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Portal del Priorat

Architect Alfredo Arribas' ambitious Spanish winemaking projects

by Ami Kealoha in Food + Drink on 23 May 2011

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What happens when an architect turns vintner? In the case of Spanish architect Alfredo Arribas, the move spawned not just one winery but two—both infused with artistry from the wine itself down to illustrated labels, and of course the beautifully modern buildings housing them too. Based in the emerging wine-making regions of Priorat and the neighboring Montsant, Arribas' project has been quietly breathing new life into the region starting in 2001 when he established Portal del Priorat.

After restoring the neglected terraced plots called closters, they were planted with clones of traditional grapes (Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah), as well as a few experimental varieties, which are all grown organically. Methods include densely planting the vines according the soil's composition (mostly slate) and the topography The resulting wines bear witness to their creator's ingenuity, winning praise from oenophiles for their lightness while still rich with complex flavor notes.

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When I had the privilege of tasting some of the wines with Arribas himself (thanks to the design organization Red) recently at one fo Barcelona's newest wine bars Monvinic, he explained that the taste of his wines is no accident but (of course) by design. His concept loosely revolves around adding what can only be described as the Arribas twist to reinvent both traditional winemaking but perceptions of Spanish wine.

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Negre De Negres accomplishes the feat most dramatically with a blend of grapes that results in a mix of minerals, herbs and fruits, balanced by a freshness as well as a dense warmth on the palate. The inspiration for it, Arribas explained, was the experience of drinking young Greek wines but wanting to add something a little more complex to the profile. Somni, on the other hand, is more robust with oaks and tannins following a lightness that comes from black fruits.

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While the wines from Portal del Priorat are all reds, more recently Arribas introduced Tossos, a red and a white wine resulting from expanding into the neighboring land of Montsant. Those along with an olive oil suggests there might be much more to look forward to from the burgeoning label.

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