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Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence ...

I couldn't resist stealing this link from Eater LA's blog:

http://osterialintrepido.wordpress.co...

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  1. Well, they don't call it the "Wine Speculator" for nothing!!!

    Absolutely priceless!!!

    1. I detect a distinct whiff of newly-published-author-self-promotion-itis here. I note a few things:

      1. While the blog entry (with convenient and mulitple links to the author's book on Amazon and also to the author's website, which helpfully links to the author's book on Amazon) reprints the apocryphal restaurant's "reserve list" in its entirety (a total of 15 wines), the Spectator page showing its "Award of Excellence" listing shows that the list had a total of 255 selections. The author says nothing about those 240 other wines. Is it not possible that the 240 other wines might have justified recognition even if the "reserve list" was 15 (actually 14) stinkers?

      2. Are we really going to put the burden on the publisher to ferret out that some self-promoting book-writer sent in their $250 fee and made up a phony website, menu and wine list? This seems a wee bit silly. Though it does open up the more legitimate question of what steps, if any, are taken to confirm that the wine list submitted by an applicant is the same that's "on the ground."

      3. Would it be a good thing or a bad thing if Spectator were doling out awards based on whether the list included wines highly rated by Spectator? Isn't the almighty "90+" influential enough without it also becoming the benchmark for how a restaurant's wine list is judged? It doesn't appear that the WS "Award of Excellence" (their lowest level of recognition) is based on wine ratings, and I think the avoidance of such a self-reifying approach is probably for the better. The "definitions" of the various ratings are here, and say nothing about points ->
      http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Din...

      10 Replies
        1. re: zin1953

          Answering my own question to some degree, the author says on the blog:

          "Although the main wine list that I submitted was a perfectly decent selection from around Italy meeting the magazine’s numerical criteria, Osteria L’Intrepido’s “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among some of the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past few decades."

          A "perfectly decent selection from around Italy meeting the magazine's numerical criteria" is really all it takes to get the base level "Award of Excellence", according to WS's described criteria: "Our basic award, for lists that offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style." The criteria don't say anything about the "reserve list", and given the infinite and often nonsensical variety of descriptors and categories on wine lists these days (witness a recent thread on a "Secrets of the Sommelier" section of the Michael Mina Miami restaurant wine list) it's understandable why such categories would be ignored.

          So if the issue is "How could a list with these "reserve list" clunkers get an award?", I think that's much ado over nothing - 15 clunkers out of 250+ wines is not very significant in the grand scheme of things, whether they're called "reserve list," "sucker's bets" or "drain cleaner".

          If the issue is "How can a mythical restaurant get an award?", that's perhaps another question, but it's absurd to think that with thousands of restaurants around the country applying to get the basic award, someone's doing a site visit to every single one. Get me an expense account and I'll volunteer, though.

          1. re: Frodnesor

            A pretty detailed response from Spectator here ->
            http://forums.winespectator.com/eve/f...

            Lends some support to my hypothesis that this was a pretty well-orchestrated scam designed to create publicity for the author, and that the "reserve list" was hardly representative of the full list submitted to WS.

            1. re: Frodnesor

              I have no doubt that is was DELIBERATELY designed. Be that as it may, it DOES point out what I've long maintained . . . BIG lists with names get awards; small lists that are well thought out and better put together do not.

              The awards are a joke, like most of the Wine Speculator.

                1. re: zin1953

                  Not to mention that great restaurants with big lists that are well thought out and put together often don't bother applying.

              1. re: Frodnesor

                I don't know why your last question would be "another" question. One question that does get begged here, however, is why WS defines its own Award of Excellence as an Award for Mere (sorry, Perfect) Decency. That alone is a problematic elision.

                1. re: tatamagouche

                  It's "another question" because it's not the same one as the first one in my post ("how does a list with 15 clunkers get an award?" is one question; "how does a mythical restaurant get an award?" is another question). It's not one that bothers me all that much for reasons I've already mentioned downthread, though there are several others which I do think are more significant (and completely unrelated to the Goldstein stunt) ->
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5503...

                  I completely agree that the "Award of Excellence" is inaptly named since the qualifications seem to be basically "This wine list is legible and does not completely suck." FWIW, though, there is something to be said (though "Excellence" is undoubtedly overdoing it) for wine lists that do present complete accurate info including vintages, appellations and correct names (which is part of the WS baseline requirements).

                  1. re: Frodnesor

                    Ha, I like your wording—I totally think there should be an Award for Legibility and Not Complete Suckiness! I hope I'd win one...

                    1. re: tatamagouche

                      Oh yes, the AFLANCS.

                      Kind of sounds like the insurance company.

          2. seems odd in general that you have to "submit" the request for the award by offering wine spectator $250. or does it seem odd?

            5 Replies
            1. re: bowmore36

              Much ado about nothing. Anyone that relies on any of the Winespectator restaurant awards (or any other pay to play award) to decide where to dine, gets what they deserve. Reminds me a lot of those really important wine gold and silver medals from the podunk county fair.

              Do your homework and don't rely on a flawed system for truth or accuracy.

              Caveat emptor...

              1. re: Strawman

                The Wine Spectator Awards may have more meaning in rural areas of the country. The awards mean that the restaurant is interested in wine and is making some effort in selecting the wines it offers, which is not the norm. At least, it means the restaurant has an extra $250 to spend and may be open next week, which is also becoming unusual.

                1. re: BN1

                  Urban or rural shouldn't mean anything. The award(s) are either worth something or they aren't.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    It does make a difference. There are few if any restaurant ratings or reviews in very rural areas. Usually, there are no Yelp or Chowhound reviews. Resources for checking out places to eat are limited or nonexistent. Heck, most dinner houses close before 8:00 p.m. Whereas having a selection of wine is expected in an urban area, often rural restaurants don’t even have wine. If one sees a rural Wine Spectator Award, it means they have a wine list and there’s hope for a decent bottle. If I go to Yountville, CA and see an award, I would think Duh; but if I go to Quincy, CA and see an award, I would think Ah Hah!

                2. re: Strawman

                  Strawman: to some extent I agree with you about reliance on the awards. It is similar but not a precise analogy to consumers relying on scores to buy their wines. Setting that aside, both WS and restaurants heavily market the awards suggesting to the public that there was some sort of vetting program in place. Now that it is rather public about it being a very flawed system caveat emptor perhaps has more meaning...

              2. I haven't been overly reliant on the WS lists for restaurants, I have been disappointed in the past. The wine lists might be good, but often they are full of big name wines that are beyond my price range, with little thought to how they match to the cuisine. And the food is often sub par for the prices charged. There are of course exceptions, but they tend to prove the rule.

                I found it disturbing that part of the scam involved fake posts on CHowhound! I tried to find them, but no luck.

                13 Replies
                1. re: moh

                  The text of 'Wine Spectator' executive editor Tom Matthew's explanation, not apology but explanation, appears in the comment section at http://www.drvino.com/2008/08/19/fict... . The whole range of comments is worth reading.

                  Phony recommendations of Osteria L'Intrepido had appeared on chowhound.com. When I got wine of the fact that the Award of Excellence had been given to a non-existent restaurant, I posted that on the thread. The alert Chowhound tema then removed all the posts about a place that does not exist.

                  This issue has gone viral and is all over the blogosphere. People in the wine, liquor or restaurant business have written that everybody knew about the way these awards work. But I come from a journalism background, and my indignation is high because this publication has scammed its readers, and when Goldstein called them on it, Matthews accused Goldstein of "malicious duplicity." It does not appear to me that a publication under whose name a sloppy but lucrative awards procedure is acceptable has any business accusing an investigative blogger of being “an unscrupulous person.”

                  Was the magazine’s now clouded award program on the order of, say, phony weapons of mass destruction? Of course not. Industry insiders might have known or spectulated that the Wine Spectator Awards have been a pay-to-play scam, but the publication’s readers — people who buy wines and patronize restaurants — do take such awards seriously. 'Wine Spectator' has let them down.

                  The publication should be grateful to Robin Goldstein for demonstrating flaws in their system and tighten up their procedures in order to restore the magazine’s credibility.

                  1. re: ClaireWalter

                    Robin Goldstein is not an "investigative blogger" so much as an author with a new book he's trying to promote who seems to have provided very selective information about his "investigation" - which appears to be consistent with the M.O. for his "paper" on blind tastings of $15 vs. $150 wines where, despite 15 pages of economic jargon, he gives no information whatsoever as to what wines were selected for the comparisons, how they were selected, how they were paired, etc.

                    Why doesn't that raise your journalistic hackles at all?

                    There are many criticisms which could be leveled at the Spectator award system, but I don't see that Goldstein's hoax does much to elucidate the more valid ones. That they gave recognition to a 250+ bottle list that had 15 clunkers (when Goldstein has failed to disclose the rest of that list)? So what. That they didn't detect a fairly well-orchestrated hoax that had no consequence other than to embarass WS and promote Goldstein's book? Meh.

                    I don't pay much attention at all to the Spectator wine list awards, but I'll pay even less to Goldstein's publications.

                    1. re: Frodnesor

                      Frodnesor -
                      The issue is NOT that Wine Spectator recognized "a 250+ bottle list that had 15 clunkers (when Goldstein has failed to disclose the rest of that list)." The issue IS that WS gave an AWARD to a restaurant that does not exist. That is just plain wrong, no matter who outed the now-discredited pay-to-play award, what subtrefuge Goldstein used to do so or whether of not he had a new book.

                      The magazine's award staff was negligent in not acertaining there really was an Osteria L'Intrepido. All signs indicated that even if it had actually existed at one point, it was troubled or closed when WS claims to have phoned. If Wine Spectator were not a magazine, and one that claimed to be authoritative, this would not be such a big deal.

                      If the buzz about Robin Goldstein's new book helps it stand out amid the ocean of roughly 175,000 books published annually in the US, more power to him.

                      1. re: ClaireWalter

                        Well, there's a number of issues and some matter more to one person than another. As for the one that you focus on - that the restaurant was made-up - what nefarious purpose could possibly be served by someone sending in an application to rate a non-existent restaurant (other than, of course, Goldstein's purpose)? Stated another way, what kind of dipshit would cut a $250 check to get an award for a fake restaurant?

                        As I said, I think this actually distracts attention from the things which perhaps ought to be the subject of further inquiry - whether the wine lists submitted are really the same as what's available in the restaurants, whether the wines on the list are really available or are just listed for show, whether awards are based more on quantity than quality, to say nothing of the whole pay to play structure in the first place. Ferreting out the possibility that someone may have taken a number of steps to invent an apocryphal restaurant is pretty far down on my list.

                        You say it makes a difference b/c WS is a magazine and claims to be "authoritative" (I actually see no such claim in the restaurant awards materials) - Goldstein is a book author and is pretty darn full of himself as well - what's the diff?

                        1. re: ClaireWalter

                          Should they really send someone out to every restaurant to verify it exists? If so, the application fee is going to be much more than $250.

                          This fake restaurant had a website, fake reviews posted on the net, and a working phone number with voice mail. What kind of reasonable person would guess the place didn't exist?

                          I'm not arguing that the WS list is a good thing, I think it's stupid. But I'd say they did enough to verify it existed. This is just a dumb prank out of which no one looks good. Done simply to sell more books.

                          1. re: vanillagorilla

                            A "reasonable person" who called several times and was told that the restaurant was "closed" would suspect something -- perhaps not that it was a ficititious restaurant but that it was having problems (owners' personal problems, financial difficulties, landlord problems, closed by the health department, whatever) or had closed. It appears that whoever supposedly made those (theoretically) transatlantic phone calls "guessed" that the restaurant indeed was viable. Unlike the Chowhound team which can easily delete posts that are found to be phony, WS's gullibility or perpetuation of the hoax is permanently printed in ink on paper.

                            The word "award" implies some kind of judgment, not merely looking at a website, making minor efforts to verify the applicant's existence and cashing the check.

                            1. re: ClaireWalter

                              Once again you are arguing the award is stupid. I agree with that. I wouldn't put any stock in the awards that WS puts out. However, this case doesn't change my opinion one way or the other. If someone want to perpetrate this kind of fraud, they're going to be able to, it's not hard.

                              What if the hoaxer had answered the phone, and talked to them continuing the ruse?

                              To me the awards are stupid, the hoaxer is an idiot, and this hasn't changed anything except the fact that people will get worked up over nothing.

                      2. re: ClaireWalter

                        First, I profess to have little knowledge about the wine business, so please see my query as coming from that perspective. My understanding - and I've read the discussion on the WS site - is that any restaurant can send in what it purports to be its wine list, along w/ $250, and WS will review the list and give it an "award", or not. So, what WS is "verifying" is the list, not the restaurant, etc.?

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          Yes, that seems to be the way it is done, and that is their right to do it. However, why they call that an "Award of Excellence" is beyond me. Recognition, certification, whatever, but award implies something that is won, not bought.

                          1. re: Dan G

                            Yes, I do think of an award as something not bought, but, at the same time, it seems like an imprimatur on the wine list, not the place.

                          2. re: MMRuth

                            What troubles me even more is the fact that all that is being evaluated is a list (and a check). No verification was done to check if those wines were actually available at at the (non-existent) resto. I can give you a list of what I'd _like_ to have in my wine cellar, but on any given day you'll probably find two buck chuck.

                        2. I really have no issue with the criteria for awarding of the basic award EXCEPT that I couldn't find anything on the Spectator site that explains that the restaurant pays $250 for consideration. The fee isn't a deal-breaker in and of itself but the lack of acknowledgment of it kindof is.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Midlife

                            not a deal breaker for sure... they solicite and charge for something they publish in their magazine. isn't that just the same as advertising?

                            1. re: bowmore36

                              Yes, but the point is that the award certificate is posted in the restaurant and can be used in their advertising. I think the average person places the same type of confidence in these awards as they seem to do in WIne Spectator's wine ratings. What it is actually is an EVALUATION of a restaurant's wine list. That's legitimate, but I don't think the public perception is of that reality.

                              1. re: Midlife

                                Winespectator does clearly indicate that they verify only the list and they don't visit any except the Grand Award winners.

                                So the general public puts more faith in an award than it truly deserves. This should come as no surprise as the general public really isn't that smart. <Grin>. As for having as much faith in the restaurant awards as their wine ratings, have you seen some of the strange stuff coming from the mind and palate of James Laube lately? I'd say they are about on par for reliance.

                                I do like the other James' though (Molesworth and Suckling).

                                1. re: Strawman

                                  I like reading James Molesworth 'Tasting Highlights' on WS..

                                  Mod's deleted my other posts to you..no sense of humor they have.
                                  ; )

                            2. re: Midlife

                              The $250 is indicated in the online application guidelines (see http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Din... for new restaurants). By contrast, see the James Beard Award criteria at http://jamesbeard.org/index.php?q=nod... .

                              1. re: ClaireWalter

                                Not that the Beard Foundation has been a paragon of good management either ->
                                http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                            3. Oh please-- an award of ANY kind is not something you pay for, not even postage. The magazine is scamming the public, not the other way around. They should be emabarrassed to the dregs, and immediately stop calling this anything but "paid advertising".

                              1 Reply
                              1. Restaurant Search: Where to find award-winning lists

                                The 2008 Dining Guide: In the Aug. 31 Issue

                                For Restaurareurs/Awards Entry Guidelines & Info

                                Wine Spectator's Restaurant Awards recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.

                                To qualify for an award, the list must present complete, accurate wine information. It must include vintages and appellations for all selections, including wines available by the glass. Complete producer names and correct spellings are mandatory, while the overall presentation and appearance of the list is also taken into consideration. After meeting these basic requirements, lists are judged for one of our three awards.

                                Award of ExcellenceAward of Excellence
                                3,254 winners
                                Our basic award, for lists that offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Typically, these lists offer at least 100 selections.

                                Best of Award of ExcellenceBest of Award of Excellence
                                802 winners
                                Our second-tier award, created to give special recognition to restaurants that clearly exceed the requirements of the Award of Excellence. These lists display either vintage depth, with vertical offerings of several top producers from major regions, or excellent breadth spread over several winegrowing regions. These wine lists typically offer 400 or more selections, along with superior presentation.

                                Grand AwardGrand Award
                                73 winners
                                Our highest award, given to restaurants that show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine program. These restaurants typically offer 1,500 selections or more, and feature serious breadth of top producers, outstanding depth in mature vintages, a selection of large-format bottles, excellent harmony with the menu and superior organization, presentation and wine service.

                                http://www.wineclubdirectory.net&#39;

                                22 Replies
                                1. re: dion

                                  Although I'm obviously skeptical of the value of the basic award, there is one important thing that seems to have been missed in the discussion.

                                  Generally I can find out if a restaurant on the list allows corkage. I can also get a range on what it will cost. This makes the list valuable to me as a starting point for choosing a dining option.

                                  1. re: Strawman

                                    Unless, ofc, the restaurant doesn't exist.

                                  2. re: dion

                                    I have more problem with Goldstein than Spectator. The entry rules are very clear and yes, if you have the time and money to create a list that meets the rules, you get an award.

                                    But isn't that what most are looking for? A list that has met certain criteria. Its not an absolute guarantee of every wine being the hold grail.

                                    This isn't a competition where the winner bought the prize, its recognition for putting time and effort into providing the guest with a good wine program. Goldstein had to put a lot of work into scamming the magazine. I would feel differently if all he did was create a fake list, menus etc. but he set out to scam everyone to the extent of fake postings on this board to make the restaurant look real. He was saved as well because the deadline for entering is the end of January with notification in May, publication in August, so anyone looking for the fake restaurant and not finding it would be explained away that it had closed.

                                    I use the Spectator list for reference when looking for a new restaurant. Usually there are links to the restaurant web site so I can see what they have posted on line and take the final decision as mine as to whether I reserve or not. I know that in most cases I'm not going to find the be all and end all of wine lists, but feel pretty certain I will find something that I will like if only because of the volume of choices that are needed to get one of the awards.

                                    And frankly, no one is going to pad their list to such an extent that the public is fooled when it is so easy to report problems on line.

                                    Goldstein is a great scammer. I doubt he is a great source of information.

                                    1. re: Le Den

                                      Le Dan - It was a fake wine list for a fake restaurant that WS, in its failure to do due diligence, accepted more or less without question. You say you use the Spectator list for reference. Imagine, if you will, going to Milan, searching for Osteria L'Intrepido and finding that the restaurant doesn't exist and never has. Wouldn't you feel that the publication let you down?

                                      1. re: ClaireWalter

                                        The Spectator awards don't purport to be a restaurant guide. If someone actually did waste their time trying to visit said restaurant, who do you think would be more responsible:

                                        - the person who (1) created the fake restaurant, (2) created the fake website for the restaurant, (3) created the fake google map entry for the restaurant, (4) created the fake chowhound comments on the restaurant; (5) set up the fake phone number for the restaurant; and (6) applied for the Wine Spectator award for the restaurant;

                                        or

                                        - the publication that was duped?

                                        1. re: Frodnesor

                                          "Trying to visit said restaurant" is only a "waste of time" when the restaurant does not exist -- and it can be a major disappointment to a traveling foodie who does not have unlimited time in the city.

                                          But you asked whom I would hold responsible if that happened to me. Duped or not, if I used a publication as a referral and discovered they had listed a restaurant that never existed, I would hold the publication responsible.

                                          I am a freelance writer, and most publications as glossy as WS employ fact checkers whose sole job it is to verify that every word that does into that publication is accurate. And when there is a slip-up, most publications have the grace to run a correction. WS appears to have check cashers, not fact checkers.

                                          OTOH if I had cruised around the web and somehow found the fake website, the fake map entry (was there one?) and/or the fake chowhound.com posts, I would hold the creator of the fake restaurant responsible.

                                          1. re: ClaireWalter

                                            Was there a fake map entry? Yes ->
                                            http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&amp;h...

                                            Does any self-respecting "traveling foodie" ever go to a restaurant solely on the basis of it getting the lowest rung of Spectator awards, without making a reservation, and without undertaking any other investigation (like going to its website to look at the menu and check its opening hours, looking for comments on chowhound, etc.)? I think not - particularly since, as noted above, and as is clear from WS's guidelines, the awards are NOT restaurant recommendations. Indeed the fact that a restaurant is listed is clearly no guarantee the restaurant hasn't subsequently closed, so it's a bit silly to suggest that anyone in their right mind would have ever wasted time attempting to visit the place solely on the basis of the Spectator award.

                                            1. re: Frodnesor

                                              Thanks for the link to the map; I didn't see it, because I don't ever look at Google maps. IMHO, regardess of what "anyone in their right mind" would do, it is still the responsibility of any publication to verify facts before committing anything like this to print.

                                              Also, not only are the awards not restaurant recommendations, but they are not awards as commonly understood -- that is, based on some kind of judgment.

                                              The scamming publication was itself scammed, and the editors immediately went on the offense rather than issue a correction and an apology. Pretty shabby journalism, even for a special interest magazine.

                                              1. re: ClaireWalter

                                                *it is still the responsibility of any publication to verify facts before committing anything like this to print*

                                                You seem to overstate what is committed to print by listing the restaurant as the recipient of the award. Again, the WS listings are NOT restaurant recommendations - they are ratings of WINE LISTS which are submitted by restaurant owners for consideration. That is all they claim to be, and for the lower award levels WS does not claim to have made site visits. Someone claiming to be the owner of a restaurant called Osteria L'Intrepido sent in a wine list, a menu, an application, and the fee, and asked that their wine list be rated, and WS did so.

                                                *they are not awards as commonly understood -- that is, based on some kind of judgment*

                                                Not sure how you can reach that conclusion from this particular exampe. Because Goldstein has failed to make available the entire wine list that he submitted, it's impossible to know what kind of judgment was exercised (which is one of my complaints about his stunt). Instead he only crows about 15 "reserve list" clunkers among a list of 250+. This seems deceptive, in that they apparently were the only sub-80 rated wines on the entire list; WS has responded that 53 of the wines were rated 90+ and Goldstein has not provided any more info to refute.

                                                Moreover, while it does appear that most restaurants that apply will get the base-level (and inaptly named, as I've already noted) "Award of Excellence" (WS reports that 1/3 of new applicants are rejected), clearly some judgment is exercised, in that only 802 of the applicants get the "Best of Award of Excellence," and only 73 get the "Grand Award" (which are all subject to the same application process).

                                                Again I don't understand why you're so eager to tar WS with the "shabby journalism" tag and yet Goldstein's deception - and, more importantly to me, deceptively incomplete reporting of it - are OK. But I'm done giving the guy free publicity by bumping this thread any further.

                                                1. re: Frodnesor

                                                  Re "You seem to overstate what is committed to print by listing the restaurant as the recipient of the award. Again, the WS listings are NOT restaurant recommendations - they are ratings of WINE LISTS which are submitted by restaurant owners for consideration."

                                                  Then they shouldn't be called AWARDS. That is part of WS's misrepresentation of a pay-to-play promotional program as something that was judged.

                                                  Further, since Goldstein "failed to make available the entire wine list that he submitted," shouldn't that have been a red flag too?

                                                  "WS reports that 1/3 of new applicants are rejected" That's what they claim.

                                                  "Again I don't understand why you're so eager to tar WS with the "shabby journalism" tag and yet Goldstein's deception - and, more importantly to me, deceptively incomplete reporting of it - are OK." Because newspapers and magazines, by their nature, adhere to a higher standard than everybody else (or used to).

                                                  In an effort to help his book stand out from the 175,000 or so published in the US every year, Goldstein hatched a clever and complex stunt that worked. In the process, he pointed out that the emperor is naked.

                                                  How individual foodies/wine lovers/travelers select restaurants is, IMO, beside the point when it comes top perpetrating a hoax in print. Every journalism student, writer and editor has it drilled into him/her that it is important to verify before something is committed to print. If a real restaurant listed in a magazine closes, that's one thing. If it never existed, that's another.

                                                  1. re: ClaireWalter

                                                    *Further, since Goldstein "failed to make available the entire wine list that he submitted," shouldn't that have been a red flag too? *

                                                    I promised to myself to stop, but you misunderstand - Goldstein DID provide an entire list of 250+ wines to Spectator - he has failed to make that same list of wines available to the public, instead only referring to a 15-bottle "reserve" list it included.

                                                    Interesting to note that Goldstein has added a half-assed explanation of his method to his blog, which attempts to shift the focus from WS bestowing the award on a list with 15 low-rated wines, to WS bestowing the award on a mythical restaurant.

                                                    When it was first posted, he said ->
                                                    "It’s troubling, of course, that a restaurant that doesn’t exist could win an Award of Excellence. But it’s also troubling that the award doesn’t seem to be particularly tied to the quality of the supposed restaurant’s “reserve wine list,” even by Wine Spectator’s own standards. Although the main wine list that I submitted was a perfectly decent selection from around Italy meeting the magazine’s numerical criteria, Osteria L’Intrepido’s “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among some of the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past few decades."

                                                    Now, it's ->
                                                    "The main wine list that I submitted was a perfectly decent selection from around Italy that met the magazine’s basic criteria (about 250 wines, including whites, reds, and sparkling wines–some of which scored well in WS). However, Osteria L’Intrepido’s high-priced “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among some of the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past few decades.

                                                    While it’s interesting that the reserve list would receive such seemingly little scrutiny, the central point is that the wine cellar doesn’t actually exist. And while Osteria L’Intrepido may be the first to win an Award of Excellence for an imaginary restaurant, it’s unlikely that it was the first submission that didn’t accurately reflect the contents of a restaurant’s wine cellar.

                                                    Restaurants, like all businesses, have strong incentives to embellish their images online. We turn to experts and awards bodies to help navigate the chaotic world of information and misinformation that results. If Google, Chowhound, and a couple of unanswered phone calls suffice to verify not just the existence of a restaurant but also the authenticity of its wine list, then it’s not clear what role the critic is playing."

                                                    All of a sudden, what was originally a marginal point which was necessary for the experiment (the creation of the fake restaurant) is now the central point of the exercise. This helpfully deflects any criticism of the methodology leading to the initial primary point (that a restaurant with a lousy "reserve list" could get an award).

                                                    You can compare for yourself the current version ->
                                                    http://osterialintrepido.wordpress.co...
                                                    and the original, now a cached Google page ->
                                                    http://209.85.215.104/search?q=cache:...

                                                    Goldstein is a writer with a book and an "academic paper" he's shilling who - much more so than WS - purports to rely on economics and scientific analysis. I can't begin to understand why he should be held to a lesser standard than a glossy magazine when it's clear his motivation is exactly the same as WS's - to make money.

                                                    1. re: Frodnesor

                                                      I've been staying out of this, but I agree completely. Yes, the fact that this happened may well open the eyes of many to the fact that the "awards" aren't unsolicited awards, but rather a review of a wine list and a designation that is called an award, and at a cost to the restaurant. And that may have been Goldstein's point. But the bigger sham, IMO, is Goldstein's self-promotion.

                                                      1. re: Frodnesor

                                                        Have any of you read his book "The Wine Trials" yet? I picked up a copy at Whole Foods a while back because the cover looked interesting and it was only $15. I know his whole focus is on finding value wines that outperform expensive wines, but when you're recommending Gallo jug wine, boxed wine, and Two Buck Chuck chardonnay (which are described IN THE BOOK as having "chemical notes," being "overly sweet," and other, similar red flags), you're not helping anyone. This book is a waste of money.

                                                        Oh, and on the topic of this thread, I agree with Frodnesor. WS does not recommend the restaurants at the lowest tier, and I don't know anyone who plans a trip to Milan around the WS ratings anyway. I also agree that WS is a tad misleading by calling it an "award," but most of my disgust here is with Robin Goldstein. He clearly did this for the publicity to generate interest for his book (which I'm sure it did), and not to protect the consuming public. The fact that his book is a useless piece of garbage only makes it worse. I might have forgiven him if he had tricked me into buying a good book. :)

                                            2. re: Frodnesor

                                              Exactly my thoughts. I have much more of a problem with the award in general and the fact that the list never got more than a cursory look. The review system should be vetting the winelist not trying to combat an elaborate hoax.

                                              With that said, the award is and always has been of dubious merit. Restaurants that do it know it and restaurants that turn their nose up at participation know it.

                                              1. re: chrisinroch

                                                "With that said, the award is and always has been of dubious merit. Restaurants that do it know it and restaurants that turn their nose up at participation know it."

                                                I have no doubt this is true. What annoys me is that the public doesn't always know it. They just see the awards in the lobby of the resto and assume "wow this must be a great place, look at all these awards". Seems like this is just as much of a hoax as the fake restaurant. I am not condoning the actions of this person, I would agree he seems to be schilling his book. But I can't say I mind the negative publicity WS is getting about their awards. And I say this as a person who still enjoys perusing through this magazine from time to time.

                                                The Award of Excellence reminds me of gold stars given out for neat handwriting at school. Or perfect attendance. Well, except you don't have to pay $250 for the most part...

                                                1. re: moh

                                                  "The Award of Excellence reminds me of gold stars given out for neat handwriting at school. Or perfect attendance."

                                                  Only in this case, the gold star was given by a teacher to a student he's never met...

                                                  1. re: moh

                                                    One can hope that WS takes the negative press seriously and changes the process.

                                                    1. re: chrisinroch

                                                      Nope.
                                                      They will just let the entire thing die away, continue with business as usual.
                                                      You can take this one to the bank.

                                                      1. re: RicRios

                                                        Hope you are wrong on this one RickRios, but you are probably right.

                                                        But at least with all the publicity, less of the public will take this award seriously.

                                                        1. re: moh

                                                          Nah, Ric is absolutely right!

                                              2. re: ClaireWalter

                                                I doubt I would ever know it was a fake restaurant.

                                                If I was in Milan, I would go to the concierge at my hotel with a short list of restaurants I was interested in and ask if they knew any of them, had recommendations etc. and take it from there. I would let the concierge make the reservation at my final choice (or plan B if A is unavailable), so I would never actually know the restaurant didn't exist because I would never have a reservation there. If I lived in Milan and tried to find it, I would assume it had either never opened or had closed quickly and perhaps report to my source that it didn't exist. It wouldn't put my knickers in a twist.

                                                The only time I set my heart on going to a specific restaurant is when I have word of mouth, or far more info than just a listing in a magazine, a web site or such. If I was trying to make the booking myself and kept getting a phone message saying they were closed, I would book somewhere else and again, never know it was a fake. This fakery would never alter my life.

                                                Considering how much trouble Goldstein went to make this scam work, I can't help but feel he was worried that WS would find out and block the inclusion. I guarantee if the location of the fake restaurant had been a US city, he would have been found out.

                                                If every magazine, newspaper etc was raked over the coals every time it was scammed, we would spend more time reading about the scams than anything else.

                                                WS got scammed. So what. It was a cheap publicity stunt (if very well thought out one) that gained Goldstein a few minutes of publicity. Hate WS for whatever reason you want, but this scam should not be the basis.

                                                1. re: Le Den

                                                  Re "If every magazine, newspaper etc was raked over the coals every time it was scammed, we would spend more time reading about the scams than anything else."

                                                  Most publications are not scammed. With their tight deadlines an dimished staffs, newspapers are more susceptible to errors than magazines with their luxury of longer lead times. In any case, when either newspapers or magazines print something erroneous, they print a correction at the first opportunity -- adding "due to a reporting error" or similar if it was their responsbility. I'll be curious whether WS does that.

                                          2. I haven't believed any publication ratings since I learned 30 years ago that the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" required the purchase of a quarter page ad. Its all about circulation and selling space, not objective supplying information.

                                            1. For Restaurareurs/Awards Entry Guidelines & Info

                                              Wine Spectator's Restaurant Awards recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.

                                              To qualify for an award, the list must present complete, accurate wine information. It must include vintages and appellations for all selections, including wines available by the glass. Complete producer names and correct spellings are mandatory, while the overall presentation and appearance of the list is also taken into consideration. After meeting these basic requirements, lists are judged for one of our three awards.

                                              <a href='http://www.wineclubdirectory.net&#39;> Wine Club </a>

                                              1. This is one of the reasons that we have been disappointed with the WS Wine Awards. I used to use them as a "second line" of reference, after my normal channels, when dining in an area, with which we were unfamiliar. We've dined at many Award of Excellence restaurants, and they have been about 50-50, with regards to their wine program. How some of these places could win such an award has been beyond my comprehension, but now I know.

                                                Hey, when a WS Award of Excellence winner serves their US$350 btls. in "jelly jars," and has no clue what a decanter is, I suspect that some copywriter has been working overtime. OTOH, when a top-notch wine restaurant cannot get above the "Honorable Mention" category, I also smell something fishy, and it ain't the halibut.

                                                I still read the mag, 'cause wine porn is big on my Summer reading list, but I hardly ever consult their Web site, and no longer subscribe to it. I found it of little use, and horribly misleading.

                                                Thanks for that link. It confirms some of my suspicions.

                                                Hunt

                                                1. I know it hurts some people to think that WS would give out awards for money and (probably), rate wines higher than they really deserve.

                                                  I know Robin Goldstein from his 2003 restaurant guide, "the menu", where he collaborated with Clare Murumba to create a very comprehensive dining guide of New Haven, Connecticut. This was invaluable to me when I first came to New Haven. I found it to be incredibly accurate and fairly well mirrored my experiences.
                                                  He has incredible credentials. He has written for Fodors, has a certificate from the French Culinary Institute in New York and a law degree.

                                                  I have been disappointed before by restaurants that tout the WS award that don't have what is listed on their wine list, or the restaurant is just not "excellent", at all.
                                                  Goldstein has done a good job as a journalist of exposing WS for what they are, at least at the level Osteria al Intrepido was awarded. How can you accomplish this exposé if you don't use deceit and trickery?