How to Pick the Right Small Wine Fridge
Are you are a wine enthusiast, collector, or somebody that simply finds pleasure from an occasional glass or two of their favorite wine? Whichever best describes you, there is no doubt that keeping your wine stored properly should be a priority.
Incorrect wine storage is a surefire way to spoil your wine and detract from your drinking experience. After all, wine is to be savored and enjoyed so it is a great shame to drink a wine whose flavors have been damaged by poor storage choices.
An excellent method for keeping your wine stored in a safe and efficient manner is to invest in a dedicated wine cooler. The problem is there are so many different coolers available and buying the right one can quickly become confusing.
This article will serve as your guide to educate you and help you select the very best wine cooler for you.
Quick Links Within this Guide
- Amazon’s Top Rated 12 Bottle Wine Coolers for 2018
- What is a Wine Cooler or Refrigerator?
- The Benefits of a Wine Cooler
- How to Choose the Right Wine Cooler
- Different Types of Wine Cooling Technology
- Different Types of Wine Cooler Designs
- Other Considerations to Take into Account
- Regular Refrigerators vs. Dedicated Wine Coolers
- How to Properly Store & Serve White Wine
- How to Properly Store & Serve Red Wine
- Which Wine Cooler Will Work Best for You?
Amazon’s Top Rated 12 Bottle Wine Coolers
Overall score: 4.2/5
Compact size that provides a less invasive cooling option for both large and smaller spaces.
Very quiet thanks to thermoelectric cooling, which can be set to 54 degrees minimum temperature.
Mirrored front glass for a more appealing look with an internal light, which makes viewing the contents easy.
Simple to adjust and control the temperature settings.
The racks are sculpted to hold standard-sized wine bottles. If you buy bottles with larger bases, you may struggle to hold the maximum capacity of 12 bottles.
Takes around 2 hours to reach its lowest temperatures.
Does not refrigerate below 54 degrees, which could be a problem if your specific preference is for a very cold wine.
Overall score: 4.2/5
Features both horizontal space and a vertical section to hold up to four open wine bottles.
No assembly required; ready to plug in straight out of the box.
Small footprint, sleek design for smaller spaces.
Cools from 50 degrees up to 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
Designed for generic wine bottle sizes; too small to fit larger bottles like champagnes.
Control panel needs to be activated each time you want to switch the internal light on, which can be a minor annoyance.
No window tint or mirroring, which could impose limits on where the cooler can be placed. For example, the front of the cooler cannot be placed anywhere that it may be exposed to sunlight.
Overall score: 4.2/5
Smoked glass front, which looks attractive and aids temperature control.
Slide-out shelves for quick and easy loading and unloading.
Various options available: color choice and optional door lock.
Like many other smaller profile coolers, it will struggle to hold large diameter or tall wine bottles.
Sliding shelves have no safety stop to prevent them from being unintentionally pulled out too far.
No way to dim or switch off the temperature light, which may be too bright for certain rooms.
Overall score: 3.5/5
Wide adjustable temperature range of 50-66 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beautiful looking unit thanks to the combination of stainless steel with wooden shelves.
Dimmed LED light, which is great for keeping in darker rooms where bright lights can be annoying.
Sliding inner trays for easy wine removal.
Will need to remove one of the shelves if you wish to hold larger bottles like champagne.
Rack sliding isn’t the smoothest motion.
Overall design quality isn’t as robust as some of the other units available. However, the price of this one is lower than many others.
Overall score: 3.4
A well-built, sturdy, and compact unit that also looks stylish and high-quality.
Perfect size for building into one of your existing kitchen units.
Smooth running fan, little vibration, and noise.
Comes with removable shelves, which allow you to customize the inside storage of the cooler for larger or even standing bottle.
Heavy bottles could be too much for the wire racks to handle.
The cooler’s depth is very close to the length of a standard wine bottle, which means that taller bottles and opened bottles with a vacuum cork or half-inserted cork will not fit.
Plastic parts inside the cooler come with a plastic odor that some people may wish to clean away before using.
Overall score: 4.3/5
Small enough to fit into tight spots as long as you allow enough room for air flow at the sides and rear.
Includes both horizontal and vertical bottle storage.
Stylish finish all around, including the back, which is a bonus if the rear is going to be on show.
Very quiet operation.
Keypad locks, which requires buttons to be held each time you wish to use it. This can become quite cumbersome for switching the internal light on and off.
Should be kept in a cool room as the room temperature will have an impact on the cooler’s running temperature.
Will need to remove shelves if you require it to hold larger bottles.
Overall score: 5/5
Small footprint with a slim design, which makes it a great size for standing on countertops.
Stylish all black design with subtle blue LED internal lighting.
Simple touch-button temperature controls.
Removable and sturdy steel shelves.
Completely clear glass could be a problem for temperature control if the unit is stood by a window or glass door.
Overall score: 5/5
Double-layer smoked tempered glass to block sunlight and improve temperature control.
Ultra-quiet and vibration-free operation.
Soft interior lighting, which is not too bright and in your face. The cooler can also be controlled with an easily accessible on/off switch.
Simple touch temperature controls and LED display screen.
The 12-bottle version has a minimum temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit, which might not be suitable for some individual tastes and requirements.
Overall score: 4/5
Quiet operation with no vibration or unnecessary noise output.
Holds temperature well, which is helped by the smoked glass of the door.
Removable chrome shelves that each hold 2 bottles.
Dual zone temperature control so you can keep different wines stored at different temperatures inside the same unit.
Bottles taller than 13” will not allow the door to close and 1.5L bottles are too big for the shelves.
Sensitive to ambient room temperature, which is generally the case with all thermoelectric wine coolers.
Internal light does not illuminate the lower section thanks to a metal separator, which is required for the dual zone temperature control.
Overall score: 4.2/5
Sleek design with smoked glass for enhanced temperature control.
Perfect size for standing on counter tops or fitting inside a cupboard unit.
Lightweight and easy to move to your desired storage location.
Soft internal light, which can be switched off very easily.
Features a mechanical adjustable thermostat, which means there is no temperature display on the unit.
Although the name suggests it will hold champagne bottles, the shelves are too close together for bottles that large. A shelf will need to be removed for holding large bottles like champagne.
What is a Wine Cooler or Refrigerator?
As the name suggests, a wine cooler is used for keeping wines cool. Of course, a standard refrigerator can also keep wine cool, but it won’t provide you with the necessary control to keep your wine at the optimal temperature.
A good wine cooler allows you to store your wine at the perfect temperature for drinking, which varies slightly depending on the wine type; generally, whites will be kept cooler than reds.
A cooler doesn’t just keep your wines at the optimal temperature; it can also prevent them from going bad over time. Believe it or not, the temperature threshold for the point where wine begins to become damaged is just 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is extremely close to standard room temperature of around 68 degrees.
Keeping wine above that temperature for extended periods causes chemical reactions inside the wine, which alter the flavor. Unfortunately, the flavor won’t be altered for the better and your wine is now ruined; potentially a very costly issue for those that like to keep finer, more expensive wines in the collection.
The Benefits of a Wine Cooler
Wine is best Cooled, not Chilled
Due to the complex nature of wine’s chemical structure, a wine that is served too cold or too warm, even slightly, can lose a lot of its flavor and character. In particular, the aroma, which plays an important part in flavor, can be dramatically altered.
The old saying states that whites should be chilled and reds should be served at room temperature, which is a step in the right direction, but not anywhere near detailed enough for optimal serving temperatures.
The ideal serving temperature for many red wines is between 57 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Reds that originate from warmer climates like Rhones in the South of France can be kept at slightly higher temperatures.
Champagnes and dry white wines should be served around 46 to 50 degrees while sparkling and sweeter wines are best when served a little colder at around 40 to 50 degrees.
Preventing Temperature Fluctuations
Constant changes in the temperature of your wine can impact it just as much as storing it at the wrong temperatures.
Extreme changes in temperature will begin to accelerate certain reactions between the chemicals in the wine. Of course, this is going to change how the wine smells and tastes. This is a big problem when keeping wine in a standard refrigerator since those are usually opened and closed many times throughout the day.
Constant changes in temperature can also have an impact on the seal around the wine’s cork. Swings in temperature could alter the tightness of the seal, which will then allow increased oxygen into the wine and alter the flavor.
Protecting from Natural and Artificial Light
Another factor to consider when storing wine is the exposure to light sources. Firstly, light usually brings heat and, as discussed earlier, is not at all good for wine.
Secondly, ultraviolet rays from light sources have an impact on the wine. Sparkling wine bottles are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of UV rays. A few weeks of light exposure in the store shouldn’t have a huge impact on your wine.
However, keeping it stored for many months and years in direct light will have a degradation effect and could possibly spoil it. For this reason, many wine coolers come with a mirrored or smoked glass door that blocks external light from hitting the wine bottles.
The internal lights of the coolers are also controlled by switches, so you can turn them off after viewing the cooler’s contents.
Controlling Humidity to Add to Longevity
It is important to keep your wine in a location where the humidity levels can remain constant and without fluctuation. This isn’t to say that humidity is to be avoided; in fact, a little humidity is good for the wine.
No humidity at all can cause the cork to shrink, which then leads to unwanted oxidation and a spoiled bottle. The ideal level of humidity is between 50% and 70% and some wine coolers will feature settings to control the humidity.
Even if your wine cooler does not control the humidity directly, it is still much easier to control it inside of a wine cooler than a normal refrigerator or large room. You will need to purchase a hygrometer to measure the humidity if your cooler doesn’t do so.
Your Wine Will Always be Ready to Serve
If you’re able to plan ahead every single time you will be consuming your wine then this isn’t a problem. Of course, the likelihood is there will be many occasions where you will simply have the urge for a glass or an unexpected house guest has arrived.
Without a wine cooler, you would need to serve the wine at a suboptimal temperature or you would have to try and cool it using other means, which could be a real pain. Not to mention the fact that you or your guest will have to wait for it to be cooled.
How to Choose the Right Wine Cooler
Now that you know some of the benefits of investing in a wine cooler, the next part of the equation is taking the correct steps to ensure you buy the right one. Selecting a poor-quality cooler could put your wine at risk; inaccurate temperature displays, leaky door seals and a noisy fan can all be frustrating and costly.
A true wine enthusiast is knowledgeable about their wines and knows exactly how to treat the wine for the best possible drinking experience. An integral part of treating your wine correctly is storing and cooling it properly; a wine refrigerator is integral to both.
12 Considerations to Take into Account
While a wine cooler may seem to be a simple piece of equipment at first glance, there are many more factors to be considered than you may initially realize.
A professional wine cooler should be able to provide you with all the features you need to keep your wines at the optimal temperature for a long period of time.
Selecting an inferior cooler may be easier on your wallet initially but it could cost you much more in the way of a ruined wine collection. Knowing what to look out for during the buying process can be the difference between satisfaction and misery.
Features like the cooling methods used, the glass on the door, how many bottles it can hold and whether it features humidity controls will all need to be considered. Understanding the features to look out for and why they are important is a priority.
Below is a list of all the main features to consider and why they need to be kept in mind as you choose your wine cooler.
- Cooling Technology
Not all wine coolers use the same method for keeping the wine cool. There are three common technologies that you’ll come across when searching for a cooler: compression cooling, thermoelectric cooling, and dual/single zone cooling. We will go into further detail on these technologies later in the article but here’s a quick guide to each one:
Compression coolers work in a similar fashion to a standard refrigerator. They use what is known as a vapor compression cycle to remove any warm air from the cooling unit.
Thermoelectric coolers use a different system for cooling the wine. They operate by passing an electric current through two different types of metal that are fused together. One side of the metal will get hot and the other gets cold as the current passes through them. The hot side acts as a heat sink so it absorbs its own heat while allowing the cold side to cool the wine. Usually, a fan will be used to circulate create and circulate a cold air flow.
These two cooling types each have their own merits and drawbacks, which could have an impact on which type you select for your own cooler. For example, compressor coolers are more powerful but thermoelectric coolers are more energy efficient. We will outline the pros and cons in detail later in the article.
The third technology type you will encounter during your wine cooler search is dual zone cooling. Dual zone coolers will feature two cooling systems that can be controlled independently and will also have a divider between the two zones. The advantage of the dual zone is that you can store different types of wine at different temperatures, so the cooler becomes much more versatile.
- Cooling Zones
As we have just discussed, dual zone cooling is a common technology for wine coolers. Most coolers will be either single zone or dual zone but some have even begun offering triple zone cooling options.
For most people, dual zone cooling will be the best choice since it offers more flexibility and allows you to store different types of wine in the same space. If you are a drinker of both red and white wine, dual zone technology is a must since reds and whites must be kept at completely different temperatures.
- Bottle Capacity
This article has reviewed 12-bottle wine coolers but there are several other capacity options available. 6, 12, 18, 21, 54-bottle and even larger capacity coolers are available. Of course, the choice will very much depend on the size of your wine collection and the amount of space you have for your cooler.
- UV-Proof Door
We discussed earlier in the article that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays from light can spoil your wine. The acceleration of chemical reactions due to UV exposure leads to a sourer, vinegar-like flavor, which ruins the wine and wastes money. Most wine coolers come with a glass door, so they need to take measure to block UV rays. Usually, a tint, mirroring, or a smoke effect is applied to the glass to prevent light rays from coming into contact with the wine.
- Door Locks
Some wine refrigerators will come fitted with locks on the door. Many people won’t be worried about locking their wine bottles away. However, those who have small children in the house may want to take measures to stop them from getting into the cooler.
Individuals with expensive wines may also want to keep them locked away as a security measure to prevent theft.
- Touch-Screen Controls
Many of the newer wine coolers, particularly high-end models, now come with LED displays and touch-enabled controls. Of course, these controls are not a necessity but they do make it quick and easy to set desired temperature. This ease of use is extremely convenient and simply leads to an overall more pleasant experience.
- Fit Oversized Bottles
For drinkers of fine wines that come in standard size and shape bottles, this feature will not be of concern. On the other hand, those who like to purchase an inordinate number of bottles or wish to store collectible bottles of odd shapes may need to consider whether the cooler will accommodate them. In many cases, a standard cooler can store larger bottles, but you will need to remove one of the trays, which will decrease the total capacity.
- Light Colour
The color of the lights on the cooler display are most certainly personal preference but it may need to be a point of consideration. For example, you may wish to match the light to other appliances in your home. The brightness of the light can also be a factor depending on where you wish to keep the cooler.
Over time, your cooler will build up frost and ice on the inside surfaces and shelves. This frost build-up can affect how your cooler operates and could throw off the temperature control. A cooler will need to be defrosted every few months to prevent the frost from having a negative impact.
Defrosting your cooler requires you to turn off the cooler, remove the contents and shelves then allow the frost to melt before draining it. All of this is a time-consuming and inconvenient process, which is why a unit with an auto-defrost feature may be appealing to you.
- Automatic Temperature Control
We discussed previously how it is bad for your wine to be in an environment where temperatures fluctuate. Unfortunately, wine coolers are affected by the ambient temperature of the room in which they are kept.
If a cooler is unable to automatically adjust for any fluctuations in temperature, your wine could be ruined before you have the chance to check the temperatures and adjust them manually. Therefore, looking for a cooler that has an automatic temperature control feature could save both your time and your favorite wines.
- Humidity Controls
Wine should be stored at around 50%-70% humidity; storing it for long periods of time outside of this range can damage the wine and ruin the taste. Having a cooler that allows you to easily control humidity will ensure your wines are kept at an optimal level all the time.
This feature is more important if you will be keeping your wines in the cooler for many months. If you plan on drinking the wine soon after purchasing it, humidity controls may not be required.
Where electricity and moving parts like fans are involved, there is likely to be some kind of noise generated. Of course, nobody wants to be distracted by a humming machine so selecting a quiet model is the aim.
In general, thermoelectric coolers will be quieter than compression cooler units. The downside is that many larger capacity coolers use compression cooler, so you may have to spend more money for a higher end, quiet model or place the cooler in an area where the noise will not be a bother.
Different Types of Wine Cooling Technology
It was mentioned in the previous section that there are a few common technologies used in many wine coolers. Each of these technologies is suitable for different situations so it is important to educate yourself on each type.
There are no absolute winners for the best type of cooling technology to choose so you will need to weigh the pros and cons of each against your individual needs.
Compression Wine Coolers
A compressor wine cooler works very much like the standard household refrigerator.
They extract heat from inside the cooler unit using what is known as a vapor compression cycle. The cycle involves the use of a refrigerant, which is a coolant gas, to carry the heat from inside to outside the unit.
The coolant gas passes through a coil inside the unit to extract heat from the interior, it is then pressurized before passing through a coil outside the machine to radiate the heat into the environment before going through a pressure-reducing valve, which cools the liquid and passes it back through the interior coil.
The air left inside the unit after the coolant has extracted the heat is cool air. In some machines, a fan is used to blow this cool air around the unit.
Compared to other types of cooling system, compression cooling is noisier but also more powerful and useful for larger cooling units.
Thermoelectric Wine Coolers
Thermoelectric cooling uses the Peltier effect to cool the air inside the unit. In this method, an electric current is sent through two different pieces of metal that have been fused together. Since the metals are different, a heat flux is created as the current passes through them and one side gets hot while the other gets cold.
On the hot side, a heat sink is attached to let the heat dissipate. The cold side of the metal is fitted inside of the cooler. Often, a fan will be used to circulate the cold air given off by the cold piece of metal.
Most of the time, a thermoelectric cooler will be quieter than a compression cooler. However, they aren’t as powerful and usually have a smaller temperature range so may not get as cold as a compressor cooler. This will only be a problem if you plan on keeping champagne and sparkling wines.
Single Zone vs Dual Zone Coolers
A dual zone cooler can be either a compression or thermoelectric cooler, but it will have two separate cooling systems in different parts of the unit. The unit will be divided into individual sections and each one will have its’ own temperature controls.
The benefit of this is being able to keep more than one type of wine in the same cooler. Dual zone cooling is a requirement for drinkers that enjoy both red and white wines and would like to store them together.
Different Types of Wine Cooler Designs
As well as choosing between the different technology types inside your wine cooler, you will also need to select between a few different design options. The kind of design you select will depend on a few factors like the amount of space you have, where you wish to place your cooler, and whether you want to be able to move it from place to place when needed.
While every wine cooler is going to have a range of design features that will vary from one cooler to the next, there are three main types of wine cooler designs: freestanding coolers, built-in coolers, and countertop coolers.
Freestanding Wine Coolers
Freestanding coolers are designed to be placed on their own, which allows for a lot of flexibility when deciding where to put your cooler. Due to the similarity in looks to some built-in coolers, people often assume a freestanding cooler can be built into a kitchen unit as well. However, this may not be a wise idea as building a freestanding cooler into your kitchen units could block off some of the air circulation vents.
A big factor for deciding on a freestanding cooler is the price; usually, when compared to a built-in cooler, the freestanding versions will be more affordable.
Built-in Wine Coolers
As you may have guessed, a built-in cooler (also called a zero-clearance or under-counter cooler) is designed to be built into your existing kitchen units. The big benefit of this is purely aesthetic since it will blend in with the room and won’t take up any extra space.
Unlike freestanding units, which can be oddly shaped, built-in coolers are made to fit seamlessly inside most standard kitchen cupboard units. Of course, you need to measure everything beforehand to make sure it will indeed fit.
One more big design difference when compared to other cooler types is the vent placement. Built-in coolers need to have a vent placed on the front to allow air circulation once it has been built into your units.
Countertop Wine Coolers
The name of these coolers makes their purpose obvious: they are designed to be placed on the surface of your countertops. In an overall design sense, they are very similar to a freestanding cooler. The biggest difference will simply be the size.
Countertop coolers are smaller in general than a freestanding cooler, which means they won’t fit as many bottles and features like dual-zone cooling may be hard to find in a countertop cooler.
Other Considerations to Take into Account
When selecting your cooler design, selecting a freestanding, built-in, or countertop coolers isn’t the only design choice you’ll need to make. To ensure you’re fully satisfied with your purchase, you will need to consider all of the key design features of your cooler.
Factors such as the door type, materials, adjustability of the feet, and the shelving space should all be measured against your needs, budget, and expectations. In your search for the perfect wine cooler, you will discover that there is some variance between brands and types when it comes to these factors. Here are some extra things to consider when buying a cooler:
- Insulated Doors
The last thing you want is for the temperature of your cooler to be impacted by a poorly insulated door. To keep the temperatures and humidity levels inside the cooler consistent, the entire unit should be properly insulated. Since coolers are affected by the ambient temperature of the room they are kept in, having a well-insulated door must be a priority.
- Tempered Glass
Tempered glass is glass that has been chemically treated to increase its strength. The strength of tempered glass makes it harder to break than standard glass but if it does break, it will not shatter into jagged shards. Instead, the tempered glass should break into small circular pieces.
Since your cooler will have quite a large pane of glass at the very front, it is a wise choice to buy one that is made with tempered glass for safety.
- Adjustable Feet
A good wine cooler should come with adjustable footing. These feet can be used to make small adjustments to keep the unit level and sturdy. You certainly don’t want a cooler that wobbles or one that sits at an angle, both will detract from the effectiveness of the wine cooling process.
- Storage Shelving Space
Be sure to take a close look at exactly what shape and size bottled you can fit on the shelves inside the wine cooler. Many smaller capacity coolers will only be designed for standard, narrow wine bottled. If you plan on keeping large bottles inside, you may have to purchase a cooler designed for that specific purpose.
In many cases, you will be able to remove the shelves to make space for larger bottles but this will reduce the bottle-capacity of your cooler so this needs to be kept in mind.
Regular Refrigerators vs. Dedicated Wine Coolers
If you’ve read the rest of this article, you will probably know by now that a regular refrigerator simply won’t cut it if you want to get the most out of your wine and not risk spoiling them. There are a few key reasons why a dedicated wine cooler is crucial for storing wine in the correct manner.
Firstly, a standard refrigerator is simply too cold for wine. At around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it is way below the optimal temperatures for storing white wines and even further from where reds should be kept. On top of this, a refrigerator is usually opened and closed many times every day, which leads to wine-damaging fluctuations in temperature levels.
The humidity inside a refrigerator is also designed to be very low and wines do not do well without some humidity. Corks can shrink in low humidity environments and the wine will be exposed to more oxygen than is optimal. Cork shrinkage also exposes your wine to odors from other foods inside a refrigerator that can negatively impact the wine’s flavor.
How to Properly Store & Serve White Wine
White wines should be stored in an area of relatively high humidity, around 70% is perfect where possible but as low as 50% humidity should be fine. This will prevent accelerated cork shrinkage and oxidation of your wine.
The optimal temperature for a white wine is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit but there is some variance depending on the type of wine you have. For instance, sweeter wines can be kept at cooler temperatures. This temperature should be kept constant and without fluctuations that can damage the wine.
The wine should also be kept out of direct sunlight and even exposure to other light sources should be minimized.
Upon serving, white wine should remain at the storage temperature, which is made easy when using a dedicated wine refrigerator. The wine should be poured into a high-quality crystal glass of the correct shape for an optimal flavor experience. The size of a white wine glass is smaller than that used for reds; a 10 to 12-ounce wine glass is correct.
How to Properly Store & Serve Red Wine
Compared to white wine, red wine is best stored at a higher temperature. Many people believe reds are to be served at room temperature, but this isn’t quite the case. For optimal flavor, red wine needs to be stored between 57 and 64 degrees but some can be stored slightly warmer.
The other rules for white wine storage such as constant temperature, humidity levels, and minimal sunlight exposure all apply to the storage of red wines as well.
When it comes to serving red wine, the glass size should be larger than a standard white wine glass. Usually, you’ll find red wine served in a 12 to 16-ounce glass but some red wine glasses will go up to 30-ounces. Red wine glasses also have a slightly more rounded bowl than glasses used for white wine.
Which Wine Cooler Will Work Best for You?
Investing in a dedicated wine cooler is vital if you are looking to gain maximum pleasure from your wine drinking. It makes even more sense to have a high-quality wine refrigerator if you are an individual who likes to keep fine, expensive wines; a cooler can save you a lot of financial loss and heartache that can come from spoiled wines. Don’t be tempted to use a regular refrigerator; the results will never be the same.
With that being said, it is crucial to select the right type of wine cooler. Being clear about your individual needs and educating yourself about what makes a good wine cooler are necessary steps to take prior to making a purchase. This guide has been made with this in mind.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the wine coolers recommended in this article. All you need to do is read through the article, use it to create a checklist of your needs then select the model that best aligns with that checklist. You’ll then have a cooler that will give you maximum pleasure from your favorite wines for years to come.
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