New Basque ambassador Aitor Maiztegui on the region's famed gastronomy

Sommelier Aitor Maiztegui, Star Wine List's new ambassador for the Basque region, which is renowned for the wealth of its world class restaurants and bars
Helen Arnold
By Helen Arnold
Published 14-December-2023
Interview / San Sebastián

Star Wine List’s new ambassador for the Basque region is Aitor Maiztegui, head sommelier at the three-Michelin starred Azurmendi restaurant in Bilbao, which is led by top chef Eneko Atxa.

Maiztegui comes with a wealth of experience in the hospitality sector, and before joining Azurmendi was part of the Madrid-based Santceloni team, after training at the Basque Culinary Centre and the Chamber of Commerce, also in Madrid. He took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with Helen Arnold about all things wine - and in particular, why the Basque region consistently punches above its weight in the gastronomic stakes.

How would you describe the restaurant and bar scene in the Basque region?

We are a region with a rich gastronomic culture and with access to high-quality local products. We have some of the world's most important chefs and a lot of diversity in restaurants with excellent value for money. Additionally, there are many young people creating significant projects with a focus on quality and craftsmanship. I think there is still much work to be done, but the overall outlook is positive in this regard.

How much have things changed in recent years - and what have been the biggest changes you've seen?

I think changes are gradually becoming more pronounced. There is an increasing sensitivity to doing things well, innovating, paying more attention to details, and being more environmentally and sustainability-conscious. Customers are becoming more knowledgeable and demanding. There is also a growing emphasis on the importance of the dining experience and wine.

What do you think are the highlights of the region’s culinary scene - and what could it be doing better?

I believe there should be better trained and professional individuals in the industry.

What are the biggest drinking trends in the Basque country?

Beer. Unfortunately, it is a more affordable product with better marketing and greater accessibility, especially for young people.

What wines, styles and regions are particularly in demand?

Txakoli (a local wine produced in the area) is in high demand, and, of course, La Rioja because it is nearby and is one of the most important and historic wine regions.

How important do you think wine is to the complete offer in Basque country restaurants and bars?

It varies depending on the establishment, but it is of great importance. I would say that every day more establishments are focusing on offering high-quality wines and wine lists, although there is still much work to be done.

It is a beautiful opportunity and a challenge for me to be an ambassador, representing my region and showcasing the best restaurants and wine bars in the Basque Country to the world.

How price sensitive are your customers when it comes to wine?
There is a range, but generally, people pay quite a bit of attention to the price, especially in terms of a good price-to-quality ratio.

What do you hope to achieve as Star Wine List’s ambassador for the Basque region?

First and foremost, I would like to learn and contribute as much as possible. It is a beautiful opportunity and a challenge for me to be an ambassador, representing my region and showcasing the best restaurants and wine bars in the Basque Country to the world. It is a great motivation for me.

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