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
sommelier.
• 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.  

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