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<i>Wine Spectator</i>'s Award of Meaninglessness

This is getting good. The wine world is abuzz with reaction.

Robin Goldstein, muckraking wine journalist (we could use more of these) and author of The Wine Trials, invented a restaurant, which he called Osteria L'Intrepido, complete with a menu and a wine list, and paid the $250 fee to Wine Spectator to earn the award of excellence. The twist is that a lot of the wines weren't even Spectator favorites. As Goldstein writes, "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."

While some in the comments to his blog post lambaste him for duping the magazine, I think Goldstein's points are valid. As he points out:  "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."

Indeed. If anyone can buy an Award of Excellence for $250 regardless of even the existence of the restaurant, what good is the award? Well, we know it's good for Wine Spectator, in a 2003 article, The New York Times' Amanda Hesser found that the magazine grossed $625,275 on entry fees, and that was when the fee was only $175.

While there's a lot of good wine reporting in the Spectator, I put little faith in its scores and now its restaurant awards.  After all, if I learned about Osteria L'Intrepido on the Spectator's listings because of its Award and wanted to dine there, I would still be waiting for my reservation.