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Aug '08

Wine Spectator Award of Excellence Given to Imaginary Restaurant

Wine NewsFake menus. No staff. No wine cellar. No customers. A reserve wine list featuring selections from some of the lowest-scoring Italian wines ever reviewed in Wine Spectator.

If this article from Osteria L’Intrepido di Milano is true, it’s apparent that even fictitious restaurants are eligible to win the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, an award thought by many to recognize restaurants for the quality of their wine lists.

As it says in a recent article about the hoax by the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The program asks restaurants to submit their wine lists and menus and charges for the evaluation. Many restaurants proudly crow about their results, though two-thirds of all submissions win an award. But evaluations are done on the wine selections rather than through in-person visits, and focus on the lists, not necessarily overall service. The program remains a major income source for the magazine’s publisher, M. Shanken Communications. At $250 apiece, the 4,128 restaurants in the 2008 list would have grossed more than $1 million total.”

The fake restaurant and its wine lists were dreamed up by Robin Goldstein, author of The Wine Trials.

As Goldstein says:

“The main wine list 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.”

Of course, Goldstein isn’t the first to question the methodology of the Wine`Spectator awards.

In the July/9/2003 issue of the New York Times, Amanda Hesser points out inconsistencies in the judging process even for nominees and winners of Wine Spectator’s obviously much more prestigious Grand Award, a process described as requiring an in-house evaluation by a Wine Spectator editor.

As Hesser wrote in 2003:

“These restaurants are not inspected every year. Montrachet, which has kept the Grand Award since 1994, has not been reinspected since. Galileo, an Italian restaurant in Washington that advertises its Grand Award on its on-hold phone message, won the honor in 1998. It was reinspected in 2000. But Rotisserie for Beef and Bird in Houston, which has had a Grand Award since 1988, has never been reinspected.”

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