Category: Travel

Spotlight on: Baden and Württemberg

The winelands of Baden and Württemberg reminds me a little of the Languedoc-Roussillon.

View to Bodensee, Baden-Württemberg

Like the Languedoc-Roussillon, Baden and Württemberg lie to the south of the country. And like the Languedoc-Roussillon, they also border a large body of water – Lake Constance, or Bodensee as it’s known locally. Both of these factors make the regions warmer than some of their northern counterparts and the wines in turn are a little higher in alcohol.

But that’s where the similarity stops because although together the regions are part of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, Baden and Württemberg are considered separate wine regions under German legislation. (It’s worth noting here that they have been grouped in this case because I visited both regions in the same journey.) What’s more, with some exceptions, Baden and Württemberg make use of an entirely different set of grapes to Languedoc-Roussillon and to each other.

(Read about Baden and Württemberg’s distinctive food here)

Grape flower buds close up, Baden-Württemberg

Baden is more Pinot focussed with the majority of wines made from Spätburgunder (Pinot noir), Grauburgunder (Pinot gris) and Weißburgunder (Pinot blanc) but Müller-Thurgau and Gutedel (Chasselas) also make an appearance. Württemberg, meanwhile, uses Trollinger, Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier), Lemberger and Spätburgunder. Germany’s best known grape variety, Riesling, is also utilised but certainly not as much as in other German wine regions.

What’s been most interesting for me has been the fact that neither of these two areas seemed to produce sweet wines. Again there are exception here but on the whole, many of the producers tended to make a rosé wine for serving with dessert. It’s something that’s worked out well while there are German strawberries in season but it makes me wonder what they do the rest of the time.

Without further ado, here are the places I’ve visited in Baden and Württemberg (You can read my short guide to wine travel in the Bodensee on Yahoo):

Collegium Wirtemberg


Weingut Markgraf von Baden

Weingut Wöhrwag

Winzerhof Gierer

Château Moulin Caresse, St Antoine de Breuilh

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Bergerac series

The owners of Château Moulin Caresse has been investing a lot of money into the estate recently. Most notable is perhaps the brand new eco-friendly warehouse winery which offers digital controls over temperature, humidity and CO2.

The recent bout of spending is something the owner Sylvie Deffarge is attributing to luck; in that luckily for her and her husband Jean-François, their children are keen to join the family business and therefore making long term investments financially viable.

And what a family business it has been – the property has been in the family since the 1700s although winemaking has been a much more recent phenomenon.

The Château makes three key ranges – Cuvée Cépage, Magie d’Automne and Cent Pour 100 – across the Montravel, Haut Montravel and Bergerac AOCs.

The Cuvée Cépage Montravel Blanc Sec 2013 was fresh and crisp with notes of apple and citrus flanked by flinty minerality. The Magie d’Autumne Montravel Blanc Sec 2012 was more floral, from use of Muscadelle grapes, with a stone fruit character and possibly a hint of toast. The top range, Cent Pour 100 Montravel Blanc Sec 2012, was nutty and creamy in the way Chardonnay can be at times except this one used Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon and had very high acidity.

On the red side, Magie d’Autumne Bergerac Rouge 2010 was still too young to drink really but it’s filled with intense berry fruit, a hint of vanilla and a herbaceous pencil shaving finish. The Cent Pour 100 Montravel Rouge 2010, meanwhile, had the beginnings of leafy, leathery development while still holding on to a mix of black and red fruits and light spice. When you move on to the Cent Pour 100 Montralvel Rouge 2008 you can see the visible difference in development. The wine becomes wonderfully aromatic but not forgetting its dose of blackberry and herbaceous character.

Château Moulin Caresse, Bergerac

A slightly different offering was the Coeur de Roche which the Château has only recently started producing. The idea is to make a special cuvée from the best grapes of the old vines. The grapes are fermented, must and all, in custom-made oak barrels before being blended for the final cuvée. The Coeur de Roche 2009 was the first vintage and shows off its production method with a dark, inky hue. Somehow, despite all the oaking, it manages to be incredibly fruity, with notes of cherry and blackberry as well as a hint of liquorice. It’s really quite delicious.

Château Moulin Caresse, Bergerac

The region also had sweet wine appellations and the Château made both the moelleux (lighter) and liquoreux (more concentrated) styles. The Cuvée Cépage Haut Montravel Semillon Moelleux 2012 was very light indeed with a refreshing style that held the undertones of apricot and white flowers. The Cent Pour 100 Haut Montravel Liquoreux 2011 had much more of a floral note with only a delicate overtone of botrytis.

Château Moulin Caresse, Bergerac

Looking back, the red wines at Château Moulin Caresse were often a little austere while the white wines, and sweet wines, showed much better. But then again, the region’s traditions lay in white and sweet wines so you wouldn’t expect anything less.

Château des Eyssards, Monestier

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Bergerac series

Pascal Cuisset of Château des Eyssards is said to be one of the biggest personalities in Bergerac.

Pascal Cuisset, Château des Eyssards, Bergerac

Meeting him, I can understand why.

Cuisset was a tall, rotund man who gestates as he talks about his wines, almost none stop, all the while pointing out the pluses and minuses of wines in general.

While producing organic wine, he doesn’t use copper as he thinks it kills the worms. And unlike many wine-types, he doesn’t believe in terroir. Instead, he thinks that most of the effects of the soil can be manipulated with technology and fine tuning of viticulture.

He had been a foie gras producer and a one-time chef until he discovered wine one day and headed wholeheartedly down that route. Stints of working in South Africa and tastings of wines from New Zealand and Chile formulated his wine making approach. There’s admiration in his attitude to the New World too.

Apart from believing that Oregon Pinot Noir is much better than Burgundy, he thinks the New World wines are so good because “they have no past and they’re very positive about the future”. Essentially, “they dream of a wine and then they make it”.

The wine that Cuisset dreams of is one that’s big, powerful and a real flavour experience because “a man with passion needs a wine with passion”.

Dessert wine, Château des Eyssards, Bergerac

His Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2013 is bold with notes of lychee, white flower and apricot.

The flavourful l’Adagio des Eyssards 2010 spoke of rounded vanilla and warm wood over blackberry, violet and cherry notes. The tannin-tastic Semental 2010 was too youthful at tasting but was filled with blackberry, dark cherry and bramble. With rest, it could be very interesting.

The Saussignac Cuvée Flavie 2007, made in the Quarts-de-Chaume style, boasted apricots, dried fruit, marmalade and white flowers. As well as having really good balance, the hint of botrytis showed off just a little amidst all the acidity.

Château Tiregand, Creysse

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Bergerac series

Back of house, Château Tiregand, Bergerac

The Château at Château de Tiregand showed tell-tale signs of the enormous wealth of the family in the years gone by, not only in the size of the building but also in the basic facilities. Today it stands in strange contrast to modernity.

The courtyard that once welcomed horse-drawn carriages, with room for at least six carts, now provides ample facilities for parking cars. The pair of zinc windows, recently restored in Paris for a sum of more than 30,000 euros, glistened in the setting sun the way that its modern counterparts could never imagine. And what seemed like abandoned dove cots were in fact homes to ostriches that would have been de-feathered to furnish the hats of the ladies of the house.

All that pomp aside, the Château is still making incredibly good wines.

Wines, Château Tiregand, Bergerac

I took part in a vertical tasting of the Grand Millésime Cuvées, a blend that’s considered the best wines of the house. It’s one which, over time, has changed from a Merlot-dominant blend to one with Cabernet Sauvignon at its heart.

Starting with a youthful 2011, the Grand Millésime 2011 was incredibly smooth and fruity with red berries, strawberry and sweet cherry notes coming through.

The Grand Millésime 2010 was more restrained with blackberry dominating backed by myrtle and herbaceous vanilla.

Grand Millésime 2009 swings back to strawberry but also includes black cherry and blackberry as well as bramble fruits and sour cherry, all while managing to be extremely smooth.

The Grand Millésime 2008 proves to be a very complex blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. The result is a heady blend of red cherry and blackberry with liquorice, flanked by soft, silky tannins and the first peaks of development.

It begins to get rather smoky with the Grand Millésime 2007 where the black cherry fruits have developed into rounded chocolate notes. While the tannins have become smooth and developed, the acidity is still high.

While the Grand Millésime 2005 is looking more developed in colour, with the beginnings of sediments, on the palate it actually feels fresher than the Grand Millésime 2007. Again, high tannins, black cherry and bramble fruits show through.

The Grand Millésime 2001 was showing incredibly well. The complex nose spoke of leafy development with blackberry notes while the herbaceous, minty, sweet spice on the palate added an extra dimension. Somehow, it manages to be refreshing enough to still feel youthful.

Grand Millésime 2000 unfortunately turned out to be rather green and stalky with leafy herbaceousness and a mix of red and blackcurrant. It’s also the first vintage where the previously Cabernet Franc dominant blend was changed to Cabernet Sauvignon.

The change was obvious when you try the Grand Millésime 1998, a Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend, which was all strawberry and chocolate but not very developed.

Changing to a much older blend, I tried some seriously old vintages from the Pécharmant area. It’s a region close to Bordeaux with a significant amount of iron in the soil.

The Pécharmant 1989 spoke of prunes and cherries with lots of animal and vegetal development. The Pécharmant 1983 had visibly aged with brown tints and slightly oxidised character to its coffee notes. However, while the clearly perfectionist owner (who asked not to be written about) said the wine was passed it, I thought it was still drinking incredibly well with notes of cherry and liquorice still showing through in the long finish.

But even without extensive ageing, the Pécharmant wines were extremely expressive. The Pécharmant 2010 had spicy vanilla notes underpining herbaceous blackberry and violets.

On the more mass market side, the Bergerac Blanc 2012 was crisp with rounded citrus (lemon in particular) and extremely high acidity. The first sample I tried of this had actually been left open for eight days, mistakenly sampled obviously, but even so, it remained fresh and vibrant. Now that is a good wine.


Château de la Jaubertie, Colombier

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Bergerac series

Château la Jaubertie, Bergerac

Is Château de la Jaubertie well regarded? I couldn’t tell.

The winemaker Hugh Ryman (son of Nick Ryman, the man who began the Ryman stationery empire) is certainly held in high regard by the industry. He’s often applauded as one of the first flying winemakers who consulted, and still consults, on winemaking projects around the world. What’s more, the wines from Château de la Jaubertie had sold very well in British supermarkets and independents.

And yet it was once a property that was dogged by financial woes and towards the end of the 90s there were reports that it would have to be sold to cover debts.

Both of these were facts that I didn’t find out until further research after my visit and in learning of them, it was easier to understand what I had seen at Château de la Jaubertie.

In the first instance Hugh Ryman is still very much involved in Château de la Jaubertie.

And while trying to make quality, but mass market, wines for consumers, Hugh Ryman himself admits that there was a period in the estate’s history where the aim was bulk production in the style of emergent Latin American regions. Since then, they’ve made a conscious effort to dial back production to a level that was more quality conscious.

Still, while taking a tour through the vineyard, many of Ryman’s comments remained heavy on the costs of wine production. The density of the vines, for example, was resting on a fine balance on the sliding scale of price, quantity and quality.

That said, it’s not all bad.

The Bergerac Blanc Sec 2013 had notes of apple, lime, pear drop and slight effervescence, finishing with a hint of pineapple. Bergerac Blanc Sec 2012 was citrusy but, I felt, had already lost a lot of its freshness and certainly not as aromatic as its younger sibling.

In the slightly more up-market Mirabelle range, the Mirabelle Blanc 2012 had creamy apple and citrus notes, underlined by stone fruits and medium acidity. The Mirabelle Blanc 2010 was much better in comparison with the same rounded stone fruits, apple and citrus but also lime and minerality.

In the red, the Bergerac Rouge 2010 had strawberry highlights and chewy tannins while the Bergerac Rouge 2011 also had vanilla and a little hint of toasted corn.

Going back to the Mirabelle range again, the Mirabelle Rouge 2010 was very herbaceous and steely with blackberry overtones while the Mirabelle Rouge 2008 had minerality showing through the blackberry and black cherry notes.

Moving on to the dessert wines, the Muscadelle Vielles Vignes 2011 was a semi-sweet (moelleux) floral number with notes of white flower, gardenia and apricots. The refreshing Mirabelle crème de tête 2011 was the best of the bunch with notes of apricots and marmalade and a slightly nutty finish. Also finishing with a nutty tang was the Monbazillac 1997 which was softly floral with truffle, marmalade and apricot notes and a very drying finish.

I think given the spectrum of wines tasted, Château de la Jaubertie clearly has potential for great winemaking. And though the wines weren’t terrible, they didn’t exactly inspire great poetry so, for me for the time being at least, the wines are suffering from temporary misdirection.

Château Barouillet, Pomport

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Bergerac series

Château Barouillet, Bergerac

I get the feeling that Vincent Alexis is more at home in trendy Shoreditch than making wines but perhaps it’s too much of a clumsy generalisation to typecast someone with bed hair, wide rimmed glasses and skinny jeans as a hipster.

It is, of course, wrong to assume that Alexis is without credentials. As well as learning his (winemaking) trade in Mâcon, Burgundy, he once worked in the Crouch End branch of Nicholas in London. And as a 9th generation wine maker, he has serious pedigree.

His first vintage was in 2010 but already he has moved away from the family mould by shifting the family’s vineyard towards organic and biodynamic winemaking.

Château Barouillet, Bergerac

To give you an idea of the style of his wines, it’s worth knowing that he designed all of the labels himself with inspiration beginning at the bottom of the bottle. Many of them are named after Greek goddesses and are fermented from natural yeasts.

Gaia 2012, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, was fresh and limey with an almondy finish. Added to that is just a touch of effervescence making the wine reminiscent of Moscato d’Asti at times. The Pandora 2012, made in the egg, was flavoursome with notes of citrus and white stone fruits, bolstered by a toasty, nutty finish.

The reds offered no respite for the palate. Bergerac Rouge 2012 was intensely farmyardy with lots of cherry and animal notes coming through on the palate. Pécharmant 2012, meanwhile, spoke more of liquorice, blackcurrant and sweet spice; there was even a little coffee on the finish. Hécate 2012 had heady fruit with dark and smoky notes over the black and red berries.

Moving on to the sweet wines, the well balanced Monbazillac 2011 had just a touch of botrytis on the nose but offered a diverse expression that included marmalade, marshmallow, apricot and tropical fruits.

A little left field was the very limited release of Apicula 2009. It’s a wine that would have been Monbazillac but was left on the vines at the end of the production. Unfiltered and high in viscosity, it also had an oxidative character that’s very like Pedro Ximinez. Unlike PX, it also boasted an extremely long finish with Christmas fruits, prunes, pickled walnut, caramel and honey all coming through. Delicious stuff, if you can get hold of it.

Riberach, Belesta

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

The entire idea of Riberach is loveable; a once gargantuan winery in the heart of Roussillon that’s converted into a boutique hotel and winery, split almost equally down the centre by a gastronomic restaurant.

Fermentation tank door, Riberach, Belesta

Keeping true to its historic roots, the bedrooms are converted concrete wine vats. The old doors for extracting wine can still be seen on the wall though you’d never suspect the room’s former use when inside.

On the wine side of the winery, things are much more rustic.

Racking tanks, Riberach, Belesta

The upper level is a well-stocked but small wine shop while downstairs is the actual winery. It’s also there that geothermal energy is used to power both the winery and hotel.

Substantially smaller batches of wine, made to a much more exacting standard, are made in stainless steel vats housed in the old concrete tanks before being oaked. Even the white and rosé wines are put into barrel.

The results are certainly interesting.

Still-fermenting red wine, to be rose, Riberach, Belesta

I tasted some still-fermenting tank samples of rosé and white, both cloudy and full of lees, first. The rosé had been in tank for a week with no added yeast. With a decided fizz, it was the colour of watermelon and absolutely delicious as far as grape juice is concerned. It also had the beginnings of red berry fruits showing. The white was a pale sandy yellow colour, very sweet but not quite so aromatic at that point.

In the real tasting, the Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Rosé No 12 (2012 vintage) was extremely pale with plenty of strawberry and good high acidity.

The Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Synthése Blanc 2012, though ripe with green apples and citrus, had remarkably low acidity.

Much more interesting was the Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Rouge No 11 (2011 vintage). With a heady mix of red and black berry fruits and a sort of herbaceous earthiness, it had excellent structure while remaining extremely drinkable when young.

Red is certainly its colour.

Domaines Paul Mas, Montagnac

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

There was a time when, as a thank you, a wine friend gifted me a trio of wines. One of them was from Paul Mas.

At the time, I didn’t know very much about wines. Anything at all, really. But the wine had come very highly recommended and, as it had turned out, was pretty good.

Fast forward a few years and I was visiting Domaines Paul Mas for the first time. It had become a brand that was extremely interesting from a market perspective.

Paul Mas, Montagnac

Despite being incredibly widely available – around eight million bottles are produced a year and some 97% of the production is exported – it also happens to be incredibly well regarded. It has, perhaps, a lot to do with the owner, Jean-Claude Mas’ philosophy that Domaines Paul Mas should be all about every day luxury.

Paul Mas, Montagnac

The story started in 2000 when Jean-Claude Mas inherited 35 hectares of land from his family. Mas, a bit of a marketing whiz, quickly created various labels of good quality wines that are a fun representation of the brand. For Australia for example, where Domaines Paul Mas is the biggest import wine brand, he launched Arrogant Frog to great success.

Though the quality of the wine was good, the prices weren’t astronomical. And though the overall production was huge, each individual label was small enough to garner a boutique cult status. The combination of good wine, good price and good marketing has led to rapid expansion at Domaines Paul Mas.

These days Paul Mas has expanded to more than 400 hectares all over Languedoc-Roussillon comprised of its own vineyards as well as those of its partners.

Has the quality suffered?

Not at the top end but the difference between that and the more basic range is certainly noticeable. But trading on the Domaines Paul Mas brand, they continue to do incredibly well.

The success of the wines have helped Mas indulge in his big love of Japan. Mas has even donated to the rescue efforts at Fukushima. The result can be seen in a thank you letter proudly displayed at his Japanese/French restaurant, Côté Mas.

It was at the restaurant that I tasted a bigger selection of his wines, with food.

Starting with a sparkling, I tasted the Prima Perla Crémant de Limoux Blanc, a simple, citrusy sparkling wine with high acidity.

Moving on to the white wines there was Château Arrogant Frog Limoux Blanc 2012, a well rounded white that’s filled with minerality and a hint of sweetness at the finish. The Château Paul Mas Blanc Belluguette 2012 was heavier on the minerality but perhaps a little less fruit on the nose. There was also an organic wine, the Mas des Tannes Réserve Blanc 2012, which followed a similar style but with much higher acidity and turning out to be a much more refreshing wine.

For the reds, there was the Château Paul Mas Clos de Savignac 2011, a smoky red wine with plenty of red fruit shining through. It was followed by Vignes de Nicole Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah 2012, a very herbaceous red with blackfruits but dominating wood. The Château Paul Mas Clos des Mûres  Magnum 2006 is still needing rest but was already displaying nice complexity of fruit.

Finally finishing on the sweet was a sparkling and a still. The Prima Perla Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale was very fresh and still grapey with lots of citrus. The Paul Mas Chenin Vendanges Tardives 2012, in stark contrast, was a weighty bold wine with a lot of sweetness but perhaps not quite enough acidity.

Domaine Haut Gléon, Durban

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Domaine Haut Gléon showed all the promising signs of a good winery.

Domaine Haut Gléon, Durban

It’s located in the heart of the Corbières, a region well-known for its red wines owing to the abundance of sun to ripen the fruit while the winds kept the temperature down. The vineyard also happens to be in a relatively sheltered valley creating what’s said to be a micro-climate. The valley itself is called Vallée du Paradis, with obvious connotations. Even the name, perhaps wrongly assumed, aspires to Haute Brion.

And yet Haut Gléon is in a pretty terrible shape when it comes to wine.

Young vine, Domaine Haut Gléon, Durban


The 260 hectare estate had apparently been left to fend for itself by the previous owner but has since been acquired by a collective of winemakers. And yet even under new ownership, there’s a lot to be done.

While new vines have been planted, old vines seem to have been neglected with patches left unpruned in the mid-June sun, running untamed as its wild cousins. The focus instead seems to be on the tourism side, with wine being an added bonus.

When it comes to wine tourism, the estate suddenly becomes very promising. Well appointed rooms are located at the heart of the working winery, though without any obvious means of transport to go to anywhere else. It would seem to be somewhere quite perfect for those who want to get into the centre of wine making country and had no desire to do anything else.

But back to the wines. (It’s unclear which of the wines were made before the takeover and which ones after.)

Wines, Domaine Haut Gléon, Durban

The IGP wine, Vallée du Paradis Blanc 2012, was a fresh, crisp white but also a little creamy. The more premium AOC Corbières Blanc 2012 had seriously good minerality and notes of green apples and citrus. It was also interesting to find out that the white version of the label was more expensive than the red wine.

For the rosé wines, the basic Vallée du Paradis Rosé 2012 was fresh enough with high acidity but also hinted at some tannin. The AOC Corbières Rosé 2012 was much more fruity with bags of strawberry coming through in its long finish.

For the reds, I tasted only the AOC Corbières Rouge 2009. It was still feeling incredibly young but there was good structure and plenty of black fruits.

Haut Gléon also produced an incredibly nice Vin de Liqueur Carthagène Rouge, which tasted richly of cherries. That’s one for after dinner chocolates.

Domaine Gayda, Brugairolles

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Domaine Gayda, Brugairolles

Domaine Gayda is very well known in the UK. At least I’ve tried various vintages on several occasions, written about it and recommended it.

I also say it’s well known because according to the rather eccentric English owner, Tim Jones, majority of the visitors to Domaine Gayda are English speaking.

That is not to say that the wines are any less French. In fact, Jones’ philosophy is all about making terroir driven wines and accommodating the seasonal fluctuations with great blends. That said, like many of the producers in the Languedoc-Roussillon who are looking to make something different, his inspiration comes from the New World.

In the case of Jones, that place is South Africa.

A horticulturalist by trade and one-time safari guide in Kenya for Abercrombie & Kent, Jones has maintained his Africa connections through winemaking. Each year, winemakers from South Africa visit Domaine Gayda for a season to learn about wines in the region and vice versa.

Even after 10 years at Domaine Gayda, the innovations and experimentations haven’t stopped. Having recently acquired the hip and trendy “concrete egg”, Jones is also building a separate winery for white wines. The estate is incredibly developed in terms of tourism too, with holiday accommodation on site, restaurant and a rather serious wine school with courses run by Matthew Stubbs in the summer.

Grey concrete egg, Domaine Gayda, Brugairolles

I was very excited about visiting Domaine Gayda, not only because I already knew and loved the wines, but also because my friend and flying winemaker Nayan Gowda was at Domaine Gayda for a season. Unfortunately I couldn’t taste anything made by him as, at the time of my visit, the grapes had yet to fully ripen, but the selection was interesting to taste nonetheless.

Starting with the Pays d’Oc whites, the Cépage Viognier 2012 didn’t have as much of the floral punch as might be expected but there’s certainly plenty of minerality and body of citrus and stone fruits to get to grips with. The Cépage Chardonnay 2012 had a slight spice on the nose with hints of pear drops.

The Figue Libre Freestyle Blanc 2012, the first vintage that’s certified organic, with its delicate nose and little distinguishing features, was actually the least impressive for me out of the whites.

In contrast, the Figue Libre Freestyle Rouge 2011 had a great nose of blackcurrant with well balanced acidity and tannins. The Figue Libre Cabernet Franc 2011, the vintage I had previously recommended, had an equally fruity nose but underpinned by herbaceousness.

Moving a little up-market, the difference was noticeble. The Chemin de Moscou 2011 had vibrant fruit, velvety tannins and much more complexity.

Finishing off is a golden Sélection Chenin Blanc Vendange Tardive 2010 that sang of delicious apricots with a floral nose and great body. It may not compare in complexity against, say, a great Sauternes, but then few things do.

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