In what may be one of the best publicity stunts in the wine industry this year, Robin Goldstein, Author of The Wine Trials ( Amazon.com) recently pulled a fast one on the editors of Wine Spectator magazine. Goldstein created a fake wine list that included wines the magazine has given horrible reviews to in past issues, set up a website using the free blog site WordPress.com, posted reviews on a food forum site- Chowhound, set up a phone number with an answering machine, and sent in the required wine list and $250 fee to be listed as a recommended establishment. The result? The editors granted Osteria L’Intrepido with an “Award of Excellence“, a title that over 4,000 restaurants around the world covet. Goldstein explains the whole process on his blog and highlights how he made his menu:
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.
Goldstein said he wanted to expose the magazine for their lack of foundation granting these awards. He hypothesized that Wine Spectator merely uses this as another profit generating medium, which brings in an estimated $1 million every year.
Thomas Matthews, Executive Editor of Wine Spectator, defends the publication in a posting on the Wine Spectator Forum saying that the company did their best to contact the restaurant and felt that there was enough evidence on the web that this was a real business. Matthews asserts that, although the wine list contained some obvious bad wines, the majority of the list contained wines that fit into the award of excellence 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.
Goldstein’s actions could be looked at in different ways: Here is someone that wanted to hurt the credibility of a magazine while promoting himself. Or, perhaps he had been to a few of the restaurants in the recommended list and felt like he was the one who was had by the magazine and wanted to expose a flaw in the system.
I think a bigger question arises, one that has been on the minds of many wine lovers: Does this lack of diligence spill into other areas of the magazine, where ratings and awards may be bought and aren’t necessarily earned?