1st Wine Explorers’ world wine tasting…

“Exceptional guests for a unique journey around the world of wine“

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On June 16, seven professionals from the wine industry did us the honor of joining the WINE Explorers’ team, in order to share the discoveries of the first part of the trip, which began in January 2014. A unique tasting, where 12 countries were represented, as that we are very happy to share with you today!
A complicated choice because after a year and a half of peregrinations and 180,000 kilometers traveled, over 2,250 wines had been tasted and listed.
 Some wines were tasted conventionally while others were served blind, to give some surprises to a public of connoisseurs.
The idea was not to judge these wines, but to assess the potential of each of the selected wine regions and discuss the notion of terroir.

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They attended the tasting  : Patrick Schmitt MW, editor in chief of The Drinks Business (UK), Debra Meiburg MW, consultant (Hong Kong), Jean-Claude BerrouetSandrine Garbay, cellar master of Château d’Yquem, Thomas Duroux, CEO of Château Palmer, Stéphane Derenoncourt and Rachid Drissi, purchasing manager of the prestigious negotiant Duclot.

24 wines from 12 countries were tasted

DRY WHITE WINES
Kristall Kellerei, 2013, Rüppel’s Parrot Colombard, NAMIBIA
Aruga Branca Pipa, 2009, Katsunuma Jozo Winery, JAPAN
Virtude Chardonnay, 2013, Salton, BRAZIL
Skyline of Gobi Chardonnay Reserve, 2013, Tiansai Winery, CHINA
Tasya’s Chardonnay, 2011, Grace Vineyard, CHINA

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RED WINES
Pinto Bandeira Pinot Noir, 2014, Vinícola Aurora, BRAZIL
Nouveau, 2013, Château Mani, SOUTH KOREA
Cuvée prestige, 2014, Castel, ETHIOPIA
Grande Vindima Merlot, 2008, Lidio Carraro, BRAZIL
Don Manuel Petit Verdot, 2013, Tacama, PERU
RPF Tannat, 2011, Pisano, URUGUAY
Don Manuel Tannat, 2012, Tacama, PERU
Juan Cruz Tannat, 2012, Aranjuez, BOLIVIA
Cuvée Ameena Syrah, 2010, D’Orrance Wines, SOUTH AFRICA
Cuvée Violette, 2012, Le Vieux Pin, CANADA
Emma’s Reserve, 2012, Silver Heights, CHINA
Kerubiel, 2005, Adobe Guadalupe, MEXICO
5 Estrellas, 2009, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
Le Grand Vin, 2012, Osoyoos Larose, CANADA
Ensemble Arenal, 2010, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
Raizes Corte, 2010, Casa Valduga, BRAZIL

SWEET WHITE WINES
Vendange Tardive, 2012, Vignoble du Marathonien, CANADA
Vin de Glace, 2011, Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, CANADA
Tomi Noble d’Or, 1997, Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery, JAPAN

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TOP 3 OF THE JURY – WHITE

1Aruga Branca Pipa, 2009, Katsunuma Jozo Winery, JAPAN
(100% Koshu, 6 months in French oak, then 2 years in bottle)
” Bright wine, slightly gold. Nose of vanilla and acacia ; even more complex after opening, slightly smoky. Mouth with a round, smooth and fresh attack. Very delicate and subtle ”
Food & wine pairing : fish and beurre-blanc sauce

2Virtude Chardonnay, 2013, Salton, BRAZIL
(100% Chardonnay, 6 months in French and American barrels)
” Beautiful clarity, light yellow color. Fresh nose with some floral notes. On the palate a pleasant acidity and an interesting balance. The volume comes from the grape. A wine that displays some personality ”
Food & wine pairing : fresh tagliatelle with salmon

3Vendange Tardive, 2012, Vignoble du Marathonien, CANADA
(100% Vidal, noble rot, slow cold pressing)
” Intense gold color. Pretty nose, deep, notes of pineapple, apricot and mango. Smooth in mouth, with candied peach and apricot. Beautiful wine, dense, rich and sweet but still harmonious ”
Food & wine pairing : vanilla ice cream and hazelnut feuillantine

Two other wines also got the attention of our jury…
Rüppel’s Parrot Colombard, 2013, Kristall Kellerei, NAMIBIA
(95 % Colombard, 5% Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin)
A very aromatic wine, light and pleasant… that seduced by its “drinkability “.
Tomi Noble d’Or, 1997, Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery, JAPAN
(100% Riesling, noble rot)
Undoubtedly an unusual wine…

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TOP 5 OF THE JURY – RED

1Cuvée Violette, 2012, Le Vieux Pin, CANADA
(100% Syrah, 14 months in barrels with 19% new)
” Intense deep red color. Green pepper notes on the nose with herbs, olives and blackcurrant. Beautiful mouth, slightly herbaceous with a tapenade and red berries profile. Nice tannins, light oak and very good length. A wine full of elegance and finesse ”
Food & wine pairing : veal chop

25 Estrellas, 2009, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
(Blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Cinsault, aged for 12 months in French and American barrels)
” Complex and earthy nose. Black olive, plum. Mouth well structured, balanced and harmonious. Good length with an aromatic finish. A wine with lot of finesse ”
Food & wine pairing : chili con carne

3Kerubiel, 2005, Adobe Guadalupe, MEXICO
(38% Syrah, 16% Cinsault, 16% Grenache, 6% Tempranillo, 3% Viognier)
” Garnet color, early evolution. Intense nose of jammy fruit (plum, strawberry, gooseberry). Very nice, evokes childhood. Mouth also on black and ripe fruit. Beautiful and dense structure in mouth. Seductive and very well made ”
Food & wine pairing : sautéed veal and wild rice

4Le Grand Vin, 2012, Osoyoos Larose, CANADA
(50% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 4% Malbec, 20 months in French oak barrels with 60% new and 40% of one wine)
” Nose of spices and wild herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme), combined with ripe black fruits. Round mouth, full, balanced. Elegant and harmonious tannins. Remarkable density and length ”
Food & wine pairing : lamb

5Pinto Bandeira, 2014, Vinícola Aurora, BRAZIL
(100% Pinot Noir, 6 months in French oak barrels)
” Light color, quite dense. Nose of modern Pinot noir, woody, ripe and fruity with notes of blackcurrant. Quite fine. Nice texture on the palate. Precise extraction, long length. Beautiful final ”
Food & wine pairing : white meat or marinated red tuna.

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A few words about the countries presented

ASIA

China : a giant which is just beginning
World’s 5th biggest producer and current largest consumer of red wines, China remains primarily a country of extreme conditions of production, with temperatures ranging up to +40°C in summer to -40°C in winter in many central regions, forcing the vines to be buried each winter. The vines are quickly damaged and it is impossible to keep old vines in many regions. Quite an important problem for the elaboration of super premium wines. However, the size of the country offers many different mosaics of climates and soils, allowing hope for a nice future for a production which is so recent. Some top winemakers, as Emma GAO in Ningxia, have already shown us that it is possible to make some very fine and elegant wines.

South Korea : too much moisture for Vitis vinifera
A unique Korean wine presented during the tasting has helped us to highlight the fact that in very wet cultivated areas (90 to 100 %) – as here in South Korea or in Taiwan, for example – wine production requires the planting of hybrids vines other than Vitis vinifera. This seems to suggest that quality wine production is compromised in regions relatively close to the equator, where the humidity is constant and the cycle of the vine is continuous.

Japan : great elegance in the land of the Rising Sun
Japan is a country with generally difficult weather conditions, with a wet climate. The meticulous care of the vine still allows them to produce some very nice wines, especially from the Koshu, Riesling or Pinot Noir grapes. The tasting has shown that Japan can produce very elegant and aromatic wines, both dry, like the delicious « Aruga Branca Koshu » from Katsunuma, or sweet like the cuvée « Tomi Noble d’Or » from Suntory, a surprising botrytis Riesling (moisture combined with an altitude of over 700 meters here becomes an asset).

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AFRICA

Special mention for South Africa
A terroir already well known by connoisseurs for decades now, this tasting was the confirmation that South Africa can produce magnificent and elegant wines, especially from the Syrah grape variety, as here in the Robertson region with the cuvée « Ameena Syrah » from Dorrance Wines which was unanimously appreciated.

Ethiopia : a country as beautiful and endearing as atypical and confusing
11 million bottles produced per year, including 1 million by the CASTEL winery. Real potential in this wine region located 100 kilometers South of Addis Ababa, the capital. You can find here beautiful poor soils perched at 2,000 meters above sea level, with cool nights that allow the grapes to gently reach nice maturity, especially for red wines. Rainfall, often low, but offset by drip and controlled irrigation (as in Chile or California), allows the plant to receive just enough water. The global impression of the wine tasted is positive, even if it is strongly marked by its aging in new oak barrels. We guess a real potential for this young wine country… to be remembered.

Namibia : a confidential production
This country has only four wineries, less than four hectares each! Located North of South Africa, viticulture remains anecdotal there.

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AMERICAS

Brazil : a real potential
The country opened its borders only 25 years ago and is just beginning to reveal its potential. The region of Serra Gaucha, situated around the 29° parallel South, is already promising, both for sparkling and still wines. A topography which reminds us of Tuscany, a rather temperate climate, plenty of sunshine, a moderate but good altitude (700 meters on average), combined with expertise thanks to the Italian immigration and strong technical investments, promise a bright future for the Brazilian wine industry.

Bolivia, a land full of promises
Wine production exclusively in altitude (1,600 to 2,800 m) is probably the main secret of Bolivia’s success with quality wine production; mainly for red wines. Because despite the semi-tropical location of the country around the 21° and 22° parallel South, the region of Tarija (the country’s main producing region), benefits from drier conditions at over 1,600 meters and has a remarkable terroir, mainly composed of well drained sandy loam soils and schist dating from the Jurassic period.
In many Bolivian wines we found freshness, elegance and some complexity, like during the tasting with the cuvée « Juan Cruz Tannat » from Bodega Arranjuez.

“Coup de Coeur” for Canada
The classification of this first WINE Explorers’ tasting is telling: the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, is full of treasures. Near the 49° parallel North, the climate is governed by a coastal mountain range that protects the region from cold and wet depressions swept by the Pacific Ocean, 400 km to the west. The result : a warm and dry climate with annual rainfall of 200 mm and an average temperature of 22°C during spring and summer time. The region produces fantastic red wines, fresh, with beautiful elegance and finesse. Another great discovery – at the other end of the country, some 4,400 km to the East : the sweet white wines of Quebec, from hybrid varieties such as Vidal or Seyval. A very small production offering very nice wines with concentrated aromas, thanks to a cool climate and grapes harvested (very) late by a few irreducible passionate winemakers.

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Mexico : the beautiful surprise
The region of Baja California, South of California, was one of the best surprises of the first WINE Explorers’ tasting. Located on the 31,5° parallel north, this semi-desert region lacks of water (less than 200 mm of rain per year in good years) and does not forgive any approximation. It results in solar wines, powerful and balanced, meticulously blended, combining up to six grape varieties in the same cuvée and show how important it is to consider Mexico as one of the next stars of tomorrow’s new-world red wines.  A nice recognition for a country that was, in 1554, the pioneer of the Americas in terms of viticulture…

Peru, a great terroir
The Ica Valley is the main region of production of the country. The climate is dry and hot. “A bit like Chile“, some said. And even if we are here on the 17° parallel South, this region is suitable for producing wines in exceptional conditions, ” thanks to the characteristics of its unique climate and its alluvial soils”, loved to emphasize great wine figures like Max Rives and Emile Peynaud. At the foothills of the Andes, red wines made from Petit Verdot and Tannat grapes can give very good results.

Uruguay, to follow very closely
Despite a fairly dense and rather concentrated annual rainfall, very conscientious wineries know how to produce very nice wines, especially red, with rather early varieties such as merlot, or other less early as tannat. It is the case of the Pisano winery for example, which benefits from clay and limestone soils with very high pH (7.5 to 8), giving mineral and complex wines. In the land of meat lovers (52 kg consumed per year per capita !), wine knows how to find its place with style.

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THE FINAL WORD

All regions of the world are not conducive to viticulture. Yet, many factors such as soils, altitude, climate, grape variety or climat can create special conditions for the production of very nice wines. A protective mountain barrier, a South-facing hillside… are sometimes the ingredients for an elegant and complex wine. However, what can make each of these wines some ‘great’ wines is above all the skill of the winemaker and his meticulous knowledge of its terroir.
Understanding a terroir is adapting its cultivating system, choosing the appropriate plant material, making the right choices in the vineyard and in the winery. Jean-Claude Berrouet reminded us during this first tasting of this wise definition of terroir, given by Olivier De Serres in the 17th century and which aptly illustrates this final word : ” Air, land and complant are the foundation of the vineyard“. Let us not forget that.

The conclusions of this first WINE Explorers’ tasting still remain relative because unfortunately we do not have the chance to visit all wineries of the countries we explored (it would take although 10 generations of explorers to try to visit them all!). And as we all have a different palate, it is possible that we sometimes lacked objectivity. That is why it was very important for us to be surrounded by leading experts in the world of wine, with various backgrounds and experiences, to balance the impressions that we had when tasting these wines the first time.

This experience remains primarily a humbling lesson and of open-mindedness, for wines sometimes “outside of the usual standards” but with an undeniable potential and personality. We will renew it with joy next year!

The world of wine is far from having revealed all its secrets…

WineExplorers’cheers,
Amandine Fabre & Jean-Baptiste Ancelot


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS :
We thank our partners to believe and follow this project : the VIDELOT Group, DB Schenker, Château Lafon Rochet, Château Calon Ségur, Château La Conseillante.
Thank you to Elisabeth Jaubert, Ariane Khaida and Jean Moueix for having made this tasting possible.
And thank you to all the people close to the project and who encourage us every day.

Mexico, the pioneer of the Americas

When discussing the wine of the Americas, we first think of the United States, Argentina or Chile. Even Brazil or Uruguay. But certainly not Mexico which ironically is the oldest wine destination of the Americas! As early as 1554, it was in this country of tequila and sombreros that the first vines appeared, grown under the leadership of the Spanish conquest. Today, there are great wines made here –  especially on the red side.
So we went to northern Mexico, to the Valley of Guadalupe, where the Jesuits began to plant vines for the development of their sacramental wine.

L'Escuelita @ San Antonio de la Minas

L’Escuelita @ San Antonio de la Minas


The Guadalupe Valley, a picturesque beauty

After leaving Tarija, we arrived in the village of San Antonio de las Minas after a 4-hour drive.   Outside, the thermometer read 40 ° C. The sky was a blinding blue and the place of a dazzling beauty with colors of fire and blood in the lands, surrounded by mountains. It has not rained here in ages. But still, the positive energy that emanated from this semi-desert region was almost palpable. Welcome to the Guadalupe Valley, in the heart of the Mexican vineyards; where 90% of the quality wines in the country are produced (1).

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Three major wineries carve the lion’s share: L.A. CETTO, the Mexican giant (1 million cases per year alone!), Santo Tomás and Monte Xanic (<20 000 cases/year each). Far behind – and this is where we found the most interesting and exciting part of the Mexican vineyards – some producers of small and medium sizes compete for creativity and talent to produce wines of great quality. And overall, it should be noted that the level of knowledge in terms of viticulture and oenology in the valley is remarkable.

“The wine here is not a business as in California; it is above all small projects”, Thomas Egli, one of the great winemakers of the valley, pointed out.

Thomas Egli

Thomas Egli


Some great discoveries : Calixa Chardonnay 2013 from Monte Xanic ; Seleccion de Barricas 2012 (a clever blend of Carignan, Grenache, Tempranillo and Zinfandel) and Cumulus 2010 (old Grenache vines, Carignan and Tempranillo), both from Las Nubes ; Serafiel 2012 (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Syrah) and Kerubiel 2005 (Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache), both from Adobe Guadalupe ; or the cuvée Mogor-Badan 2009 from El Mogor, a delicious Bordeaux-blend.

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Oenotourism, spearhead of the local wine economy

A positive surprise when arriving in the Valley of Guadalupe – after the beauty of the place – it is the wine tourism dynamism. It is both a local and collective initiative which deserves to be highlighted, especially when considering the difficulties for Mexican wines to be recognized as a (real) growth driver by the Government (2).
A wine route consisting of signs, maps and information points is present throughout the valley; indicating the location of each winery. A newly built museum traces the wine history of the country and provides visitors with a multitude of activity tools.

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Architectural projects, one more creative and visionary than the other, are popping up everywhere ; like at Vena Cava where the roof structures are nothing but overturned boat hulls ; or at Encuentro Guadalupe where you can sleep in mountainside cabins. Host tables are numerous and of high standards ; even some food trucks are parked in the vineyard. Bed & Breakfast are legion. The environmental and organic approach here is very strong… In short, there is a real lesson of oenotourism that should inspire many.

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And best of all, at Quinta Monasterio, the SPA welcomes you for a relaxing time with wellness products exclusively made from the winery grapes. We tested it for you: the place is bewitching.

Hugo Acosta, the “guru” of the Valley

Sometimes we meet men of vision, ambitious or a little crazy ; some capable of producing great wines where nobody would give them reason to do so, others able to drive  a participatory and educational movement for the well being of the community. We had the chance to meet a man who has all these qualities (yes, being a little crazy is undeniably a quality). We met with Hugo Acosta, one of the pioneers of modern viticulture in Mexico, affectionately known by his colleagues the “guru” of the Valley ; in recognition of his work. He is primarily listening to the soil, creating projects on a human scale and in connection with nature. Each of its five projects has its own identity and positively show Mexican wine in its unique way.

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Casa de Piedra, created in 1997, where blending is put forward, with Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Depending on the vintage, the proportion of the two varieties change, to highlight the location. One approaches the concept of “single vineyard”.
Paralelo, where we search to express the personality of the terroir. The same Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon base (with a touch of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Barbera) for two different red wines: “Ensamble Colina” on clay soils along the hill and “Ensamble Arenal” on flat sandy soils. At the heart of the debate is both terroirs shown in parallel regarding sunlight, soil type, exposure and response to the wind.
Firmamento, which reflects the vintage and the terroir at a “T” time. Five varietals – Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache and Cinsault – are assembled annually in equal proportions for a unique blend, 5 Estrellas; the blend doesn’t change depending on the weather and thus the quality of the grapes.

Casa de Piedra

Casa de Piedra


Aborigen, Hugo Acosta family project, founded in 2000, meaning “the man who comes from the earth”, represents the commitment of man to his environment, recognizing the intervention of man as an additional element to the context, through a series of oenological experiments.
Finally the Escuelita, a great project enabling amateurs to achieve their dreams by learning how to make their own wine from A to Z, without investing in any equipment. A simple concept: students, paired into teams of two people each, buy half a ton of grapes of their choice. The courses are then provided from harvesting to bottling. Students leave at the end with their own cuvée – with a custom label as a bonus. Not only does the concept work, it creates vocations : since the creation of the school in the late 90s, several students founded their own wineries in the Valley. An incubator for young winemakers!

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Five delicious reds tasted from these projects: Vino de Piedra Tinto 2011 from Casa de Piedra ; Ensamble Arenal “ba II“ 2010 and Ensamble Colina “ba I“ 2009, from Paralelo ;5 Estrellas 2009, from Firmamento and Acrata Tinta del Valle 2007 (a dominant Grenache with a touch of Petite Sirah).

A vineyard in danger which must be taken care off

The dust in the air, covering cars, houses and vineyards with a daily fine layer of earth is a  visible problem – yet no one in the Valley of Guadalupe mentions this, since it is part of daily life here. That’s impressive. We are continuously breathing it.

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Then a question arose: can this dust affect the “taste” of wine? Upon closer investigation we noticed that a layer of dust is present on the grapes before the harvest and that these grapes are pressed directly after being harvested… Curious and concerned by the phenomenon, Hugo Acosta has promised us to investigate this during the next vintage, adding a few pounds of earth to one of his tanks; just to see how far this “dust effect” could influence the flavor and appearance of the final product. To be followed (very) closely!
Also from a climatic point of view, lets not forget that we are in the desert here. The fresh water, between 30 and 150 m deep, is rare. And groundwater is low. It is even rumored that the proximity to the ocean brings a certain salinity to the white wines…

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“We do not have enough water”, Thomas Egli explained. It rains on average 250 mm per year. “In 2014, only 100 mm fell and 40% of the crop of the valley was lost”. In such conditions, it is difficult to envision how the wine production of the valley could grow in the future. It seems to have reached its critical size.

And with the exception of L.A. CETTO which export some wines to Europe, finding Mexican wines on our shelves is almost impossible. The production is too small to really consider exporting. So please just come and enjoy the charm of the Valley and its wines – it is the perfect opportunity for an oenologic and epicurean vacation for families or as a romantic getaway!

A timeless moment at El Mogor

At El Mogor, the most French of the Mexican wineries, Nathalia Badan welcomed us with a huge smile and impeccable French. Because even though Nathalia was born in the valley, her origins are French. Her brother has always had boundless admiration for the wines of Bordeaux; which was the inspiration for Mogor-Badan, their unique wine, a beautiful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

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Nathalia is a bit like the “Mama“ of the valley, always keeping a watchful eye on the workers and listening to the people. Environmentally she has implemented an ingenious principle of soil enrichment by livestock. The animals are moved around regularly in small enclosures, thus naturally plowing a mix of dung and earth which enrich the soil. El Mogor is not only a vineyard, it is above all one of the largest farms in the region, with an organic garden, oranges, lemons, cows, chickens and pigs. Every Saturday there is a market on the farm. People come from all over the region to look for homemade jams and other fresh produce.

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Pablo Rujas, the cowboy of the farm, guided our visit. He may be an oenologist ,yet playing lasso and taking care of the cows from the back of his horse remains his favorite activity. “The dust is also a problem for livestock. I regularly have to moisturize the eyes of the animals”. Intrigued by the cowboy experience, Ludo spent the day with Pablo to understand and experience this extraordinary job. Lasso session required!

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Our Mexican trip ended on a bright Sunday with an official petanque tournament organized by the Mexican Petanque Federation of Ensenada. An invitation which I could not refuse… I am addicted to playing petanque. And luckily for me, Hugo Acosta was seeking a partner! We played by the sea, under the sun and in good spirits; failing not without some regret at the gates of the quarter finals.
During that time and from the ocean, Ludo was looking at us from a few hundred meters away on his surfboard.

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

Thank you to Jean Lemaignen for his valuable recommendations, to Casa de Piedra, Adobe Guadalupe, Monte Xanic, El Mogor, Las Nubes and especially Hugo d’Acosta, Thomas Egli and Nathalia Badan for their hospitality and generosity.

(1) Viticulture in Mexico is also practiced in the states of Coahuila, Querétaro, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas, but most of the production is concentrated mainly in the Valle de Guadalupe, in the Baja California. It was also in Mexico that the practice of grafting European Vitisvinifera on American rootstocks  was implemented for the first time. A practice that became popular throughout Europe and the rest of the world after the ravages of phylloxera which wiped out 80% of European vineyards during the nineteenth century.
(2) Mexican taxes on wine are about 50% of the final price (once added VAT).