Insider

Insider information about wine and the industry.

It’s Christmas time, anyone for Port?

We may be biased but in our opinion there is nothing finer than a bottle of Port at Christmas time… or any time for that matter!

When paired with a good stilton, there is little better, but below are some other excellent food pairings to try over the festive season.

Ruby port

Noval Fine Ruby

Ruby Ports are the ideal partner for a cheeseboard or chocolate dessert. They also make fantastic Port wine reductions to complement roast beef or duck.Try with full flavoured cheeses such as a good farmhouse Cheddar, Red Leicester or gorgonzola.

The sweet and full berry flavours of ruby port complement chocolate desserts such as a molten chocolate cake or a chocolate-walnut tart. Alternatively, a rich cherry pie would work brilliantly.

We love Quinta do Noval’s Ruby Port, so much that we stock it!

Tawny port

Noval 20

A glass of aged tawny port is delicious when matched with a hard, nutty cheese or a pudding such as apple pie, tarte tatin, baked figs or caramel tart.

Cheeses such as Parmesan and Manchego complement the naturally nutty flavours of tawny ports. Alternatively, go for any eggy dessert—for which the Portuguese are famous – such as Pastel de nata or a crème brûlée.

Be warned though, if you start eating Pastel de nata you will find it impossible to stop!

Quinta do Noval have wonderful Tawny ports, available from us here.

Vintage Port

Noval Silval 2005

A vintage is only declared when the port house believes it has a truly exceptional wine.

The truly classic pairing is Vintage Port with blue cheeses such as Stilton. The tangy, soft and mellow character of mature blue cheese compliments the powerful character of Vintage Port. If Stilton isn’t your thing, you could consider Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Saint Agur Blue.

If you are looking for the punch of a Vintage but at a more reasonable price then you should consider Quinta do Noval’s Silval Port. Quinta do Noval is one of the top Port houses in the World and produces the internationally renowned Nacionale. The Silval vintages are only declared in very good years and this is an excellent example. This wine also represents superb value for money compared to other vintage ports.

Snap it up here.

White Port

Noval White

White port is wonderful when served chilled as an aperitif, or poured over ice, and pairs well with olives, nuts, gouda and similar cheeses, or even seafood.

Quinta do Noval produce a wonderful dry white port, available from us here.

If these pairing suggestions have whet (that’s the right spelling) your appetite, then check out our range of Ports.

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Dalmore: You Won’t Believe How Eye-wateringly Expensive Whisky Can Be!

Sitting on the banks of the Cromarty Firth in Alness, some 20 miles North of Inverness, stands The Dalmore distillery. It was founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson, who retired at the age of 36 having made a fortune with his uncle in Matheson & Company Ltd. They might have been running Opium from India to China… but peddling heroin was legal back then.

Alexander Matheson established the distillery as part of his £773,020 purchase of some 220,000 acres of the county of Ross – which in today’s money may have been around £2.5 billion – yes, billion.

It was run by the Sunderland family until 1859, then it was taken over by Alexander, Andrew and Charles Mackenzie. After Matheson’s death in 1886 the Mackenzies purchased it. Production was briefly interrupted in 1917 when the Royal Navy commandeered the distillery, weirdly to produce anti-ship mines. The navy left in 1920 after the distillery was badly damaged by an explosion and fire, which resulted in a court case against The Navy that was even debated in The House of Lords.

Today Dalmore is renowned around the world for producing eye-wateringly expensive whiskys. Here are three of them.

Dalmore 64 Trinitas: £120,000

After the success of the Dalmore 62 (see below) the distillery produced just three bottles of a blend of whiskys said to be amongst the oldest in the world, over 140 years old!

The first two bottles were sold in Glasgow on October 14th 2010 for £100,000.

The final bottle was sold in Harrods for £120,000 and amusingly it is still listed in the Harrod’s online shop with the comment “We’re sorry but this item has just sold out”.

Dalmore 62: £125,000

In 1943 the Dalmore Distillery in Inverness produced twelve bottles containing a mix from five casks from 1868, 1878, 1922, 1926 and 1939.

On Thursday 5th of December 2002, a bottle was purchased at McTear’s auction house in Glasgow for £25,877.50. At the time this was a world record.

Then on the 15th of April 2005, Denis Barthe the Bar Manager of the Ascot Bar at Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot Surrey, sold a bottle of this extraordinary whisky for £32,000 to an anonymous buyer. Each of the twelve bottles was uniquely labelled. This bottle was the Matheson, named after the Dalmore Estate’s owner.

Fantastically, the story goes that the buyer shared the bottle with five of his friends, probably making them the only people in the world who have ever tasted this blend… along with the bar manager. He was lucky enough to be offered a glass of it and apparently said it was the “most beautiful thing” he had ever tasted.

Amusingly the buyer may have left a tip for the waiter as the bottle was not completely finished. The last drop of whisky in the bottle was estimated to be worth £1,000.

A bottle of Dalmore 62 was sold on the 20th of September 2011 to a Chinese buyer at Singapore’s Changi airport for £125,000.

The value of the Dalmore 62 is now thought to be over £250,000.

The Patterson Collection: £987,500 – yes really!

Not exactly a whisky… but never mind. Created in 2013 and named after Richard Patterson, Master Distiller at The Dalmore, this is a collection of 12 bottles in a presentation cabinet for, well, we might as well call it a million quid.

So, for an average spend of £82,000 a bottle you get:

  • one bottle of 1926 vintage
  • one bottle of 1939 vintage
  • two bottles of 1951 vintage
  • one bottle of 1964 vintage
  • one bottle of 1966 vintage
  • one bottle of 1969 vintage
  • one bottle of 1979 vintage
  • one bottle of 1985 vintage
  • two bottles of 1995 vintage
  • one bottle of 20 – 50 year old

Amusing for me, as two thirds of the collection is older than I am.

The 1926 and 1939 vintages must be a large part of the price tag as they surely must be some of the oldest whisky available to purchase in the world.

Still though… a million quid.

And just in case you don’t believe us, here’s the product page, note, also sadly but somewhat dubiously “just sold out”.

Image is “Cromarty Firth at Dalmore, Scotland” © Copyright Andrew Tryon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Springfield Model 1855 Musket

How The Musket Made Wine Bottles Possible

Muskets and wine bottles may not have much in common at first glance… but when a musket jams then the two become far more similar…

Before the invention of the modern glass wine bottle, wine used to be stored in clay pots called amphora or in wooden barrels. Glass bottles could be made by heating silica sand but they were very thin and were not robust enough to survive transportation. Furnaces could not heat silica sand to sufficiently high temperature and in large enough quantities to economically produce a thicker glass bottle.

In the 17th century, the British invention of the coke-powered furnace solved this problem. Larger furnaces could be built to make enough glass at sufficiently high temperatures to mass produce glass bottles. By the 18th century glass blowing factories were turning our millions of narrow necked glass bottles a year. These bottles were all different sizes, roughly equivalent in size to the lung capacity of the glass blower, around 700ml to 800ml, made with a single blow.

Wine bottles were now robust enough to survive transportation but they needed to be stoppered. Another British innovation saw the use of stoppers made from the bark of the Quercus Suber tree, a species of Oak native to Spain and Portugal. These trees, now commonly known as cork trees, grow a thick bark from which cork is produced. Ingeniously, once the bark is harvested the tree simply regrows it.

So where do muskets come in? This firearm evolved as a handheld version of the cannon. It became the primary infantry weapon of the 18th and 19th centuries. Muskets were loaded with lead ammunition packed into the barrel by a long steel tool called a ramrod. After numerous shots the barrel would become lined with deposits and prone to jamming. The primary way to remove a jammed musket ball was to use a bulletscrew or gun worme. These resemble a modern corkscrew which could be attached to the ramrod and then screwed into the musket ball to pull it out.

Presumably, when soldiers did not have sabres to hand they used their gun wormes to remove corks from bottles. The rest is history.

Nobody really knows who invented the corkscrew. However, the first corkscrew patent was Patent No 2061 granted to Reverend Samuel Henshall, Princes Street, Parish of Christchurch, Middlesex, on August 24, 1795. His design featured a disc called a Henshall button, fixed to the base of the screw to prevent it going too far into the cork. The disc was concave to compress the cork, preventing it from breaking apart. Once the screw was fully inserted the disc gripped the top of the cork to help break the adhesion of the cork to the bottle. Henshall clearly didn’t invent the corkscrew, but his design was successful enough to be used for a hundred years.

So there you have it. The next time you use a cork screw be thankful that you are pulling the cork out of a bottle, not a jammed musket ball out of a musket!

Image is “Springfield Model 1855 – AM.030363” by Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) – Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) through the Digital Museum (http://www.digitaltmuseum.se). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Sharpshooters Take Aim At Northern Californian Vines

Agriculture inspectors are the ever watchful guardians of the Northern California wine industry, worth $600 million, from a small but deadly adversary.

The glassy-winged sharpshooter is a sap sucking insect just over 1cm long. They are the main carrier of Pierce’s disease, an incurable condition caused by the bacterium, Xylella Fastidiosa, which starves an infected plant of water and nutrients.

Pierce’s disease affects vital economically important crops that grow in the warm climates of North and South America. It affects plants supplying as almonds, blueberries, citrus fruits, coffee, peaches, plums and yes you’ve guessed it, grapes.

Pierce’s disease has a history that is almost as old as the California’s wine industry.

In 1857 the Los Angeles Vineyard Society settled in the Santa Ana Valley. Within 25 years the area was producing over a million gallons of wine annually. Then in 1883 almost all of the vines inexplicably died. For ten years farmers tried unsuccessfully to rejuvenate the industry but to no avail. The Southern Californian wine industry effectively ceased for forty years, finally killed by the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) in 1919.

In 1889 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dispatched Newton B. Pierce, to Santa Ana to determine the cause of the disaster. After extensive research he finally concluded in 1892 that the vines had been killed by an incurable microorganism.

It is only relatively recently that Pierce’s disease, as it came to be known, was more understood and recognised as a threat to vines. However, it took a major outbreak caused by glassy-wing sharpshooters in Temecula in 1999, to galvanise action.

Initially spread by the blue-green sharpshooter, Pierce’s disease is now far more effectively spread by the glassy-winged sharpshooter. Introduced accidentally to Southern California in 1989 through imported nursery stock from the southern U.S., the glassy-winged sharpshooter spreads Pierce’s disease with great speed. This insect is a voracious feeder and breeds quickly creating a multitude of offspring.

So great is the threat of the disease and the insects carrying it that the U.S. government has committed more than $60 million to try and defend California’s $3 billion wine industry. Worldwide there is a huge amount of research going into stopping this disease. Researchers in Sao Paolo, Brazil, have even mapped the genome of Xyella Fastidiosa.

This is not just an American problem. Southern Italy reported an outbreak of Pierce’s disease last year and now has more than a million infected olive trees. Vinis Vinifera, the European vine, has no immunity. Research into breeding resistant vines is ongoing.

Pierces disease is costing California over $100 million a year according to the Center for Wine Economics. Northern California, largely free of glassy-winged sharpshooters, is only able to remain so thanks to hard working agricultural inspectors and constant vigilance.

Image by Reyes Garcia III, USDA Agricultural Research Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Champagne Bottle Sizes

Most people have heard of a magnum of champagne, a few a Jeroboam, but what about the other sizes of bottle?

Here goes …

  • Quarter bottle, Split or Piccolo – ‘small’ in Italian – (187.5 or 200 ml) – perfect for one.
  • Half bottle – Demi ‘half’ in French – (375ml)
  • Bottle – Imperial (750ml) The standard size of a bottle of wine or champagne.
  • Magnum (1.5 litres) The equivalent of 2 bottles.
  • Jeroboam (3 litres) The equivalent of 4 bottles. However, it is important to note that “Jeroboam” can indicate different sizes in different regions in France.
  • Rehoboam (4.5 litre) Equal to 6 bottles.
  • Methuselah (6 litre) 8 bottles
  • Salmanazar (9 litre) 12 bottles.
  • Balthazar (12 litre) 16 bottles.
  • Nebuchadnezzar (15 litre) 20 bottles – or around 120 glasses!
  • Melchior (18 litre) 24 bottles.
  • Solomon (25 litre) 33.3 bottles.
  • Sovereign (26.2 litre) – Reportedly created by Taittinger in 1988 to coincide with the launch of the Sovereign of the Seas cruise liner – then the world’s largest cruise liner.
  • Primat (or Goliath, 27 litre) 36 bottles.
  • Melchizedek (or Midas, 30 litre) a whopping 40 bottles!

As can be seen from the above list – many traditional wine bottle sizes are named after Biblical kings and historical figures – presumably to imitate the impressive size of the larger bottles. However, in reality, the larger bottles are difficult to carry, difficult to open and even more difficult to pour.

Still wines can actually benefit from being stored in magnum bottles. Oxidation occurs more slowly and so they age at a slower pace. However, for Champagne a large bottle reduces the effectiveness of the secondary fermentation phase, and so can diminish the quality of the wine. Because of this larger bottles are often filled from standard size bottles prior to serving. Plus, if you happen to be at the end of the queue for a glass – you are likely to find yourself sipping flat champagne. Personally we’d rather preserve the fizz and buy more smaller bottles!

Image is “Veuve clicquot bottle sizes” by Walter Nissen (Wnissen). – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

How Victorian Botanists Unwittingly Changed European Winemaking Forever

A few select European wines are sold as:

“produced with grapes from ungrafted rootstock”

Ever wondered what that means? Let us tell you!

Vitis Vinifera, the common Europe wine grape, has between 5,000 and 10,000 varietals. Of these, only a few account for nearly all European wine production (we posted about the lack of grape diversity previously).

The current method for growing vines in Europe relies on grafting Vitis Vinifera onto the rootstock of North American vines. A small number of wines are produced using grapes from “ungrafted” vines, but these are usually phenomenally expensive.

Grafting is time consuming and can be difficult. So, why don’t we use ungrafted vines for all European wines?

The short answer is, we can’t.

Grape phylloxera, the scourge of vineyards, makes the use of ungrafted vines impossible almost everywhere in Europe. This tiny relative of the aphid feeds on the roots of grapevines, sucking the sap from them. The resulting damage leaves the vine susceptible to disease.

Grape species native to North America, such as Vitis Labrusca, have developed some resistance to phylloxera. The roots of American vines can secrete a sticky sap that clogs the mouths of phylloxera. If the insect manages to cut into the roots of American vines then once they have moved on the vine can grow a layer of tissue over the wound to prevent bacterial or fungal infection.

North American vines are equipped to defend themselves against phylloxera. However, Vitis Vinifera is not.

French colonists tried to grow Vitis Vinifera in North America in the 16th Century but the vineyards inexplicably failed. Discovering the cause was made all the more difficult by the behaviour of phylloxera. Once the roots have lost a large percentage of sap the pest moves on. Usually, this is before the vine shows any signs of distress. Digging up a dying vine will not likely reveal any of the insects in the roots.

It was subsequently assumed that European vines simply couldn’t be grown in North America. Nobody could understand why.

In the 19th Century it became common practice to import exotic non-native plants into Europe. This was very much a feature of the Victorian era, with Botanists excitedly experimenting with growing plant species gathered from far away places.

With the advent of steamships, crossings of the Atlantic could be carried out in record time. Hence, it is thought that phylloxera began to survive the crossing in the roots of North American vines imported into Europe.

Of course, the inevitable happened, and European wine making was forever changed by what became known as the Great French Wine Blight of the 1850s. That century somewhere between 66% and 90% of all vineyards in Europe were destroyed by the ensuing phylloxera epidemic.

The only known method found to combat phylloxera was proposed by two French wine growers, Leo Laliman and Gaston Bazille, in the 1870s. This technique, namely rootstock grafting, is still in use today. European vines are grafted onto the roots of North American vines. This allows the vines to produce fruit as normal and the roots to have some chance of surviving phylloxera.

A few vineyards did escape the phylloxera epidemic and now produce the only examples of European wines as they were before the epidemic. These ungrafted vines produce grapes which are made into very expensive wines, such as Bollinger’s Vieilles Vignes Françaises Champagne, and Quinta do Noval’s Nacional Vintage Port.

The debate about whether or not grafted or ungrafted vines produce the best grapes is still ongoing to this day.

Image is “Phylloxera cartoon“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

How much wine do I need for a party?

It can be difficult to know how much wine to buy for a party. While you know your guests better than anyone, it can be hard to guess how much people will drink, whether they prefer beer or wine, how long the party will last etc etc.

However, with a few simple rules, it is possible to devise a good estimate.

As a general rule, when offering wine and beer, it’s usual that around 60% of guests will consume wine and 40% beer. Obviously, if your crowd is under 20 or consists of the local rugby team, you may want to buy in more beer than wine.

As to the split between red and white wine, this is very much down to the guests attending. If you do not know people’s preferences then assume a 50/50 split. If you are hosting a summertime party, then more white wine is probably a safe bet (say 60-70% white).

A standard 750ml bottle of wine contains just over 4 small servings (175ml). If however, you are a more generous host (or have rather large wine glasses as we do!) it is more likely that you will only get 3 glasses from a standard bottle. For that extra flourish of style, remember to decant your wine!

As a usual rule, allow 1 drink per guest per hour. If guests are staying overnight or have pre-arranged transportation home you might want to increase this to 2 drinks per hour. If you are hosting a dinner party, bear in mind that people are likely to drink more with food and so allow at least 2 drinks per hour.

Most people will drink less in the afternoon than in the evening, but it is sensible to be generous with your estimate so you don’t run out.

A 750ml bottle of Champagne will usually yield 5 generous flute glass servings. If you are serving a large party all at once (for example, as a toast), you might want to consider buying a larger bottle of champagne – such as a Magnum or Jeroboam. If you intend to serve champagne over the course of a party, we would recommend purchasing multiple standard bottles to retain the bubbles and to avoid waste.

If you would like more information or help choosing wine for a party, please get in touch!

Image is “Wine Bottles” by Anders Henrikson  is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wine Duty

A couple of weeks ago the Chancellor announced a freeze in the duty payable on wine. But what is Duty on wine?

HM Revenue and Customs state that wine Duty is payable on the production of wine or made-wine of more than 1.2% alcohol by volume (ABV).

Wine is defined as a drink produced by fermentation of fresh grapes or grape must.

Made-wine is any other drink – apart from beer or cider – containing alcohol that is made by fermentation, rather than by distillation or any other process. For example, mead is classed as made-wine.

The amount of Wine Duty payable on wine or made-wine is calculated according to its strength and whether it’s sparkling or still.

So, for example, from 23rd March 2015 the duty on wine or made-wine products with an ABV between 1.2 and 4% would attract duty of £84.21 per hectolitre of product. Whereas, the duty on sparkling wine or made-wine with an ABV between 8.5% and 15% is £350.07 per hectolitre of product. A hectolitre is equal to 100 litres. These rates mean that on some £5 bottles of wine, more than half the cost is made up of tax (duty and VAT).

Last year the ‘escalator’ of predetermined annual increases for alcoholic drinks was scrapped but wine duty still rose with inflation. The freeze this year has been welcomed by the wine industry but according to the ‘Drop the Duty’ campaign, wine has not received a tax cut since 1984. By contrast, duty on spirits and cider were cut by 2% and beer by 1p per pint in the most recent budget. It is also noteworthy, that the UK has the second highest rate of wine duty in the EU, with only Ireland having a higher rate.

However, while not enjoying a cut in duty, the UK’s 30m wine consumers can at least know that they will not pay more duty for a time and at least until well after the general election.

Image is “Freyburg – Weinberg über der Unstrut” by FranzfotoOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Chianti or Chianti Classico – What’s the Difference?

Ever wondered why some Chianti’s are called Chianti Classico and some aren’t? We sum up the distinctions for you, starting with Chianti.

Where it is made

A Chianti wine must be produced within the Chianti region. So far so good.

The first mention of a wine area called Chianti dates back to the 13th Century. At that time, the area included the villages of Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and Radda in Chianti. These three villages in the hills between Florence and Sienna formed the League of Chianti to promote their wine – interestingly, at this time it was a white wine!

It was none other than Cosimo III de’ Medici, the penultimate Grand Duke of Tuscany, who in 1716 added the village of Greve and a further area to the north of Greve to the League and declared that these were the only recognised producers of Chianti.

This delineation remained until July 1932 when the Italian government expanded the zone, doing so again in 1967, to cover a large part of central Tuscany. Today the Chianti zone has eight distinct districts, all of which have Denominazione di origine controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status. Chianti Classico is one such district.

DOCG status is the strictest of the three destination of origin regulations used in Italy. These require wine produced in such an area to use defined production methods and meet rigorous standards of quality.

What it contains

Baron Ricasoli created the Chianti recipe of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca in the middle of the 19th Century. In 1967, DOC regulation set by the Italian government firmly established the “Ricasoli formula” of a Sangiovese-based blend with 10–30% Malvasia and Trebbiano.

However by the 1970s producers were releasing blends with a higher proportion of Sangiovese. These so called “Super Tuscans” began to outperform the established Chianti’s on price. The Italian authorities responded by upping the content of Sangiovese in Chianti’s to between 75% and 90% – note, this did not affect Classico or Riserva wines.

So what about Classico?

Chianti Classico wines must be produced within the Classico district of Chianti. This district includes the original Chianti heartland dating back to the 13th Century.

As with Bordeaux, the different districts of Chianti have unique characteristics that can be exemplified and perceived in some wines from those areas. Chianti Classico wines are premium Chianti wines that tend to be medium-bodied with firm tannins and medium-high to high acidity. Floral, cherry and light nutty notes are characteristic aromas.

Chianti Classico must be at least 80% Sangiovese, must have a minimum alcohol of at least 12% with a minimum of 7 months aging in oak. Also, since 2006 Chianti Classico cannot be white, it can only be red.

What’s with the Black Rooster?

Chianti Classico wines are easily identified by the black rooster seal (known as a ‘Gallo Nero’) on the neck of the bottle. This indicates that the producer of the wine is a member of the Chianti Classico Consortium, the local association of producers. The consortium was founded in 1924 to protect and promote Chianti Classico and to prevent wine fraud.

Legend has it that in the 13th Century, the warring provinces of Florence and Siena agreed to settle their border dispute on the crow of a cockerel. The provinces agreed to a race; when the first cockerel crowed at dawn they would each send out their fastest rider to the rival city. Where the riders met would become the new boundary.

On the night before the race, the Florentines starved their black cockerel to ensure that he sang earlier, thereby giving their rider an advantage. Hence the inclusion of the black cockerel motif to designate superiority.

It has been said that when you taste Chianti Classico, you’ll never forget it – and we couldn’t agree more.

If you are interested in trying a Chianti Classico we have one available.

Image is “Montefioralle-Panorama“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Why do we celebrate with Champagne?

From the smashing of a bottle to launch a ship, the popping of corks at New Year or a wedding, or the spraying from the winners podium of a formula 1 race, champagne is the celebratory drink of choice.

But why do we celebrate with Champagne?

Following the development of sparkling wine in the Sixteenth century in the Languedoc region of France, it seems that Champagne was first produced in the Champagne region in the Eighteenth century. However, it was initially referred to as “the devil’s wine”, due to it’s propensity to explode or pop it’s cork thanks to pressure in the bottle.

Over time and thanks to the work of people such as Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin and Andre Francois, Champagne production became more stable and the taste refined.

Despite that initial stigma, Champagne has long been associated with the anointing of French Kings and was fashionable at the Court of Henry IV.

While royal favour did much to encourage patronisation amongst the nobility, it was in the 19th century and the increasing rise of the middle classes, that Champagne took hold as the sign of celebration. As the new merchant classes rose in number and wealth, so did the purchase of Champagne. While merchants could not afford to drink Champagne every day, they would purchase bottles for special occasions.

So let’s raise a glass in celebration of celebrating with Champagne!

Interested in trying some? We’d love it if you glanced at our range of Champagne!

Image is “Champagne” by Jon Sullivan/PDPhoto.org – http://pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.php?mat=pdef&pg=8346. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.