Fictitious restaurant wins Wine Spectator Award of Excellence

If you decided to get a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for you restaurant wine list, what would you need? The answer according to Robin Goldstein is $250 and Microsoft Word. Restaurant not actually required.

Goldstein, the author of The Wine Trials, has a posting up on a new web site describing how he invented a restaurant name, Osteria l’Intrepido, a riff on “fearless.” Then he typed up a menu (“a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes”), put together a wine list, and submitted both to Wine Spectator–along with the $250 fee. The list was approved and given an Award of Excellence (see screenshot).

Then Goldstein decided to add a twist. To the tape:

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 wine list, even by Wine Spectator’s own standards. Although the main wine list that I submitted was made up of fairly standard Italian-focused selections, Osteria L’Intrepido’s “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past 20 years.

Click through for the list complete with WS annotations and scores.

Reached by phone today, Goldstein said that he also presented this information at the annual meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists in Portland over the weekend.

“I didn’t have any empirical evidence of the quality of the restaurants other than my own impressions,” he said. “I wanted to see what the standards of the Awards of Excellence were. The results speak for themselves.” His experience will be part of an academic paper he is working on about standards for wine awards.

In 2003, Amanda Hesser explored the Wine Spectator restaurant awards in a piece in the Times entitled “A Wine Award That Seems Easy to Come By.” She concluded that the 3,573 restaurants that year grossed Wine Spectator $625,275. But the annual application fee then was $175 as opposed to the $250 that Goldstein and others paid for their application fee this year.

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92 Responses to “Fictitious restaurant wins Wine Spectator Award of Excellence”

  1. Thank you for bringing this issue to the fore. I was actually thinking about this earlier today as I reflected upon a sales call I made a few months ago. When I was trying to suggest to the client a few wines that might be received well by his clients, he merely jabbed his thumb at the wall towards his litany of WS Awards and said “my list doesn’t need any help.” Stunning and proof positive that this sham is an opiate not just for the masses, but for the restaurateurs as well.

    I really hope that someday WS is forced to respond to criticisms about how it, a magazine which goes a long way to espouse an objective non-bias, can justify handing out awards to anyone who can clear a check.

  2. This may be my favorite story ever.

  3. Wow, after reading this story, you would think that there would be a better company screening policy. I am surprised that WS would not verify the restaurant. Perhaps, WS should review their criteria for the award.

  4. Hypocrites!

    Great post, thanks!

  5. The problem extends beyond the fee for service model. The notion that a wine program requires its own novel and stand alone mystique is asinine. In reality, the best meals and pairings often happen at restaurants with tightly focused, narrow lists designed to match perfectly with the food.

  6. […] Lisää aiheesta täällä… […]

  7. Today just became a little bit brighter! God I had that award, and all it’s fake connotations. Glad you pointed this out and glad Robin took the time to prove it silly!

  8. If you think the wine industry is bad, try the spirits industry. Sydney Frank (aka Grey Goose Vodka) OWNED the Beverage Tasting Institute which gave Grey Goose the aware of “Best Tasting Vodka” – all a sham!! Especially when you consider that Vodka is supposed to be tasteless & odorless! Consumers think they know wine & spirits and are easily mislead by BS claims, medals and write ups.
    In addition, most of the big name brands use non-standard wine and cheap additives which the TTB does not require them to list on the label.

  9. What makes this prank so extra-sweet is that it was done with academic grounding! On one level, it show that WS wine list awards are essentially rubber stamps. More telling, by using only poorly rated wines, Robin is sending out an even more important message: ratings are ridiculous.

    I think this story is going to have “legs”…

  10. Robin Goldstein deserves an award for this, and the best award would be to give this story legs, as Tish suggests. For one thing, legitimate winners ought to complain that their awards have been disgraced by association. The beauty part was to use WS’s own ratings, which makes it clear that WS this is not an award but a purchace or that WS editors don’t know their own ratings—or both. The Hesser article on this very question (must reading) drew from WS editor Tom Matthews a response on the order of we’re really just trying to raise wine’s profile, which is rather less than convincing. I’m inclined to be doubtful about awards whose organizations have turned them into profit centers, and I believe awards are tailored to produce winners. Take for example the J.D. Power Award . . . for initial customer satisfaction. What the hell does that mena—that customers were happy until they got the thing home?

  11. I agree with the other people who responded. Now it is possible, even if they change the criteria or check to make sure that you have an actual restaurant is that you just write a list out of thin air. Who is to say you did not have the wine when you write your entry. You have one bottle or none (sorry we are out of that right now)of a wine and it can go on your list.

    Perhaps we can get the guests who actually go to the restaurants to vote for “Wine Lovers Award of Restaurant Wine Lists”.

    It sounds like this is a good money maker for Wine Spectator and a marketing gimick to sell ads to the wineries and ad agencys that so and so wines are on 60% of the lists. You know the drill.

    Thanks for report, but never under estimate the American public. I am sure that after this story gets out that there will be more restaurants using Microsoft word to embillish there list and Wine Spectator will only find a way to profit from this story.

  12. As a wine salesman in the field everyday, I am sick and tired of hearing restauranteurs “brag” about the Spectator Award and the amount of times in a row they have won them. Kudos to you Robin…it’s about time!

  13. […] Fictitious Restaurant Wins Wine Spectator Award of Excellence […]

  14. Why anyone is surprised at this relevation is beyond me.

    Want an award for something? Buy one! JD Powers comes to mind about now.

    WS, like all magazines, like all business, is about revenue and profits. There is no other purpose. With this in mind, just imagine all the things they can do to maximize revenue and profits, then apply your own good judgement.

    All mainstream publishing, all newspapers, magazines and the like are in the Entertainment business. They are not in the News or Education business. Do not be fooled.


  15. This is great stuff! I wonder if there were any *real* restaurants that applied, but whose lists were not approved or werem’t given the award. Then it would be interesting to learn what wine is on those restaurant’s lists and why the WS failed them.

  16. I’ve said it time and again and time and again I’m proven right. “Numerical wine ratings are all about $$$.” I discovered the sham that WS portrays years ago.

    Wine awards are for losers!

  17. I thought it was well known that the “Award of Excellence” was a sham! If all you have to do is send them a check and a menu, how could you think it was anything less? In response to Marco, how many restaurant owners would sent WS 250 bucks if they knew they might NOT get an award? I think ZERO!

  18. I actually like WS. I like to read articles about wine, not just blog posts, and that leaves pretty much WS and sometime Food & Wine (which is good but can be a bit light on wine), as well as books on wine. But this is, of course, inexcusable. Beyond the fictitious nature, the weak list is ridiculous. The award has lost all value.

    As to the, ahem, revolutionary fervor encountered above, people need to chill the F out. I mean, c’mon. If someone wants to use ratings as a guide, let them.

    As for awards, legit restaurants need to publicize that they appeal to wine, and a wine periodical is an obvious way, it would just be a LOT better if a magazine built on the concept of ranking wine would make a little effort to rank their supposed award recipients along a bit clearer lines, or at least to make sure that the recipient is deserving of praise.

    WS dropped it here big time. But that having been said, I sure do hate the ugly, maniacal bent with which so many in the wine blogosphere love to fall upon the establishment given any excuse.

    And I suspect that the count might find, were he to consider it, that many of the restaurants involved were not losers, but are smart, avid, dedicated professionals, trying to make it in a tough business, and probably as obsessed with wine, or more, than all of those who would like to think that they are somehow above such business.

  19. OF COURSE most of the restaurants that get WS awards are earnest, pro-wine venues. The problem is the SYSTEM by which wine media (WS and others) have turned themselves into marketing tools rather than true resources for wine lovers.

    Personally, I find it not surprising at all that a fake venue slipped past the beleaguered eyes of the WS fact-checkers. Nor can we condemn WS based on one gaffe alone. WHat this really represents is a (GAPING) crack in the teflon armor that WS drapes over everything it does. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out, and if wineries and restaurants stop swallowing WS’s holier-than-all pablum.

  20. This is exactly why Corporate Wine Peddlers like the Speculator, Parker, Enthusiast do not belong in our industry!!! Any organization (like the above mentioned) whose primary goal (as stated in their Articles of Incorporation)is to “maximize shareholder profit” have no place in Wine World. Earth science’s like grape growing and the art of winemaking do better without Corporate America’s money-grubbing influence.

    (lol) Award of Excellence! What a farce!

  21. Click on the screenshot link and check out the names of the wine director and the chef. Nice touch!

  22. […] What does it take to get a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence? [Osteria l’Intrepido via Dr. Vino] […]

  23. No need to go over the edge, people. First, since it IS an industry–not a cottage industry–there are going to be shareholders and they will want maximum profit. (Those seeking minimum profit, please raise your hands. Or hand.) The quantity of wine that is made without profit as a primary goal is tiny indeed if it exists at all, and for all their failings and foolery large corporate entities have globalized the wine market to the extent that today we have access to more wine, better wine and cheaper wine that more readily available to more people in more places than ever before. That is not, I own, a bad thing.
    We needs must make some helpful distinctions instead of blanket condemnations. Many of us are suspicious of the usefulness and/or legitimacy of awards and ratings, and now in one specific case we have, courtesy of Robin Goldstein, a strong indication that Wine Spec has not granted an award but sold a credential. This is a warning to anyone who has taken such plaques seriously and it is an amusement for those who have been skeptical, but it is not cause for hysteria about “Corporate America’s money-grubbing influence.” (What’s next–the guillotine and the scaffold?) Anyone old enough to remember the bad old days when the French ruled the roost and hardly anyone else could sell their wine must consider that the ability to turn wine into profit has had benefits that far outweigh any negatives. As for the mistily invoked ‘art’ of wine: Sorry, but I believe the appropriate response is that youngsters’ favorite, LOL.

    Wine is chemistry and commerce–and we should all be grateful for that. The business of selling a non-product such as certification–ratings, degrees, awards and the like–is especialy vulnerable to finaglers on either side of the transaction; their proved existence should remind us to trust ourselves and those we know, not strangers, no matter how gaudy their framed certificates.

  24. Why bother with WS? For $250 I can get half a dozen plaques made up at the local plaquery, giving me the top award for the past six years from Wine Spectacle Magazine.

  25. I don’t think that folks should get too torqued about all this–it’s not worth it. Besides, anyone who chooses a restaurant by relying on a Wine Spectator Award, or a James Beard Award, or any of a long list of other buyable distinctions is going to get more or less what he deserves. The gullible, be they diners, chefs, sommeliers, etc. have always been a source of entertainment for the rest of us and to abolish them (by edict or education) would a much duller world create.

    Beyond the amuzement value one needs to bear in mind that people who crave these awards and who lower themselves to obtain them, and those who flock to their annointed temples to bask in such lights do us a great service–we know where not to go and without whom. Now just let’s find a cab driver to tell us where we ought to be going!

  26. Here we go again.

    The least little slip-up and everyone jumps into the foray with a knowing nod and an “AHA! I just KNEW they were crooked!”

    Having contributed freelance pieces to the WS for ten years, I have some familiarity with the people who work there and the way in which they operate, so it is always a surprise to me to see how folks who have no idea at all what they are talking about love to cry “Foul” when an opportunity arises.

    First of all, as a consumer, I have long believed there were flaws in the WS restaurant wine awards program; the major one being that the wine wine awards process does not take quality of food, ambience or service into account.

    But the criteria used for making awards ARE CLEARLY STATED on the WS website, and at no time has the magazine or its staff ever claimed that food, ambience or service were a part of the process. Furthermore, for purposes of this particular discussion, at no time has the magazine ever claimed that WINE RATINGS were one of the criteria for award giving.

    And WHY SHOULD IT BE? Who at the WS in their wildest dreams would imagine that somebody was planning to submit a list made up of the worst possible wine ratings available?!!

    As I see it, the WS big fault here was in assuming that anyone who might take the trouble to compile a wine list and plunk down the money for the application fee was serious about what they were doing. That anyone submitting a wine list for consideration might bear just a smidgen of integrity.

    Might their process, in light of recent happenings, bear some revamping? Sure. Just to make sure that no actual brick and mortar restaurant that has made it a point of stocking up on wines rated below 60 points squeaks through the cracks!

  27. That’s a lovely and no doubt heartfelt apologia but it in no way excuses what WS did: cash the check and mail the award without so much as a by-your-leave. Googling Osteria L’Intrepido would have turned up ‘no match’ in hundredths of a second. A WS staffer familiar with its wine ratings apparently never looked at the list before this fictional restaurant was sold an award–one bearing WS’s name and imprimatur.

    WS has to take its lumps on this on and, if it so chooses, make its own excuses.

    The remark about WS innocently assuming “That anyone submitting a wine list for consideration might bear just a smidgen of integrity” is an unjustified slur on Robin Goldstein. It was his aim to check on the legitimacy of the awards process, and adopting a pose for the purpose is a recognized and accepted journalistic practice.

  28. Talk about not getting torqued! Some people appear on the verge of apoplexy over this. How does anyone manage to take it all so seriously? Jesus, I can imagine some of you bleeding from the ears and foaming at the lips. And how about, if you are going to bash other contributors here, fully identifying yourself with at least a first and last name, if not a link?

  29. […] A real life version of this took place when an ambitious student decided to learn firsthand what it took to win a wine award.  He created a fake restaurant and submitted the fake “bumbling” menu and poorly ranked wine list to wine a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. […]

  30. // at the WS in their wildest dreams would imagine that somebody was planning to submit a list made up of the worst possible wine ratings available?!!

    As I see it, the WS big fault here was in assuming that anyone who might take the trouble to compile a wine list and plunk down the money for the application fee was serious about what they were doing. That anyone submitting a wine list for consideration might bear just a smidgen of integrity.”//

    Are you kidding? So WS is a victim? And the proper roll WS in handing out the clearly named “Award of Excellence” is to presume that any list accompanied by a check is “excellent????”

    I would call this, IMO, Fraud. A stated “Award of Excellence” implies that there is a standard of excellence of some sort, even if it is only an arguable one. Simply rubber stamping an application does not meet that bar.

  31. Yes, Lynn they probably never said specifically anywhere there was any reason or rationale for these awards. But don’t you think that the concept of an award implies that some judging criteria exists?

    Maybe if the Wine Spectator did not devote so much space, so many headlines, so many glossy photographs, and so much promotion and hype to these restaurant awards year after year, you could write this off as no big deal. Trouble is we have all seen what they publish. We know.

    Beyond this we also note that the Wine Spectator also declines to tell its readers exactly how its tastings are conducted, whether the wines are presented random or grouped by price and region, are they double blind, what attributes in wine merit points, how points are assigned, how the 100 point system actually works, and, aside from when the taster is initialed, who tasted the wine and what their qualifications are as a judge of wine quality? Instead they give you a number and tell you the barest of information about what a range of scores represents.

    Without more specific info, I am left to assume their tasting scores have the same merit as their restaurant ratings.

  32. I spent 15+ years working in product development for a liquor company and we laughed at how people reviewed not just liqueurs but wines as well as we discovered that peoples likes are subjective and you cannot put a numerical value on quality in wine or liqueur. In other words, there was no such thing as good or bad, just preference – and most of that is effected by a persons age, sex, race, diet and preferences.
    I wish it was easy to give a numerical rating to products in this industry; however, it is not realistic. Think of this: The best selling liqueur in the US today is Jagermeister and one of the best selling wines is Yellow Tail. Now, can you honestly tell me that either of these two brands would receive a high rating from anyone?
    My favorite moment was reading that the SF Spirits Competition gave Bailey’s a Double Gold (highest award) a few years ago. Its not that Bailey’s is bad, its just that there is and was better and the better items (again subjective!!) were not given high awards because Diageo paid a great deal of $$$ for that competition. Unfortunately, we must accept that ratings matter and the big boys control that game.
    In the end, regardless of the rating, if the establishment sucks or the wine/liqueur tastes bad, nobody will come back and nobody will purchase a second bottle. As Bill Samuel’s Jr. of Makers Mark once said: “Exceptional products sell themselves; mediocre products need exceptional marketing”

  33. Judging criteria are clearly posted on the WS website.,2839,,00.html

    And I am only guessing that “wine ratings” are not mentioned as one of the criteria because no one at WS ever anticipated that any restaurant owner would submit a wine list deliberately (or even accidentally) overstocked with poorly rated wines.


    Posted Aug 20, 2008 05:11 PM
    Wine Spectator learned yesterday that, for the first time in the 27-year history of our Restaurant Awards program, a fictitious restaurant has entered its wine list for judging.

    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.

    Goldstein revealed his elaborate hoax at a meeting in Oregon last week. He is now crowing about the fraud on his own Web site. 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. It does not purport to review the restaurant as a whole.

    In the program’s 27 years, we have evaluated more than 45,000 wine lists. There is no doubt that more restaurants offer good wine lists today than back in 1981. We would like to think that this program has contributed to that development. Further, our Dining Guide is a widely used resource by our subscribers. (View more information on the program here.)

    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. (Nearly one-third of new entries each year do not win awards.) 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:
    a. 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.
    b. Googling the restaurant turned up an actual address and located it on a map of Milan
    c. The restaurant sent us a link to a Web site that listed its menu
    d. 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. (139 wines were not rated.) Overall, the wines came from many of Italy’s top producers, in a clear, accurate presentation.

    Here is our description of an Award of Excellence:
    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 list from L’Intrepido clearly falls within these parameters.

    4. What did Goldstein achieve?

    It has now been demonstrated that an elaborate hoax can deceive Wine Spectator.

    This act of malicious duplicity reminds us that no one is completely immune to fraud. It is sad that an unscrupulous person can attack a publication that has earned its reputation for integrity over the past 32 years. Wine Spectator will clearly have to be more vigilant in the future.

    Most importantly, however, this scam does not tarnish the legitimate accomplishments of the thousands of real restaurants who currently hold Wine Spectator awards, a result of their skill, hard work and passion for wine.

  35. In accusing Robin Goldstein of
    malicious duplicity” and calling him an “unscrupulous person,” Wine Spectator has subscribed to the “best defense is an offense” philosophy. It accused Goldstein for his “elaborate hoax,” when it appears that the award itself is something of a hoax.

    Goldstein was a clever investigative reporter and was his own Deep Throat. He outed the magazine’s ruse, but rather than print a gracious and sincere apology, Thomas Matthews blamed Goldstein for uncovering the scam.

    He wrote, “We assume that if we receive a wine list, the restaurant that created it does in fact exist.” One basic rule of journalism — and Wine Spectator is, after all, a magazine and Matthews is an editor — is not to assume anything.

    Most journalists, if they had continued to be told that a restaurant was closed, would be suspicious and wonder whether the restaurant was closed for good. But then, the awards really have nothing to do with journalism but with marketing and sales promotion.

    Oh yes, then there’s the revenue stream. This year, nearly 4,250 restaurants received one of the three levels of awards. Multiply that by a $250 entry fee for both new restaurants and renewals, and that’s over $100,000, a nice chunk of change. And oh yes, WS keeps the $250, whether or not a restaurant is selected.

    The award submission guidelines state, “Your cover letter explaining your restaurant’s wine program: The cover letter must be on your restaurant’s letterhead with telephone and fax number and must be in English.” Was there a required cover letter with phone and fax numbers, and did the magazine actually keep calling Milan — or did WS simply take the site’s word for these numbers?

    Some comments on this thread implied that people were getting entirely too worked up about this matter. Was the magazine’s now clouded award program on the order of, say, phony weapons of mass destruction? Of course not. Wine/liquor 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.

  36. This is hysterical, but the problem with wine goes far deeper. Parker, Jr. once said that wine is 90% finished at harvest. I spent 10 years working and living in Napa and Sonoma vineyards. Tasted a LOT of wine. Across the board, it’s all grossly overrated. 99% of the vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma County use exactly the same pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, yeasts, pruning techniques, varietals and fundamentally the same winemaking techniques they all learned at Davis. They turn out wine that is incredibly similar and really not that great, speaking objectively. All flash and no cash. It’s Wine Disneyland. The publisher of Wine Business Monthly, in a book he wrote on phylloxera, estimated that a major amount of wine, I recall he said 10-20%, has been artificially flavored with “esters”. No labeling requirements exist for this so you’d never know. The sub-appallation gambit is another scam. You can taste some difference between the same varietal wine from Carneros vs. Calistoga, but that’s about it. When you use all the same growing and winemaking techniques, you get all the same flavors. A winemaker at a winery that sells $350 bottles of Cab once said that their wine wasn’t any better than anyne elses. They just marketed it better. This isn’t a secret inside the industry. By and large, the whole industry is a crock, full of liars whose only interest is self-interest and fooling the public. Only this time, one of the liars got caught. LOL

  37. I might even be inclined to believe that drivel were it not for the fact that Mr. Matthews confidently assures us that this has never ever happened before. Can one be both naive and a blowhard all at once? It is beyond unreasonable to believe him that he a.) kept accurate records of the information they sought out about the fictitious restaurant and b.) even went through all that in the first place considering Mr. Matthew’s own braggadocio over the sheer volume of requests they handle.

    The fact of the matter is that hundreds if not thousands of restaurants are perpetrating this same “scam” unknowingly. I have seen countless lists littered with spelling errors, inconsistencies, and more importantly with several glaring errors pointing to the ineptitude of the author(s). I have to admit that I do not believe that 1/3rd of the applications are turned down as I have yet to hear of a single restaurant that applied not getting the award.

    Moreover, even if this award were somehow above board, it would only be causing lists to conform with WS’s faulty notions of quality. God forbid you submit a list with wineries that refuse to submit their wines.

    The whole model is corrupt. The scam is baked right in! That should not, however, distract us from the fact that none of the supposed criteria for quality were ever intended to be enforced and that WS was more than gleeful to perpetuate the conditions under which thousands of restaurants were pulling the wool over their own eyes.

    The only one thing I would like to see Mr. Goldstein’s complete submitted list. I am not likely to be dissuaded from my belief that the WS award is a total farce, but I would still like to see how far he went to prove his point.

  38. The award is merely sold for $250.00. It is an over-priced T-Shirt. Get a clue people.

    Most ‘awards’ that require money be sent in for consideration are just bull****. Like a diploma mill, get your degree online!!!!

  39. I am really upset by Thomas Matthews of Wine Spectator stating that this was a publicity seeking scam. On the contrary. I work for a liquor company (small one!!) that has been trying to participate in the Aspen Food & Wine Spectator Event in Aspen WHICH is run/sponsored by Wine Spectator and they would not allow me to participate – regardless of how good or unique my products were – unless I paid for advertisements in the magazine. People are being lied to and fooled by Wine Spectator because all they care about is the $$$ – not the quality of the wine. I personally shall be canceling my subscription and will trust my friends to recommend restaurants and wines! How dare Thomas Matthews attach the author – look in the mirror first if you want to attack and stop being so greedy!!!

  40. […] s’y fier? Un gage d’excellence…?On retrouve un excellent article sur le site de Dr. Vino hier. On y apprend qu’un restaurant, L’Osteria L’intrepido a remporté un Award […]

  41. […] Red faces at the Wine Spectator […]

  42. This is kind of inline with your post on wine competitions. Clearly WS uses these awards as a revenue source. This is going to really impact their credibility!

    Begs the question why don’t we trust our own reviews or impressions more, we (the collective we) seem to rely so heavily on what “the critics” think. Time to get some wine self-esteem!

  43. Hi all,

    From the WS website:
    “It’s important to note that our awards evaluate wine lists, not restaurants as a whole. While we assume that the level of food and service will be commensurate with the wine lists entered by award winners, this unfortunately is not always true. We cannot visit every award-winning restaurant (although all Grand Award winners and many others are inspected by Wine Spectator editors), so we encourage our readers to alert us to discrepancies and disappointments. If you have any comments regarding your experience at one of our award-winning restaurants, contact us at”

    So I don’t blame WS for not knowing the restaurant was a fake.

    Also on their website:
    “Award of Excellence – 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”

    This implies that they are evaluating the quality of the submitted wine lists.


  44. […] much. Now some guy has received the award for a restaurant that doesn’t exist. Read the story here. Bookmark […]

  45. Matthews’ rebuttal includes this:

    (Nearly one-third of new entries each year do not win awards.)


    I’d love to see THAT list, to see whose wine lists are so poor that they can’t even get an award like this one. No doubt WS will never publish that list.

    I challenge a restaurateur whose list was denied an award to step forward and produce the rejection letter. I fail to believe that such a letter actually exists, Tom Matthews’ statement to the contrary notwithstanding.

  46. […] found by rydernyc via twitter via drvino […]

  47. […] found by rydernyc via twitter via drvino […]

  48. […] awards just aren’t what they seem as you can see from Dr Vino’s post about a recent Wine Spectator Award of Excellence awarded to a fictitious restaurant.  Not […]

  49. […] the Wine Spectator got fooled. It’s kinda funny, and it may even be just a little bit telling. What it isn’t […]

  50. We all love to play “gotcha,” of course, but the professor’s entry was just cute, not clever. I swear reading in the WS itself that almost all of the entries get approved, so I thought to myself then, “boy, that is a worthless distinction.” It didn’t take a stunt to make the case…

  51. Matthews’ defense is actually quite sensible. But his defense also suggests that a wine list can have 5% crap wines and still receive their basic award. Which might be troubling for wine lovers & restaurant-goers who view the WS awards as a means to help them select restaurants that care deeply about wine and wine service. Calling the study an “act of malicious duplicity” and “unscrupulous” is a bad move. Better to have acknowledged that this highlights a potential area of concern and commit to reducing the 5% margin of error – and maybe even asking Robin Goldstein for help. Instead, WS is viewing it as a personal attack and reacting in kind. Not classy.

  52. 5% lame wines on a list–hard to believe any restaurant does have that. But 5% lame wines running 80 to 250 EUROS–about $120 to $200? How the hell could WS have missed that?

    As for those who say this is but a tempest in a tastevin: I agree in part, but only in part. I have never gone into a restaurant because some organization kissed its glass and I don’t know anyone who has. But in the US especially, where we don’t have a wine culture and many don’t have confidence–and where all of us are well-used to semi-official recommendations of one kind or another–this little stunt does a good job of bringing the whole foolishness up for discussion and the ridiculae it largely deserves. Not to mention the entertainment value. The WS’s self-pitying cries of victimization are delicious.

    Goldstein’s next move should be to get a REAL restaurant to submit a fake wines lists . . . and the rest of use should be searching for even one restaurant that WAS denied a WS Excellence award.

  53. It is about time the wine trade wakes up and stops listening to the so called wine experts,to recommend what they think is Good , Better and Best, for a fee. As an importer i have been told in years gone past that advertising with the magazine will reflect good ratings for my wines i import. For proof of this just look at past years ratings on the of Yellow Tail wines. Soon as advertising money flows ratings improve by 10 points. This is just plain commerce and nothing more. To think you are getting an un-bias review of wines or restaurants would make as much sense as believing everything you hear on CNN about political candidates is in your best interest to make an educated vote in November……

  54. I am laughing deliciously at this WS Restaurant Awards expose – we are wine producers and rarely submit our wines for appraisal by the so-called experts … we have long since learnt the wine-world is a fashion-industry … not always to do with quality or the actual product, but who and what is the flavour of the month and has become the darling of the wine world because of key magazines or wine critics adopting them as their stars …

    At numerous wine shows around the world, I get so sick of people who wouldn’t really know a good wine from a bad wine (and there are many so called experts in this category) falling back on the safe premise that because a wine has a good WS, Parker, etc rating, it has gotta be good … I have been known to get a great deal of joy swapping our wines into the bottles of such wines – and listening to these fraudsters waxing lyrical about ‘our’ wines hidden in someone else’s label … and dismissing the wine in our labels as not worth a second thought … what a joke – and this scam that WS has fallen hook, line and sinker for – says it all !

  55. The only thing that would make this funnier, is if the non-existent restaurant included non-existent wines on it’s non-existent wine list. Maybe our beloved scamster thought that might be pushing the deception too far!

  56. sorry, should have taken the apostrophe out of “it’s” in the last post!

  57. I’m more amused by the sycophants on the WS forum that are in support of WS and blasting the unscrupulous person.

    It’s the mentality that allows crooked politicians to keep getting elected:

    “He may be a crooked politician, but he’s MY crooked politician”.

    Idiots. 🙂

  58. I’m glad the truth was exposed. I’ve often wondered what was going on with their award. I was familiar with a number of restaurants that won the WS Award of Excellence and knew firsthand that their wines lists were in fact terrible.

  59. I’d like to make a suggestions here. We see above a lot of the following: There are a lot of lind claims above. “I always knew”; “not unless I bought ads”; “he merely jabbed his thumb at the wall towards his litany of WS Awards and said ‘my list doesn’t need any help’.” And similar. Whether we like WS or not we must honestly admit that such things are but CLAIMS and ACCUSATIONS not facts–not until documented. Which I’m sure we’d all love to see–along with Goldstein’s complete fake wine list and rejection letters received but any resaurant that applied for an award but didn’t get one. As supposedly a third of the applicants are rejected each year, can such letters be so hard to find? Of course many restaurateurs would be humiliated by having to acknowledge that they were shot down. On the other hand, surely there are some who consider the rejection an arbitrary outrage and who are bootlessly fuming about it. Well, buys, here’s your chance to vent. Let the word go forth!

  60. The standard of excellence for the ‘Award of Excellence’ is ‘their check cleared”?

  61. […] historia se describe bien en el blog de Dr. Vino. Quien ha hecho caer en la trampa a la revista Wine Spectator es Robin Goldstein, escritor, quien […]

  62. Nice. This trick could never be down with sumbitting a fake wine for a good score since you would have to spend money buying advertising in the magazine first.

  63. Like many other glorified magazines that sell the idea of critics doing the tasting for your collective benefit ,the money it generates taints the results in favor of “Good” clients.

    Like all things Shanken(s) money walks and ….well we know the rest.

    Take the cigar rugs,(sisters to the WS)the day Marvin discovers the best tasting cigar from Don Pachuko Loco in Coconut land,it`s the day that ,the Cigar company finally forked over the bank account to the “rugs “in exchange for a good rating.In this case an award, a bought WS award.

    What a sad day for the consumer and wine patron that believed in the integrity of what we perceived as honest critics.Critics yes, Honest..??? you be the judge.!

  64. Very interesting article indeed! Just the other day I was visiting with a GM at one of our local restaurants and he had mentioned that they have received this award two years in a row and I remember thinking to myself “there’s no way, I don’t believe it their wine list isn’t that good” Well now I know why!

  65. […] Smith & Wollensky nabbed the 2008 Wine Spectator Award, but we all know that a Wine Spectator’s Award is not all that it’s cracked up to be.  […]

  66. […] the Wine Spectator got used. Toward what purpose I’m not sure. But they did get used by granting an wine list award to a […]

  67. […] An old High School friend forwarded me a bit of news today about how Wine Spectator recently awarded a coveted “Wine Spectactor Award of […]


    If these are the standards of the quality of journalists that work in WS i think there will be nothing of good to expect from them…

    Thank you Robin for your work!

  69. I am not surprised by the news content, since I have always despised WS and similar publications, but it is great to see the results exposed in daylight, which is in fact a great surprise!

    I am frequently bothered by the many “connosuers” that try to convince me of the greatness of ceratin wines based on Wine Spectators comments and ridiculous ratings.

    Worst of all is the awful effect that these “influential” publications have on wine producers in my country (Chile), growingly producing crap in thier quest for points scoring and positive reviews from these thugs.

  70. I am not surprised by the news content, since I have always despised WS and similar publications, but it is great to see the results exposed in daylight, which is in fact a great surprise!

    I am frequently bothered by the many “connosuers” that try to convince me of the greatness of ceratin wines based on Wine Spectators comments and ridiculous ratings.

    Worst of all is the awful effect that these “influential” publications have on wine producers in my country (Chile), growingly producing crap in thier quest for points scoring and positive reviews from these thugs.

    Great research work indeed and hopefully more media will pick up on tye story !!!

  71. The WS policy was known to me already, but I am just a subscriber. Clearly the listings are just glorified advertisements. I wonder if the prankster commited some kind of fraud by lying about his submission. The problem is that no one can be trusted in our culture anymore. People will misrepresent just about anything for any reason. Who is guilty: a magazine posting an advertisement or someone who lied about their submission? At least WS did not lie.

  72. Interesting, Matthew, that you think that promoting something as an “Award of Excellence” (when it is really just a paid placement) is not “lying”.

    What about the people who read the magazine OR see the “Award of Excellence” plaque/document in the restauarant in question and believe (or assume) that some sort of rigourous selection criteria was followed. Are they not being misled? In fact “lied to”? A complicit lie by the both Wine Spectator and restaurant in question.

    What is so “clear” to you – that these are simply paid advertisements couched in terms of awards – is not necessarily clear to the average person who makes a dining selection based on the award.

    If a company pays someone to write a positive review of a wine, beer (or any other product), is that also OK in your estimation? If not, how is it different?

    Based on your comment can I extract that you believe that those who solicit prostitutes, yet are instead are arrested by under-cover police are being lied to and are in fact the true victim in the situation? 🙂

    Fraud is generally defined as deception made for some sort of personal gain. I fail to see the personal gain here. Nor do I see Robin’s “hoax” as doing anything more than exploiting and exposing the monetary basis of the “award”.

    Robin should be commended for pointing out the deception on Wine Spectator’s part.

    And, if those awards are “clearly”, as you submit, advertisements then perhaps they should be called “Advertisement of Excellence” – just to be sure that all is truly clear.

    The vast majority of people are not pretentious knuckleheads who subscribe to WS; but people who assume the award is truly an award.

    But your comments brings to mind the REAL question:

    IF you are cognizant that all of the Wine Spectator awards and ratings are simply paid advertisements, then why do you value the magazine so much?

  73. It is just a magazine. A silly little coffee table rag. Try not to take it too seriously. I cannot imagine using it as a method to select a restaurant, and I don’t think the average Joe picks up the WS to select his dining choices. Wake up. All the pages are equally glossy from the lexus ads to the little story on the last pages. Do not take anything written on glossy paper (or in newspapers) seriously. You can learn from it, but take it with a grain of salt. It is what it is.

  74. If there is an award hanging in the restaurant, then the consumer has already made the choice and now knows that at a minimum, the restaurant has filled out an application that might have made them think a little bit about the wine list.

  75. Reminds me of the time we visited a well-rated restaurant that had received an WS Award of Excellence. Mysteriously, they didn’t seem to actually have any of the wines we ordered and then tried to substitute with something far inferior. I’m sure it was just a coincidence! (Uh huh)

  76. Yes, Marie makes an excellent point. Whether it has an award or not, it has happened to me often that I will order a wine on the wine list and they do not have the wine. It happens almost 25% of the time. I think it is mostly a matter of incompetence; I am sure wine cellars in restaurants change often and the wine list is not updated for the changes. Maybe a simple word processor could help them.

  77. Matthew: I think you’ve missed the point. I think people do indeed use the magazine to choose a place to dine. If you’re someone who enjoys wine, and you’re going to a new city, why wouldn’t you rely on a magazine you could supposedly trust to recommend a restaurant where you could find good food and good wine? The operative word is supposedly. This incident eliminates whatever trust people had left.

  78. I was disappointed to see that Wine Spectator fell victim to this spoof. I have long known that WS does not make site visits and that the technique in determining its awards is/was based on submissions by restaurateurs. In the past, I’ve used WS as a source, not the sole source, of information about restaurants when traveling to a part of the world I’ve never been to before. Rarely have I been disappointed with the quality of the food or wine or overall experience at those establishments receiving the WS awards of excellence. That said, I’ve always understood WS is a commercial endeavor and therefore its commentary, including its ratings and awards, is leavened with that knowledge. Caveat Emptor!

  79. Well it’s certainly illuminating to know that not a single person who reads Wine Spectator takes its editorial content seriously.

    It’s also nice to know that it’s reader’s consider Wine magazines apparently exempt from ANY sort of journalistic integrity!

  80. […] Taking a veering left turn from our usual take on the world of whisky, and beating up, (once again) on the concept of ratings – especially in the wine world – I submit for your approval a fantastic piece (courtesy of Dr. Vino)*. […]

  81. […] questions and the methodology used to determine the winners.  This isn’t that guy who won a fake wine award; this is a carefully vetted process with input from savvy […]

  82. […] questions and the methodology used to determine the winners.  This isn’t that guy who won a fake wine award; this is a carefully vetted process with input from savvy […]

  83. That magazine is where I found out about Apex Wine Cellars, who built my beautiful,4000 bottle redwood cellar. For that, I’m most grateful.

  84. After reading the restaurant award article, I wonder what the WS criteria is for a wine to be reviewed. I notice that I never see Raymonds or Stags Leap’s Vinyards or Wine Cellars on their lists.

  85. Being extremely low-brow and blue collar, but still capable of knowing and enjoying fine wine, I’m behind Matthew on this one. Typically any awards given by any magazines are the product of advertising dollars spent with said magazine. And on the off chance that an award might not be directly linked to revenue, then it is surely based on inter-political boys-club connections.

  86. First of as a current restaurant GM and in the business for 13 years I can tell you I have always known that the award was just a purchased parchment.


    Think of it this way. I have a set budget for advertising. For a mere $250 a year, I get an award and my restaurant name listed on a nationally recognized website. A website searched by many to find a restaurant in a specific area with excellent wine lists.

    The award gives you press and recognition, all be it maybe only to the less informed but which make up probably a 80% share of my business.

    You find me another advertiser that does that for $250 as effectively and recognizably and I will be happy to give you my business.

    Of course I do agree that the award is meaningless but it serves a purpose and is what it is…. an advertisement….

  87. It seems like something is missing, no?

  88. […] Goldstein, author of The Wine Trails and chef/owner of a fake, Wine Spectator award-winning restaurant, is the lead author on the working paper from the American Association of Wine […]

  89. […] application fee is not inconsiderable, in a tight economy. Also, last year a prankster submitted an entirely fictional restaurant to Wine Spectator and received an Award of Excellence, which didn’t do the awards’ […]

  90. […] there’s the famous “fictitious restaurant” scandal of two years […]

  91. […] with the previous editions of this book, Goldstein has created quite a stir in the wine world. He exposed a ploy to sell advertising in the Wine Spectator that was masked as an “Award for Excellence” for restaurants, incited some spirited […]

  92. […] you receive a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for your wine list. In fact, in 2008 a guy perpetrated a hoax where he created a non-existent restaurant, typed up a wine list, and submitted it with his fee to […]


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