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Few Last Words About Washington Wines

November 5, 2014 9 comments

All the good things come to an end – so did my trip to Washington and the series of the blog posts about Woodinville wineries (if you missed the series, here is the link to the first, “MWWC-award-winning” 🙂 post – you can explore it from there).

What is my main outcome of that trip? First, at the “duh”  level – great wines are made in the state of Washington. Yes, yes, I understand how pathetic this revelation is. However, outside of Chateau Ste. Michele, Columbia Crest and may be  Cayuse and Quilceda Creek, how many Washington wineries can you name if put on the spot? Meanwhile, the wines I tasted in Woodinville, where literally one better than another. When it comes to the focused winery visits and large tastings, I do have a bit of experience – 7 wineries, about 40 wines, and not a single wine wine I really didn’t care for? That is a serious result in my book. Couple that with most of the wines reasonable priced in the $25 – $50 range, and the picture gets even better. Spectacular Bordeaux blends with such elegance and finesse – these Washington wines definitely worth seeking out. Well, today you would have to mostly travel to the area if you want to experience the wines – but this is the only problem you might have with the wines. Bottom line – I was very happy with my discovery of Woodinville and its wineries, and in the words of the Terminator, “I’ll be back”.

So you think we are done here? Nope. I still have a few more Washington wines to mention – thanks to Vino Volo. I wrote about Vino Volo a number of times in the past – the company manages wine bars in [mostly] various airports around US and Canada. While good wine at the airport is the most welcome development of the past 5 or so years of the flying experience, my favorite part about Vino Volo is that whenever possible, the bars offer tasting flights of local wines – you should expect to find Texas wines in Austin, California wines in San Francisco and of course, Washington wines in Seattle!

I had about 2 hours before my flight back to New York, and when I saw the Vino Volo sign, that was a happy “Yes!” moment. A number ofthe Washington wine flights were offered, but when I saw the one with Leonetti Cellars Cabernet, I had to go for it – I only heard the name before and they considered to be an excellent producer, so I was definitely curious.

Washington Cabernet Flioght at Vino Volo in seattle

The flight consisted of 3 different Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Washington.

Washington Cabernet description at Vino Volo

Here are my notes:

2010 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Walla Walla Valley – Raspberries and blackberries on the nose. On the palate, great depth, cassis, blackberries, pencil shavings, medium to full body, sweet tannins, elegant. Drinkability: 7+/8-

2011 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – herbal nose with sage and lavender, touch of cassis. On the palate – dark chocolate, earthiness, nice mineral profile, good acidity, elegant. Drinkability: 8-

2011 Leonetti Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley – Rich and concentrated nose, with the hint of forest floor, herbs, eucalyptus and great complexity. On the palate – round, spectacular, herbal profile with nutty aftertaste, more eucalyptus, long finish. Drinkability: 8+

Well, now it is the time to conclude the series for real. What can I tell you? If you are looking for the great wine experiences, put state of Washington, and Woodinville in particular, on the top of your  list. For those of you who can experience the Woodinville wines and wineries at any time – lucky you. For the rest of us? Well, at least we know where to find them. Cheers!

Woodinville Wineries: Mark Ryan Winery

November 2, 2014 13 comments

Mark Ryan Long Haul BoxesThis post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation Cellars, Pondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars, Sparkman Cellars, Guardian Cellars and Fidélitas.

…walked towards the tasting counter, only to find out that the tasting room was closed for the day. I was told that there will be a special event in the tasting room, and they have to close earlier to prepare for that event, and unfortunately, I would have to come back to taste their wines. The tasting room itself looked very appealing, with the large format wines and wooden crates (the visual aspect of the “wineappeal” is so fascinating), I was really disappointed with the prospect of just walking away and finishing the great day on such a low note, especially after a so-so tasting at Fidélitas. So I used my last resort  – I explained that I’m a blogger, and that I traveled from another coast, and it would not be possible for me to returned for the tasting any time soon. It worked! I was told that if I don’t mind sitting outside at the table, they will be glad to bring me all the wines to taste – but of course, thank you very much!

At Mark Ryan Winery

Tasting Room at Mark Ryan winery – aren’t does bottles look great?

The weather was beautiful ( it was not even raining! :)), and tasting outside was just an excellent proposition. The first wine which was brought to the table was  2013 Mark Ryan Viognier Columbia Valley (100% Viognier). I’m generally a bit worrying about Viognier wines – when they are good, they are absolutely spectacular in all aspects, from nose and the taste to the mouthfeel and the body. But when they are bad, they can be really daunting. Starting form the nose, Mark Ryan Viognier was spectacular – perfumy nose, perfect acidity, creamy mouthfeel, excellent balance and overall delicious. An interesting fact – this wine was partially aged in the concrete egg, which, according to the winery description, enhances the texture. I concur. Drinkability: 8.

The next wine was 2012 Mark Ryan NumbSkull GSM Walla Walla (58% Syrah, 26% Grenache, 16% Mourvedre) – beautiful ruby color, open nose of fresh berries (mourvedre dominated), blackberries, raspberries, thyme, earthiness – another delicious wine. Drinkability: 8

2012 Mark Ryan The Dissident Columbia Valley (54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot) – cassis all the way! Texturally very present (my original note says “phenomenal texture”, but I don’t think “phenomenal” would be a universally recognized descriptor), round, clean and delicious. Drinkability: 9-

2012 Mark Ryan Long Haul Red Mountain (49% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) – cassis again! Hint of green bell pepper, noticeable tannins, nice herbal component, round and delicious. Drinkability: 8+

2012 Mark Ryan Dead Horse Red Mountain (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot) – wow! Dusty tannins, cassis, big body, eucalyptus, delicious by all means. Drinkability: 9-

I guess you can tell that this was one exciting tasting – from my experience, this is quite a rare occasion when all the wines in the tasting are literally one better than the other. This was the second winery where I just had to buy the wine (got a bottle of NumbSkull and The Dissident). I’m really thankful to the kind folks at the Mark Ryan for being able to accommodate me despite their prepping for a special event – and I’m glad to be able to finish the day on such a high note.

This post essentially concludes the series about my short 3-hours run around the Woodinville wineries, but before I left the state of Washington, I had an opportunity to taste a few more interesting wines – we will talk about them in the next post.

To be concluded…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Fidélitas

October 27, 2014 9 comments

Fidelitas winery This post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation Cellars, Pondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars, Sparkman Cellars and Guardian Cellars.

… and I arrived at a small shopping plaza (also known as strip mall in some part of US), only with wineries instead of shops. I decided to start with Fidélitas, which had a bright and shiny sign and was one of the two wineries recommended by Randy at Sparkman cellars. The tasting room was similarly busy (not!) as all the previous ones – a few people at the counter, and that is about it. I introduced myself to the girl at the counter, explained that I’m a blogger and asked if I can have a complementary tasting (the exact same thing which I did at 5 previous wineries). The reaction on girl’s face was rather resembling a consequences of an unexpected bite into a lemon. She was equally not moved with my business card (no, I was not expecting a bow or applause, but at least may be a mild interest I had at the other wineries?), and she sternly explained that free tasting is granted only to visiting winemakers; she will do it for me, but only as a big exception, and if I will come again, it will not be free anymore (please understand – we are talking about ten dollars).

I think this “warm welcome” affected the way I perceived the wines. Randy mentioned that Fidelitas makes big wines – and while the wines were good, they were not the big wines I was expecting. Here is what I tasted:

2013 Fidelitas Klipsum Vineyard Semillon Red Mountain – Nice, clean fruit, sweet nose, dry on the palate. Drinkability: 7

2011 Fidelitas Malbec Columbia Valley – cut through acidity, a food wine. Drinkability: 7

2011 Fidelitas Boushey Vineyard Red Wine Yakima Valley (48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc) – Excellent, clean, Bordeaux style. Drinkability: 8-

Fidelitas wines

2010 Fidelitas Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain (92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Verdot) – powerful over the top tannins, clean and round, Bordeaux style. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Fidelitas Champoux Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills – forthcoming tannins, nice, good acidity. Drinkability: 7+

I spent less than 15 minutes at Fidelitas. After a leisurely 15 seconds walk,  I arrived at my last winery of the day, Mark Ryan. I opened the door and walked towards the tasting counter, only to find out that…

To be continued…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Guardian Cellars

October 23, 2014 8 comments

Guardian Cellars Felony Uusal Suspects Wine ClubThis post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation Cellars, Pondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars and Sparkman Cellars.

Coming out of the Sparkman Cellars, I had my new targets set, and they were outside of the industrial park area. Walking past the open door on the way to my car, I heard the inner voice saying “we must go there”. I don’t know what exactly attracted that inner voice thingy, may be just the name “Guardian”, but I decided not to argue and stepped in. Boy, was I in for the lots of fun!

I was greeted by cheerful and smiling Jennifer, and had the first wine poured – 2013 Guardian Cellars Entrapment Chardonnay. From the get go, this was a delicious wine – chablis-like nose with the hint of gunflint and minerality,  round, powerful, medium to full body and perfect vanilla profile. It’s been a while since I had such a beautiful rendition of Chardonnay. Drinkability: 8

There were two more people in the tasting room (I think I was lucky with the football game happening at the same time, so it definitely lead to the reduced audience at the wineries). The TV screen behind the counter was running a slide show, and Jennifer started commenting on the pictures, telling the story of the winery bit by bit. By pure chance, Jerry Riener (who works as a police officer) one day stopped by the winery, and got fascinated with all the shiny stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. Next time, he offered his help (as a volunteer, of course) at the vineyard during the harvest, and little by little became an indispensable member of the team. This passion fully materialized when Jerry started The Guardian Cellars, which he owns together with his wife Jennifer Sullivan, who also has a full time job as a journalist for The Seattle Times. I can tell you, when you look at the winery and especially after you taste the wines, this passion comes through as something incredible. And to top it of, just look at the names of the wines – Entrapment, Confidential Source, Gun Metal – the pure ingenuity of all those names left me almost speechless. How about “Usual Suspects” as the name of the wine club, huh? Anyone remembers the movie?

I hope I managed to convey my general excitement – what is great is that it was not just the story and creative names of the wines – what was inside the bottles definitely was better than the thousands of words. Here are my notes:

2011 Guardian Cellars Chalk Line Columbia Valley (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot) – nice, clean and simple. Looking at the list of grapes used in this wine, it is quite an eclectic mix – but it worked. Drinkability: 7+

2011 Guardian Cellars Confidential Source Columbia Valley (100% Merlot) – Clean Bordeaux notes, light, round, multilayered – it starts simple, and the depth comes back later. Drinkability: 7+

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2011 Guardian Cellars Gun Metal Columbia Valley (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) – delicious! Great texture, perfect concentration, round, smooth – a pleasure in every sip. Drinkability: 8

2011 Guardian Cellars The Informant Syrah Wahluke Slope (Syrah with a splash of Viognier) – an exemplary cool climate Syrah specimen. Dark roasted fruit, spices, pepper, very elegant and excellent overall. This wine broke my resistance – I just felt that I must get a few bottles. Excellent overall. Drinkability: 8

2011 Guardian Cellars The Rookie Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain (Klipsun, Obelisco and Ceil du Cheval vineyards) – perfection in the glass. Round, restrained, medium to full body, good mid-palate weight, an excellent aging potential. Impeccable balance. Drinkability: 8

I was very happy I listened to my inner voice and entered the doors of the Guardian Cellars – it resulted in a great encounter with passion, and I discovered delicious wines, which became very handy during one of the restaurant visits ( I think we depleted their whole supply of Guardian Cellars wines).

Finally, it was the time to say good bye to the industrial park wineries and visit those recommended by Randy at the Sparkman Cellars, as I had less than an hour left before 5 PM – time when most tasting rooms are closing. Short 7 minutes drive and I was …

To be continued…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Sparkman Cellars

October 20, 2014 11 comments
Sparkman Cellars vine root

A root of the vine on the wall at Sparkman Cellars

This post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation Cellars, Pondera Winery and Des Voigne Cellars.

… and I walked into the winery called Sparkman Cellars. From all the wineries I visited in Woodinville, this was the only winery which was on my original list. It was also mentioned by someone at one of the previous wineries as the place to visit.

I barely finished explaining to Randy, a gentleman at the tasting counter, that I’m a wine blogger and I would like to taste through the wines, as I was literally attacked by one of the two women standing at the same counter. “Where are you from?”, she said, quite demanding. “Stamford, Connecticut”, I said, hoping we are done with the subject. She gave me a big understanding smile and said again “no, where are you from, REALLY?”. I generally don’t have a problem explaining to people that they hear a Russian accent, but this time around I was simply annoyed at the intensity of this inquiry, so I sternly repeated my answer “Stamford, Connecticut”.

At this point Randy decided to defuse the situation with the glass of 2013 Sparkman Cellars Birdie Dry Riesling Columbia Valley – it was nice and clean, with good acidity and that interesting savory minerality of the Washington Rieslings, which I now learnt (I hope!) to recognize as a trait. Drinkability: 7+

The next wine – 2012 Sparkman Cellars Enlightenment Chardonnay French Creek Vineyard Yakima Valley was delicious. Chablis nose (minerality, gunflint, hot granite), which I always enjoy  in Chardonnay, was clearly present in this clean and round wine with a touch of vanilla. Drinkability: 8

Meanwhile, the lady next to my changed the tactics and explained that she is genuinely interested in recognizing the accents and figuring out where the people are from. May be it was a good wine, but I also decided to change my “I’m going to ignore you” stance, so we pretty much became friends by the end of the tasting, and both ladies kept telling me how much they like the wines at Sparkman and number of other wineries in the area,  and also gave me lots of recommendations on other must visit wineries in Woodinville.

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The tasting continued with 2011 Sparkman Cellars Wilderness Red Wine Columbia Valley (34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Malbec, 15% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre, 8% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot) – rather an eclectic blend as you can tell. The wine was quite delicious, but a bit over-extracted to my taste. Drinkability: 7

2011 Sparkman Cellars Ruby Leigh Columbia Valley (67% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon,11% Malbec) was named after the youngest daughter of the winery owners. The wine was light and playful, showing the notes of the smokey raspberries, with medium body and medium finish. Drinkability: 7+

2012 Sparkman Cellars Ruckus Syrah Red Mountain (93% Syrah and 7% Viognier) – delicious dark fruit, roasted notes, spices. Perfect clod-climate Syrah, beautifully restrained. Drinkability: 8

2011 Sparkman Cellars Rainmaker Cabernet Sauvignon Yakima Valley (95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec) was delicious – dark power, tobacco notes, baking spices, very complex with long finish – on outstanding wine. This wine was poured as a “mystery wine” for the wine club members (you can see it above in the picture in the paper bag). Drinkability: 8+

This concluded the tasting at the Sparkman Cellars – sorry for the brief notes, I guess I was a bit distracted at this point. If you need better descriptions, you can take a look at the Sparkman Cellars web site – all the wines are presented quite well there.

Before I left the winery, I asked Randy what other wineries should I visit in my little time left until they all will be closed for the day (absolute majority of the wineries closes at 5 PM on Sunday), and he recommended Fidelitas and Mark Ryan, which were both outside of the industrial park, however still within 5-7 minutes driving distance. As I walked out of the Sparkman Cellars, another winery attracted my attention, and of course I decided to stop by…

To be continued…

Woodinville Wineries: Des Voigne Cellars

October 19, 2014 9 comments

This post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first three posts – introduction, Elevation Cellars and Pondera Winery.

… and I entered the world of music at the Des Voigne Cellars. Soft jazz music was playing in the background, as I was greeted by the big white dog – of course I started the visit from getting acquainted with the winery dog first – ear-scratching is usually the best way. Melissa, who owns the winery together with her husband Darren (the winemaker), was smiling with relief from behind the counter, happy to see that we made friends.

There was no doubts that music ruled here – it was not only in the air, but also on the labels and inside the glass:

Des Voigne Cellars Groove White and RedIf you can, spend a few seconds and look at these labels in detail. Both the graphics and the names of the wines are created by Darren, the winemaker, and these definitely join the list of most creative labels I ever saw. And the wines were on par with the labels.

We started with the 2013 Des Voigne Cellars The Groove White Columbia Valley (Chardonnay, Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier) – vibrant and fresh on the nose, and perfectly clean and simple on the palate. This is the wine to enjoy any time, with or without the food – you just can’t go wrong with it, and at $18, it is simply a steal. Well, almost – with 43 cases production, it’s not going to stay around for too long. Drinkability: 7+

The 2010 Des Voigne Cellars The Groove Red Columbia Valley (43% Syrah, 36% Sangiovese, 17% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot) had a very welcoming nose with touch of spice, more spices weer present on the palate with some roasted notes. Another excellent effort, and again a great QPR at $20 (your chances are a bit better with this wine – 210 cases produced). Drinkability: 7+

The next round was very interesting as well – take a look below:

Des Voigne Cellars winesI was trying to figure out if there should be a correlation between the choice of label (a performer or an event) and the wine itself, but didn’t come to any conclusions. If you tasted these wines, I would be interested in your opinion on this subject.

2012 Des Voigne Cellars San Remo Sangiovese Columbia Valley (100% Sangiovese, Candy Mountain Vineyard) – my first experience with Washington Sangiovese – and a very pleasant one. Nice, clean and simple wine, medium body, some interesting cherry undertones. Definitely playful and resembling the original Sangiovese (the Italian version), only in the lighter package and more fruit driven. Drinkability: 7+

2012 Des Voigne Cellars Duke Zinfandel Walla Walla (95% Zinfandel Walla Walla, 5% Malbec Wahluke Slope) – yet another “first” encounter – first time ever I was tasting Washington Zinfandel. Very nice rendition, unusual nose, showing classic Zinfandel’s smokey raspberries on the palate, light, clean and well balanced. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Des Voigne Cellars Montreux Syrah Columbia Valley (96% Syrah Weinbau Vineyard, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon Dionysus Vineyard) – Finally, the first Syrah of the tasting (out of the 3 wineries – somehow, I expected to see it a lot more often) – inviting nose of red fruit, touch of coffee, baking spices and lavender on the palate, overall very clean and balanced. Drinkability: 8-

Do you want to see more cool labels? Here you go:

Des Voigne Cellars Untitled and Duet

2010 Des Voigne Cellars “Untitled” Columbia Valley (57% Cabernet Franc, 29% Syrah, 14% Petit Verdot) – if previous three wines can be characterized as “playful”, these two were the serious hitters. This wine showed excellent concentration, powerful and firm structure, clean Cabernet Franc profile with cassis and bell peppers, as well as grippy tannins. I think it will perfectly open up in about 5-7 years, so you will need to give it time. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Des Voigne Cellars Duet Columbia Valley (94% Cabernet Sauvignon Dionysus Vineyard, 6% Merlot Bacchus Vineyard) – unusually perfumy nose, soft and round on the palate, with good depth – perfectly drinkable now, no need to wait. Drinkability: 7+

So we had the music record, musical events and performers and the musical notations – what’s left is someone to put this all together – The Composer:

Des Voigne Cellars The Composer

2011 Des Voigne Cellars The Composer Wahluke Slope (99% Malbec, 1% Syrah, both from Weinbau Vineyard) – this was a delicious, light and round wine, with good amount of fresh red berries on the palate – simple and very pleasant. Drinkability: 8-

My musical excursion completed, and it was the time to move. The next winery was the only one on my original list, which I planned to visit from the beginning. Short drive around the buildings (moving from Building B to Building E), and I walked into the winery called …

To be continued…

 

Like A Kid In The Candy Store…

October 13, 2014 56 comments

I’m traveling again (for my daytime job), and of course, when I travel, I’m always looking for the local wineries to visit. This time I’m in Washington state, and of course, there is no shortage of wineries to visit here. Well, let me critique myself here for that beaten up “of course”. This is not the first time I’m in Washington –  however, last time I was here, I couldn’t think of anything but the Chateau St. Michelle as a winery to visit (which was the great visit, by the way, and I love their wines). While the Washington wineries had been on my radar for quite a long time, there was no realization that those wineries are actually the places which can be visited. Until this time.

First, I tried to arrange a visit to the Quilceida Creek, a cult producer. Unfortunately, they were smack in a middle of harvest at the time of my visit, and said that they allow no visitors at that time (oh well, I will try to time my visit better next time). Then I tried Google and got back way too many results. My next step was Twitter, where I got some name recommendations and was given a few posts to read – one from the Wild 4 Washington Wine blog (this is not just one blog post, this is a series), and another one from the Jameson Fink blog. Based on all the information, I wrote down the few wineries I wanted to start from, and decided to figure out the rest on the fly. I also only had about 3 hours available to taste.

I had a bit of a trouble programming my GPS, so I just put whatever address it took. When I arrived at the area called Woodinville Industrial Park, and an electronic voice proclaimed the familiar “you have arrived at your destination”, my first reaction was “wow”!

At the entrance to Woodinville Industrial ParkHow would you, wine geeks and aficionados out there, feel – greeted with such a view? A Christmas in October? Yay! I was looking for the right way to describe my state of mind once I saw all these signs, and the best I could do was “a kid in the candy store” – wow, I can taste all of these – incredible!

It appears that what started less than 10 years ago from only 5 wineries, finding an inexpensive rent in the Industrial Park, became a 60+ setting now (and there are more than 100 wineries in the Woodinville overall). Going from winery to winery, I met very passionate and very talented people, who are living through their dream. Most of the people I met – winemakers and owners – have another full-time job – an engineer, a police officer, a reporter. And despite the fact that winery is “just a hobby” (who am I kidding – it is not, it is a product of obsession), the wines were simply outstanding. I found it also fascinating that at every tasting room I was given a recommendation on what to visit next. I tasted about 40+ wines during this visit overall – and I literally would be glad to drink any one of those wines again and again. Lots of Bordeaux blends, few of the whites, a bit of Syrah – this was a general line up at all the wineries, and again, the wines were beautifully executed, balanced and with the sense of place. The local wines you would be glad to drink all the time.

What I decided to do is not to produce a monster post trying to cram all the impressions into one, but instead, to make a few posts talking about individual wineries. During this trip, I visited Elevation Cellars, Pondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars, Sparkman Cellars, Guardian Cellars, Fidélitas, and Mark Ryan Winery – and this is what you should expect to see coming in the next few posts. Therefore, I’m not finishing up this post, but instead, as they like to say, it is “to be continued…”

P.S. Once I started writing this post, I realized that I was really talking about “local wineries”, and “local” is a theme of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #12, so let it be my entry into that.

P.P.S. I love the power of the internet – you can link backward, but you can also link forward. As the individual winery posts will be written, I will add the links to the posts under the names above.

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