of comparing it or worse, denigrating the wines, is no more valid than making an assertion that all Sancerres are better simply because they come from a certain place.

To say that Australian wines should be lumped together as the same syrupy wines with differing labels doesn't IMOP, help the advocacy of French wines of any provenance.

I agree with Craig that there are many interesting wine values from France. he notes a number of importers one can turn to in search of some of these wines, a great idea.

Beyond this, I can not agree. The original post takes a political tack using notions of terroir and the AOC system to elevate these wines. I would argue that these wines need to stand on their own in the market place for what they deliver to consumers faced with an ever increasing array of wines from many varietals and places around the world.

I would simply recommend that folks try the wines Craig notes-especially from the importers listed-- because most of them are well made and quite good and worthy of any wine drinker's attention.

Not because they are markedly better than wines from other places. Worse, I would not put down other wines in service of my case.

To use flawed concepts or rating/classification systems also invites debate and detracts from the fact that a well made Loire Red or white or a Cotes Du Rhone can be a pleasure to drink--and pretty inexpensive!

Why should one not be able to enjoy an Australian Shiraz and a French wine for what they offer in the glass rather than how they conform to one side of a debate or another.

Old World/New World--how about One World!

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In particular, there is too much uniformity:  For something analogous, once for a musician friend I played a few seconds of a record and right away he said with high contempt "Hollywood movie music".  He was correct!  Well, I believe my experience was, for these wines, France or CA right away, no question.

Well there it is, great analogy. The uniformity is a big issue with new world wines and makes them less interesting.

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For another question, since you are now growing wine in Oregon, are you starting with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon and doing well approximating the French versions [1], [2], or [3]?  If not, why not?  If so, how?

Oregon as a wine growing region is still in its infancy - if growing up fast. That's why I'm here as the excitement of discovery in such a young region is an amazing experience.

We are focused on the pinot family - noir, gris and blanc. We are not seeking to copy France, but use them as inspiration and a sense of what is possible. Our goal must be to develop our own style and character and most of all a sense of Willamette Valley terroir.

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I conducted a completely inadvertant, unscientific and unfair comparison this weekend that may be, nevertheless, supportive of Craig's thesis.

I dashed into one of DC's better wine shops Saturday night, looking for an under $20 Bordeaux-ish red to accompany what turned out to be overpriced and underperforming steaks.  After hunting through the California section for a Cabernet or, better yet, a Cabernet with a splash of Merlot (the Bordeaux at this place tend to start at $50 and go from there,so I went Cali).  There were a lot of labels I recognized as decent - I drink Hess and I'm not ashamed -- but nothing inspired me and I grabbed a $17 bottle of Clos du Bois Cab and headed towards the door.  And then I saw a bin of Chateau les Grands Marechaux, a Merlot-heavy Bordeax Cotes de Blaye (an appellation I confess I'd never heard of) with a nice blurb from the Wine Advocate posted above it.  What the hell.  It was a little light for what I wanted, more Merlot than the Cab I was craving, but it opened up really well and, after an hour was aq damn elegant little bottle of $12.99 wine.  You know, not perfect, but it kind of made you feel like you'd made a discovery.

Today, I dashed into a corner grocery looking for a bottle of red and grabbed a "Twin Fin" California Cab.  What a mistake -- what a waste of $10.  And as I flipped through today's posts and came across this thread, it occurred to me that, whatever may be going on out west, there are absolutely zero California wines available in DC for under $20 that aren't huge production, marketing-driven nonentities.    But I can still stumble across a wine like Grands Marechaux heaped under a hand-lettered sign, for less than fifteen bucks, and have one of those moments where you look up and say, "not freakin' bad," and make a mental note to buy more. 

Point to  the French.

(In fairness, I had a $50 [restaurant price] Gigondas Friday night that utterly sucked, so I am under no illusion that the French are perfect).

Clos du Bois and Hess are good examples of clean corporate winemaking. They won't offend, but they also never excite.

Bordeaux produces huge amounts of wine and many good values, but then you have to like the lean, angular character of real Bordeaux, just like the Chateau les Grands Marechaux. If you like a more balanced, elegant wine with a complexity that grows rather than flatlines Bordeaux is full of bargains.

As far a as Twin Fin, cute labels and funky names are to be approched with caution these days. There are some lovely Australians with cute names, but from the USA beware.

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(In fairness, I had a $50 [restaurant price] Gigondas Friday night that utterly sucked, so I am under no illusion that the French are perfect).

Was it a 2003 by any chance? While there are a lot of good buys in the very low in of the market from the hot 2003 vintage in the Rhone, a lot of the more expensive wines (from better vineyards) were over the top.

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Some Bordeaux bargains...

Saint Estephe, Château Haut Baradieu, 2003

A refined, classically styled Bordeaux for drinking now and over the next several years. As befitting a St. Estephe, this is a real cabernet in style with plenty of herbs and spice that overlay the lovely, but appropriately lean fruit. If you’re wondering what a Haut Medoc Bordeaux is supposed to taste like but don’t want to break the bank this is a very nice wine. Think lamb chops.

Château Puy Arnaud, Côtes de Castillion, 2003

The heat of 2003 was certainly a great year for Bordeaux’s lesser Chateaux and this very nice wine is one of the better values of the vintage. With a structure and aromatic profile that could be nothing but a Bordeaux, this nice wine is sure to please the true Bordeaux lover. Drink over the next 2 to 3 years to take full advantage of the lovely fruit.

Domaine de Valmengaux, 2003, Bordeaux AOC

Brilliant rich ruby. Ripe and velvety on the nose with a lush forwardness marked by touches of cabernet/merlot mint and herbs. Round and smooth on the palate with an excellent balance and a structure that carries the forward fruit on a firm backbone. The very round but still apparent tannins show themselves in a lovely finish. A modern style Bordeaux that does not forget its roots. Well worth the $25 price tag with a complexity and structure you will be hard pressed to find in new world cabernet/merlot at this price range. Drink over the next five years.

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and a few more from other regions...

Clos de la Vierge, Jurancon Sec, 2004

Man this is a nice wine to drink. Zesty yet substantial, rich but firm. Brilliantly alive throughout, layers of fresh lime blended with creme brulee all tied into a mouthwatering package dying for some really great seafood makes this a wine not to be missed. It's an under $20 bargain besides. If you like your wines with a lot of backbone, but not just simple acid bombs - this wine is for you.

Cahors, Chateau Vent d'Autan, Anne Godin, 1999

What is this 1999 Cahors still doing around the market? A very good wine offering earthy, black tea laden fruit. Medium body, but plenty rich enough. Good balanced finish. A very nice wine at $15.

Château Beaulieu, Cuvée Bérengère, Coteaux d’Aix in Provence, 2003

Now here is a big, complex wine that will should convince a lot of people they are wasting a lot of money on big name Bordeaux and California Cabernet. Deeply complex and powerful with layers of oak that somehow seems to not overpower the intense fruit. A great wine that will be ignored by most of the people that would love it. Next time you grill a big steak grab this bottle, although it will be much more interesting in about five years. Potentially a very serious wine.

Chinon, Charles Joguet, Cuvee Terroir, 2003

A bottle full of easy charm here. Brilliantly fruity and alive. This is a wine not about complexity, but about the seductive fruit flavors and aromas and mouthwatering juicy character. What a great food wine. While this is not a wine defined by complexity, there are more than enough layers to keep any wine geek happy. A buy-by-the case wine at $17.

Muscadet, Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Chateau de l’Aiguillette, 1995, eleve sur lie

Only a faint hint of older gold shines in the brilliant fresh straw yellow color. On the nose it is expansive yet firm, showing dense mineral highlights over fresh honeysuckle and red apples with cinnamon. Rich, yet zesty and alive on the palate with a finish that evolves into layer after layer of complexity for those paying attention. Yes, this is a current release selling for under $20.

Touraine, Clos Roche Blanche, Cuvee Pif, 2004

An explosively attractive blend of cot (malbec) and cabernet franc, this wine is addictive it its pure charm. High on the list of perfect everyday wines, it goes far beyond this as it also offers plenty of complexity along with its fruity charms. This wine sends your saliva glands into high gear. Drink as soon as you can and buy cases of this pleasure

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First, as one poster notes there are no "great" wines for under twenty dollars a bottle.

Using most people's criteria for "great" it would be unlikely that the term could be applied to very many wines under thirty or forty dollars these days.

That is simply untrue. Maybe it's true if your definition of "great" means over-priced, over-oaked, over-extracted, over-manipulated, over-pointed and over-rated. There are many great wines out there that don't meet this criteria. Big wine + Big Prices = Great Wine is one of the big lies propagated by the industrial wines producers as these are things they can manipulate. They have proven it is easy to manipulate wine, media and consumers. If that is your definition of great so be it, it's not mine.


Edited by Craig Camp (log)

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First, as one poster notes there are no "great" wines for under twenty dollars a bottle.

Using most people's criteria for "great" it would be unlikely that the term could be applied to very many wines under thirty or forty dollars these days.

That is simply untrue. Maybe it's true if your definition of "great" means over-priced, over-oaked, over-extracted, over-manipulated, over-pointed and over-rated. There are many great wines out there that don't meet this criteria. Big wine + Big Prices = Great Wine is one of the big lies propagated by the industrial wines producers as these are things they can manipulate. They have proven it is easy to manipulate wine, media and consumers. If that is your definition of great so be it, it's not mine.

Craig

My definition of great is simple--I reserve it for wines that transcend everyday drinking pleasures.

Great? 1947 Cheval Blanc, 1951 La Tache etc etc etc 1982 Margaux. 1990 Dom Perignon.....

It is hard to see how a truly great wine could be produced for under twenty dollars given the expense and effort involved. That's all I am saying. Try to find a great pinot noir for under twenty dollars regardless of style of the wine--even the french have determined this by establishing a hierarchy--any grand cru wines available for twenty bucks???

You clearly have some sort of ax to grind.

I never mentioned oak or extraction. You seem to fixate on these things. We can certainly disagree on what specific wines we would call great (or good or very good). Everyone's list of top ten will be somewhat different.

Instead of recommending some worthy wines on the basis of their merits, you seem to feel the need to make a political statement.

I feel this slights the wines you are touting which are worthy of tasting attention.

One can (and should) be able to talk about the benefits of, say, a well made Sancerre without stereotyping and trashing another wine concluding--the Sancerre is good because it is not....

There are many styles of wine produced even within an area like the Loire one may prefer a certain style over another that's called choice. The wine lover who realizes this and tries many different styles will benefit.

:smile:

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My definition of great is simple--I reserve it for wines that transcend everyday drinking pleasures.

Great? 1947 Cheval Blanc, 1951 La Tache etc etc etc 1982 Margaux. 1990 Dom Perignon.....

Wow! You certainly drink better than the rest of us. Please share your tasting notes with us so we can at least drink vicariously though you.

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There are many styles of wine produced even within an area like the Loire one may prefer a certain style over another that's called choice. The wine lover who realizes this and tries many different styles will benefit.

:smile:

I'm glad you see the point of the article. Wine lovers should try many different wines, but unfortunately they don't and are rarely given the chance by most wholesalers, retailers and restaurants.

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Craig's original point re: the difficulties of small producers in the U.S. was a good one, imho.

for example, there are several small producers in the North Fork of Long Island. some of them make quite decent bottles in the $40 range (unfortunately, they're blown away by some of their $40 competition from elsewhere).

unfortunately, although they do make bottles in the $10-25 range...I've never tasted one that wasn't swill.

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There are many styles of wine produced even within an area like the Loire one may prefer a certain style over another that's called choice. The wine lover who realizes this and tries many different styles will benefit.

:smile:

I'm glad you see the point of the article. Wine lovers should try many different wines, but unfortunately they don't and are rarely given the chance by most wholesalers, retailers and restaurants.

I do! I do!

(see the point)

By the way my definition of "great" is based on having been lucky enough to

taste many great wines (I am certainly not sitting on a cellar full of them!).

My point was--there are some wines that achieve a greatness and help set a standard.

Here in New York there are regular tastings where for a few hundred dollars one can taste

some of the truly great wines ever made.

Thankfully there are many very fine wines that are within most people's reach and certainly many many very good wines that are downright inexpensive.

you are right to point up many wines you like in this category here.

I am not as pessimistic as you seem to be. Importers and restaurants and retailers are

coming around and are looking for interesting wines at all price levels. I would guess that most major metropolitan areas are seeing a wider selection of wines as they become available.

It takes time.

Most of all--the wines are better--more cleanly made and viniculture is progressing to the point where there are fewer bad vintages.

No one would argue for over oaked wines any more than one would argue for a highly acid wine.

Yet it is important to note that people have varying degrees of tolerance for oak and acidity.

The truth is there are many wines that do use too much oak and there are many wines that are too acidic.

Bad and good wines come from everywhere wine is made.

I refuse see the wine world as a zero sum game--let's celebrate the good wines wherever they come from and how ever much they cost.

(a good wine at a nice price does deserve special recognition!)

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Craig's original point re: the difficulties of small producers in the U.S. was a good one, imho.

for example, there are several small producers in the North Fork of Long Island.  some of them make quite decent bottles in the $40 range (unfortunately, they're blown away by some of their $40 competition from elsewhere).

unfortunately, although they do make bottles in the $10-25 range...I've never tasted one that wasn't swill.

I disagree.

The French have just as many difficulties in making inexpensive wine as do

wine makers anywhere. The specific nature and degree of those difficulties will vary.

Comparing France to LI is not very valid, in fact, comparing France to the entire US is shaky at best.

France produces more than double the amount of wine we do, their wine making history goes back way farther than ours.

I would argue that while both France and the US do a nice job at the under twenty price point; it is at the very top levels where France outdoes us (maybe the world) overall.

Craig is pointing up some nice wines from France at under twenty dollars that are certainly deserving of consumers attention. I prefer to leave it at that! I don't see any point in making some sort of contest out of it.

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however john, the main difference between france and us wine production must be distribution channels. from what i understand getting your wine distributed nationally in the us is very difficult for small producers.

also, the french (italians too, maybe) are much more regional in their wine consumption. you don't see much chinon being sold in burgundy, etc.

so i guess what i'm saying is smaller producers in france probably are able to sell their product with less obstacles than the us producer of similiar size.the chinon producer can get his wines into grocery stores and local restaurants were locals and tourists will expect to see them. in the us a long island producer, for example, probably can't rely on a local restaurant as an outlet because most americans are going to want the the big name napa, french and italian wines. and they certainly can not get their wines into grocery stores.

these are just some observations i've made.

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i would really be appreciative of a list of nice (john's word)/ great (chefboys word) american wines under $20.

my request is sincere, i am not trying to be argumentative or create some sort of competition here. i just am not aware of many inexpensive american wines.

and while we are at it, how about good american wines under $15 a bottle?

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however john, the main difference between france and us wine production must be distribution channels. from what i understand getting your wine distributed nationally in the us is very difficult for  small producers.

also, the french (italians too, maybe) are much more regional in their wine consumption. you don't see much chinon being sold in burgundy, etc.

so i guess what i'm saying is smaller producers in france probably are able to sell their product with less obstacles than the us producer of similiar size.the chinon producer can get his wines into grocery stores and local restaurants were locals and tourists will expect to see them. in the us a long island producer, for example, probably can't rely on a local restaurant as an outlet because most americans are going to want the the big name napa, french and italian wines. and they certainly can not get their wines into grocery stores.

these are just some observations i've made.

That Chinon producer can also sell their wines directly to any consumer, retailer, wholesaler or restaurant in every country in the European Union with no additional paperwork or taxes. That's a huge advantage.


Edited by Craig Camp (log)

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I would argue that while both France and the US do a nice job at the under twenty price point; it is at the very top levels where France outdoes us (maybe the world) overall.

I would argue exactly the opposite. At the top end of the spectrum there are stunning wines being made throughout the world that equal the most famous French wines. It is at the lower price ranges where we are getting blown away by the French, Italians, Spanish, Germans and Austrians.


Edited by Craig Camp (log)

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I would argue that while both France and the US do a nice job at the under twenty price point; it is at the very top levels where France outdoes us (maybe the world) overall.

I would argue exactly the opposite. At the top end of the spectrum there are stunning wines being made throughout the world that equal the most famous French wines. It is at the lower price ranges where we are getting blown away by the French, Italians, Spanish, Germans and Austrians.

There you go again!

"Blown away"?????

The French produce more great

1--pinot Noirs

2--cabernets

3--merlots

4--chenin blancs

5--Syrahs

6--sauvignon blancs

7--chardonnays

than any other countries. other countries do produce world class wines no argument-- but right now France continues to lead the way with what they have accomplished with the very top level of wines from these major varietals one can easily say they set a standard.

as for the inexpensive wines?

we can argue this one forever. as I suspected, you are attempting to take a side in the old world vs new world argument --this isn't really about France (is it?) or interesting wines. It is about attempting to make a case that doesn't hold much water (or wine).

Who really cares?

There is plenty of good wine from all over the world.

It is Europe that is having to change their vin and viticulture. It is Europe that

has the most serious problem selling their wines on the world market that has the most

difficulty competing at the lower price levels--I wonder why?

They have no problem selling their high end stuff.--I wonder why?

It is the Europeans themselves who are pulling up vines and destroying the inexpensive wines they can't sell to anyone (even themselves).

Want lots of New World recommendations? Just go back to the web site you recommended.

You yourself noted that France leads the way with higher end wines--read your original post!

I happen to enjoy lots of inexpensive wines from France and other countries.

Considering that France and Italy produce about six timers the amount of wine from hundreds more varietals than the US does it is suprising that they can't do even better!

Truth is the Europeans have their set of problems to overcome and other countries have theirs is this about world dominence in wine?

what foolishness!

So they are "blowin" who away--the US, Australia, Chile? who?

By what criteria?

Total gallons?

Number of types of wines?

Quality? (please define this one for me)

who cares?

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So they are "blowin" who away--the US, Australia, Chile? who?

By what criteria?

who cares?

1. yes

2. mine

3. apparently you


Edited by Craig Camp (log)

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