Wine Spectator‘s Executive Director, Thomas Matthews, responds to the Award scam on their forum. It’s good to see “the other side” of the Wine Spectator awards story.

In a situation that called for cool heads, I think they’ve handled it reasonably well but they could have gone a lot further. Something along the lines of “We were wrong, we’re sorry and here’s what we’re going to do about it”.

Further still, they could publish the numbers of entries they receive at $250 per entry (I wonder what reasons for not publishing would be).

Awards or advertising?

The big question around these and other awards is whether they serve to actually acknowledge good work or if they are just another advertising stream. My opinion is that they are a bit of both and let’s not be too naïve to think otherwise.

Wine Spectator’s Response

Below, excerpts from Thomas Matthew’s response (emphasis my own):

To orchestrate his publicity-seeking scam, Robin Goldstein created a fictitious restaurant in Milan, Italy, called Osteria L’Intrepido, then submitted a menu and wine list to Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards as a new entry in 2008. The wine list earned an Award of Excellence, the most basic of our three award levels.

The story has been picked up in the blogosphere, and now Wine Spectator would like to set forth the actual facts of the matter.

1. Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards

Our Awards program was founded in 1981 to encourage restaurants to improve their wine programs, and to aid readers in finding restaurants that take wine seriously.

The program evaluates the content, accuracy and presentation of restaurant wine lists.

2. How could a restaurant that doesn’t exist earn an award for its wine list?

We do not claim to visit every restaurant in our Awards program. We do promise to evaluate their wine lists fairly. We assume that if we receive a wine list, the restaurant that created it does in fact exist. In the application, the restaurant owner warrants that all statements and information provided are truthful and accurate. Of course, we make significant efforts to verify the facts.

In the case of Osteria L’Intrepido:

  1. We called the restaurant multiple times; each time, we reached an answering machine and a message from a person purporting to be from the restaurant claiming that it was closed at the moment.
  2. Googling the restaurant turned up an actual address and located it on a map of Milan
  3. The restaurant sent us a link to a Web site that listed its menu
  4. On the Web site Chowhound, diners (now apparently fictitious) discussed their experiences at the non-existent restaurant in entries dated January 2008, to August 2008.

3. How could this wine list earn an award?

On his blog, Goldstein posted a small selection of the wines on this list, along with their poor ratings from Wine Spectator. This was his effort to prove that the list – even if real – did not deserve an award.

However, this selection was not representative of the quality of the complete list that he submitted to our program. Goldstein posted reviews for 15 wines. But the submitted list contained a total of 256 wines. Only 15 wines scored below 80 points.

Fifty-three wines earned ratings of 90 points or higher (outstanding on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale) and a total of 102 earned ratings of 80 points (good) or better. Overall, the wines came from many of Italy’s top producers, in a clear, accurate presentation.

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