Aitor Maiztegui obtains the Marqués de Vargas Outstanding Young Sommelier Award

• In the final, the panel of judges recognized his technical knowledge and skill in the art of the
• The winner will receive exclusive training at a number of prestigious wineries in Spain, France
and Portugal.
• In conjunction with The Wine Studio, Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas is promoting
the role of the sommelier and this competition underlines their unconditional support for the
restaurant trade.

At the final, held today at the Rosewood Villa Magna Hotel in Madrid, the sommelier Aitor Maiztegui – who works with the three Michelin star Azurmendi restaurant– demonstrated a high level of technical knowledge and the skills essential to the sommelier profession. 

In the final stage of the competition, a panel of judges made up of independent sommeliers, leading professionals from the sector, members of The Wine Studio and representatives from the wine group assessed the three candidates over two tests and awarded the highest technical marks to Aitor Maiztegui. The prize for the winner is a training program that will take place at a number of internationally renowned wineries including the Maison Bollinger and the Maison Ayala in Champagne, Graham’s Port, as well as the three wineries owned by Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas in the Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rías Baixas regions. 

In the words of Pelayo de la Mata, President of  Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas: “We at Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas would like to highlight the level of the candidates who entered the ‘Outstanding Young Sommelier’ competition, which was designed to identify young professionals with passion, talent and knowledge of the world of wine. It has been our proud pleasure to organize this first edition of an award with which we hope to demonstrate our support for the restaurant trade and provide a training program which will recognise youthful talent, the importance of the sommelier within our sector and the promotion of wine in the hands of qualified professionals”.  

The grand final: two stages, two panels of judges 

Specifically, Aitor Maiztegui presented his case before a double panel of judges, taking on two distinct challenges to demonstrate his excellent skills. First, he was required to present a wine list before the “Jury of Honour”. His selections were perfectly paired with a fictitious menu, put together from dishes chosen by the Madrid based Yugo The Bunker (Michelin star) restaurant and the legendary KAIA-KAIPE in Getaria. 

In the second stage, Aitor Maiztegui exhibited his skills in service and attention to the diner, offering his advice and explaining his choice of wines to complement the meal before the so-called “Jury of Diners”, a table of professional sommeliers.  

In the spirit of ensuring absolute fairness and neutrality, the marks given by members of the panel not directly associated with the wine group itself accounted for 60% of the final scores given to each of the candidates for the award.    

The ‘Jury of Honour’ was in charge of assessing the candidates’ presentations for the first test, the more theoretical. The panel was made up of Mr. Pelayo de la Mata, XI Marqués de Vargas and President of Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas; Teresa Martín de la Mata, President of Grupo Varma; Jordi Viñals, Managing Director of Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas; Elisa Errea, Founder and Director of The Wine Studio and Custodio López 

Zamarra – legendary sommelier at the famous Zalacaín restaurant for more than 40 years – also the godfather of this first edition of the Award. All of the members had a wide experience of the world of wine and its marketing and promotion.  

The ‘Jury of Diners’ were entrusted with evaluating the second phase of the grand final – the more practical test. Custodio López Zamarra sat on the panel again, together with another sommelier Cristina de la Calle. The remaining members at the table were Omar Bravo, sommelier and Wine Education Manager at Varma and Javier Fernández Piera, specialist lecturer on wines and tutor at The Wine Studio. 

A highly respected team of experts in the sommelier art.  

Both Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas and The Wine Studio were agreed on the high level of professionalism displayed by the first edition finalists. All have close links with renowned gastronomic establishments, were under 40 years of age and had passed level 3 of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exams, studied at The Wine Studio

The oldest, Aitor Maiztegui – still only 32 –, is currently Head Sommelier at the famous (3 Michelin star) Azurmendi restaurant in Bilbao, run by Eneko Atxa. Between starting out in the world of wine at the well-known Lavinia wine shop, and his current position at one of the most prestigious restaurants, Maiztegui has also been part of the Santceloni y Kabuki team and trained at the Basque Culinary Center and the Chamber of Commerce in Madrid. In addition, he is a member of the Melendo Champagne Guide tasting committee. 

Meanwhile, Iván Sánchez Fernández (1996) is part of the sommelier team at the La Rioja Michelin star Venta Moncalvillo restaurant. Together with Carlos Echapresto – winner of the 2016 National Gastronomy Best Sommelier award – he manages the 1500 bottle selection named the Best Wine List in Spain in 2020 by the International Wine Challenge jury. He is the current holder of the IX Copa Jerez International Championship title, and will now represent Spain in the 2021 final. The young sommelier is also a member of the Management Board of the La Rioja Sommelier Association and a member of the jury for Atlantic Vinos 2021. 

Lastly, Alejandro Escariz (1993). In December, he joined the two Michelin star Moments restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Barcelona. Previously he was sommelier at Media Ración, the most recent incarnation of the famous Cuenllas bistrôt, which first opened in Madrid in 1939. A holder of the Court of Master Sommeliers diploma, Alejandro trained at Mugaritz, Abac and Kabuki Wellington. He has also obtained WSET level 3 in Sake, the Master Sake Sommelier title and the International Kikisake-shi certificate. 

Exclusive training at the most prestigious wineries in Spain, France and Portugal 

The winner will enjoy an exclusive educational trip to the wineries of Marqués de Vargas (D.O.Ca. Rioja), Conde de San Cristóbal (D.O. Ribera del Duero) and Pazo de San Mauro (D.O. Rías Baixas) to advance their understanding of the craft involved in cooperage, the importance of combining grape varieties and to discover some of the essential practices involved in vine growing. They will also visit other international wineries such as Bollinger and Ayala in Champagne (A.O.C. Champagne) and Graham’s, (D.O.C. Porto) – to learn some of the best-kept secrets at these famous estates.  

Tim Atkin places Conde de San Cristóbal among the best wineries of Ribera del Duero

  • The wines of Conde de San Cristóbal all exceed 91 points in the ranking and the renowned authority on wines includes two of them among the 100 best wines of Ribera del Duero: Conde de San Cristóbal Reserva Especial 2019 and the Oydor 2018 – a wine that Atkin has labelled as an icon of the region.  
  • The wine critic and Master of Wine rated the winery among the 30 best of its region according to his Growths classification.

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Valladolid, 18th November 2021. – Well-known critic and Master of Wine Tim Atkin has published his first annual report on this wine region titled ‘Ribera del Duero 2021’. After analysing 149 wineries and tasting 537 wines, he rated the Bodega Conde de San Cristóbal as one of the finest examples and awarded high marks to their wines, which he listed as among the best in the Ribera del Duero D.O. region. 

The renowned wine expert classified Conde de San Cristóbal among his ‘Second Growths’, a select group of 15 wineries which Atkin has identified based on their quality, individuality and good practices. In addition, all their wines received scores of at least 91 points, with exceptional ratings for the yet to be released wine Oydor 2018 with 96 points – and Conde San Cristóbal Reserva Especial 2019, with 94 points, placing them among the Top 100 wines of Ribera Del Duero

Specifically, Atkin recognized Conde de San Cristóbal for its viticulture work and for its high-quality reds and rosé. In particular, he highlighted Oydor as a ‘new iconic wine’. Made from Tinta Fina (Tempranillo) grapes from ungrafted (pie franco) vineyards at Quintana del Pidio (Burgos) planted more than 160 years ago, the writer praised its deep and intense notes.    

“The high marks awarded by the renowned critic Tim Atkin recognize the efforts of the Bodega over more than 20 years of crafting high end wines. Examples that represent the unique and exceptional characteristics of our ‘terroir’, el Pago de Valdestremero, in the heart of the Ribera del Duero. Elegant, expressive and well-balanced wines, the result of the work in both the bodega and the vineyards, to always ensure and reflect the best of our region”, stated Don Pelayo de la Mata, XI Marqués de Vargas and IX Conde de San Cristóbal.

Wines of Conde de San Cristóbal: elegant, expressive and well balanced

In the most comprehensive report written to date on wines bearing this classified Denomination of Origin (D.O.C), Atkin identifies Ribera Del Duero as a region with great international potential.  In addition, in his general assessment of Conde de San Cristóbal, he highlights the quality of the vineyard, the potential of its wines and praises the contribution of Xavier Ausás, the oenological consultant at both the Conde de San Cristóbal and the Marqués de Vargas group winery in Rioja Alta. 

In addition to the recognition for the Bodega Conde de San Cristóbal, one should add the high marks the critic awarded to its reds and rosé, which he describes as well balanced, fresh and elegant. In particular, Conde de San Cristóbal Reserva Especial 2019 received 94 points, one of the winery’s most exclusive examples with a limited production. An elegant, expressive, and delicate red, made with Tinta Fina (Tempranillo) grapes from the best plots, which Atkin describes as full of elegance and finesse.  

In “Conde de San Cristóbal 880m” 2019 the critic recognized the excellent work of the team in identifying and valuing the altitude and fresh climate to produce this red. A wine that he awarded 92 points, with tasting notes that showcase woody and red fruit aromas, with silky tannins. 

Atkin describes the Conde de San Cristóbal Crianza 2019 -91 points-, as a well-balanced, fresh and elegant wine which well represents the vineyards of the winery. 

Lastly, the critic scored the Flamingo Rosé –the only rosé from the winery – with 91 points, highlighting its daring presentation and bottle design. A stylish wine, elegant and surprising.  Flamingo Rosé exclusively uses Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) grape from the best plots located 900 metres above sea level, at the highest terraces of the river Duero

About Conde San Cristóbal

The Conde de San Cristóbal winery, part of the Pago de Valdestremero estate, in the heart of the Ribera del Duero region, was built at the beginning of the century by the De la Mata family – who also own the Bodegas del Marqués de Vargas in Rioja Alta. Its vineyards enjoy an extreme continental climate with marked temperature fluctuations and moderate rainfall. These climatic conditions have a significant influence over the plant cycle and the ripening of the grape.     

In addition, thanks to the seven existing soil types on the property, and the extreme temperatures combined with the mountain breezes, the wines achieve a high level of acidity that provides better structure and longevity. As a result, the Conde de San Cristóbal winery focuses exclusively on producing premium red wines, with a limited number of bottles.  

Bodegas y Viñedos Marqués de Vargas

Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas is very much a family business –presided over by Don Pelayo de la Mata, XI Marqués de Vargas and IX Conde de San Cristóbal– devoted to the crafting of fine wines from the Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rías Baixas classified regions. Unique locations where they make limited edition estate wines, using grapes exclusively from their own vineyards. Their premium wines, which have become internationally renowned for their quality and character, sell under the labels of their three wineries Marqués de Vargas, Conde de San Cristóbal and Pazo de San Mauro. 

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Conde de San Cristobal, The Ribera del Duero wine that had Michelle Obama swooning

                    A historic journey and an exceptional wine

It was 88 years since an incumbent American president had visited Cuba, and to celebrate the landmark the Obama family sat down to dine with the island’s president, Raúl Castro, on 21 March.

A pleasant dinner at one of Havana’s finest “paladar” restaurants, the wine accompanying the historic soirée being Conde de San Cristóbal, a Ribera del Duero that delighted First Lady Michelle Obama, accompanied by a dish entitled “Havana Sensation”, a meat fajita with salsa and fried plantain.

 The secret of Conde de San Cristóbal

With an estate covering 80 hectares just 5 km from Peñafiel, producing little more than one bottle per plant, always using its own grapes, Conde de San Cristóbal is known as one of the most elegant and balanced wines of the Designation, with an absolute commitment to quality.

Aged for 12-14 months in new barrels of French, Russian and American oak, it sells for around 15 euros. Conde de San Cristóbal has claimed various awards, including three stars in the Premium Select Wine Challenge Prowein 2015; the Silver Medal at the Brussels International Wine Contest 2015the Bronze Medal at Decanter 2015 and the IWC 2015 at the International Wine Challenge.

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Xavier Ausás, new consultant at Marqués de Vargas

One of the greats of Spanish viticulture and
oenology, for a great project

The words Marqués de Vargas conjure up in the world of wine the story of four generations dedicated to the production and sale of outstanding Rioja wines. This great winery located in one of the most privileged parts of the Rioja Alta region, will from 1 February boast one of the most prestigious oenologists working today:  Xavier Ausás.

Born in Girona but raised in Valladolid, 47-year-old Xavier Ausás has trained at the most prestigious French winemaking institutions, such as the School of Viticulture and Oenology of Blanquefort (Bordeaux) and the National Oenology Institute at Paul Sabatier University (Toulouse). He joined Vega Sicilia on a work experience programme, and by the age of just 29 was the head of the technical department of the prestigious Spanish winemaking group, where he produced its iconic wines for 25 years.

For Xavier this new project is a real honour:

“Marqués de Vargas is a flagship among the wineries that helped change the perception of the great wines of Rioja at the end of the last century. A winery with a clear and distinct philosophy, producing unique wines that express the qualities of the Rioja Alta, while at the same time reflecting the distinctive characteristics of the “terroir” they come from”.

“My aim, together with the new team, is to undertake major efforts to improve both the viticulture and the oenological practices, all within the context of a project for qualitative growth and continuous improvement”.

Jordi Viñals, director of Marqués de Vargas, explains this “new signing”:

“At Marqués de Vargas our ambition is to be an indisputable member of any list of the top 10 wines of Rioja. With this aim in mind, it is a real luxury for us to be able to draw on the experience and quality of Xavier, in both professional and human terms. An oenologist who has remained kept Spanish winemaking at the top of the table, competing with the finest wines from around the world”

MARQUÉS DE VARGAS WINERY: The Marqués de Vargas Winery, standing amid its own vineyard in the manner of the grand châteaux of Bordeaux, lies in the Rioja Alta at the heart of the Ebro Valley, and in the famed area of “Los Tres Marqueses”.

The estate covers 70 hectares, with 50 hectares of its own vineyards in production. The red varieties grown are Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano and Garnacha, along with a small and still experimental plantation of Maturana. The vines are cared for like a garden, avoiding the use of any type of herbicide or pesticide. The stocks are lovingly cared for throughout the year, and harvested by hand, with some of the grapes having been thinned out before ripening to increase the quality of the rest.

The winery only produces the estate’s premier red wines:

Marqués de Vargas Reserva, Marqués de Vargas Gran Reserva, Marqués de Vargas Selección Privada in the finest vintages, and in truly exceptional years, the legendary Hacienda Pradolagar.

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Marqués de Vargas strengthens international expansion and prestige

The prestigious winemaking group comprising the Marqués de Vargas Wineries and Vineyards has focused on opening up new markets both in traditional wine-consuming countries and in emerging nations.

The Group has drawn up its 2015-2017 strategic plan with the aim that exports should ultimately account for 50% of sales. It is in this regard strengthening its presence in Asia, not only in Japan and China, but also opening up such new, strategic markets as Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines, and other smaller and more exotic destinations including Guam and New Caledonia.

In North America, it has begun operations in the USA with one of the leading importers: Dreyfus Ashby, owned by the Drouhin family, producers of the esteemed wines of the same name in Burgundy and in Oregon. The importer specialises in top-of-the-range wines from family wineries, such as Chateau Petrus, Chateau Laffitte-Laujac… as well as its own Joseph Drouhin label.

A distributor has also been appointed in Canada for Marqués de Vargas and Conde San Cristóbal: Lifford Wine & Spirits.

In Europe, the Marqués de Vargas Winemaking Group has a major presence in most markets. It should be emphasised that the largest export market is in Switzerland, one of the most demanding in the world.

Even in Africa, the Marqués de Vargas Group will have a presence at the leading hotels and restaurants of Morocco.

The following markets were opened up during 2014/15:

  • Singapore
  • Hong Kong
  • Philippines
  • New Caledonia
  • USA
  • Canada
  • Luxembourg
  • Morocco

The Group’s excellence has been acknowledged by CINVE, in awarding a Gold Medal to the Marqués de Vargas Reserva 2010 and a Silver Medal to the Pazo de San Mauro 2014.

Marqués de Vargas Winemaking Group: excellence and quality

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Conde de San Cristobal presents its new wine, Reserva Especial.

A single-estate wine that will be released in an exclusive edition of 8.180 numbered bottles.

Conde de San Cristobal presents Reserva Especial 2015, the most exclusive red wine of the winery with a limited production of 8.180 numbered bottles. A new reference of great personality and balance, produced exclusively with Tinta Fina from the best plots which maintain the essence of the land with designation of origin Ribera de Duero. This is the new reference in the estate’s portfolio, whichready counts with a traditional Crianza, Conde de San Cristóbal Clásico and an atypical saignée-method rosé, Flamingo Rosé.

The expert winemaker Jorge Peique — who has been linked to the wine group Bodegas y Viñedos Marqués de Vargas for two decades —, and Xavier Ausás, external consultant —linked to two of the wineries of the group— have worked together in the design of this new reference, obtaining as a result a unique red wine full of character, with a mineral and intense background, a powerful and tasty mouth, and a fresh and polished tannin from the ageing during 20 months in French oak barrels.

An exclusive wine made at 900m above the sea level

The estate, located in the historic Pago of Valdestremero, counts with 80ha and a vast vineyard that is more than 35 years old. In particular, the variety of grapes used for the Reserva Especial, Tinta Fina, comes from ‘La Arenosa’ — one of the fourteen plots that surround the winery— on the top of a moorland at 900 metres above the sea level.

The production of Conde San Cristóbal Reserva Especial 2015 has followed a meticulous and detailed process, as all the other wines made in the winery. From the harvest, carried out by hand — a work that is respectful with the vine and the berry—; to the transport of the grape to the selection table and the fermentation at a controlled temperature until the bottling.

Tasting notes Conde San Cristóbal Reserva Especial 2015
Ageing: 20 months in French oak barrels
Varieties: 100% Tinta Fina.
Alcohol: 14% Vol.
Production: 8.180 bottles of 75cl and 300 Magnums of 150cl.
Description: intense cherry color with a burgundy trim. Strong and complex aroma, with a mineral and intense background. In the mouth it is powerful and tasty; with fresh and rounded tannins.
Recommended retail: 38,95 €

About Conde San Cristóbal

The winery Conde de San Cristóbal, located in Pago of Valdestremero, in the heart of Ribera del Duero, was born at the beginning of this century built by the family de la Mata, also owners of Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas in Rioja Alta. Its vineyards enjoy an extreme continental climate with pronounced termal fluctuations and a moderate pluviometry.

Furthermore, thanks to the seven different kinds of soils found in the estate, and to the extreme temperatures combined with the mountain winds, the wines acquire a high level of acidity, that gives them a better structure and ageing potential. As a result, the red wines from Conde de San Cristóbal are of a limited production, dedicated exclusively to the obtention of high-end wines.

Wineries and vineyards Marqués de Vargas

Bodegas y Viñedos del Marqués de Vargas is a solid family project — leaded by Pelayo de la Mata, 13th Marquis of Vargas and 9th Count of San Cristóbal— settled in the designations of origin Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rías Baixas. Unique locations where limited editions of single-estate wines are produced with the grapes from their own vineyard. Their high-end wines have become internationally recognised references due to the quality and personality of the wineries Marqués de Vargas, Conde de San Cristóbal and Pazo de San Mauro.