I'm hugely amused to find the multi-million-dollar "awards" business red in the face after being shown up by an enterprising critic.
Milan's Osteria L'Intrepido restaurant won Wine Spectator magazine's award of excellence this year despite a wine list that features a 1993 Amarone Classico Gioe S. Sofia, which the magazine once likened to "paint thinner and nail varnish."
Even worse: Osteria L'Intrepido doesn't exist.
To the magazine's chagrin, the restaurant is a Web-based fiction devised by wine critic and author Robin Goldstein, who said he wanted to expose the lack of any foundation for many food and wine awards.
To pull off the hoax, Goldstein created a bogus website for the restaurant and submitted an application for the award that included a copy of the restaurant’s menu (which he describes as "a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes") and a high-priced "reserve wine list" well-stocked with dogs like the 1993 Amarone.
The application also included what Goldstein suggests was the key qualification: a $250 entry fee.
"I am interested in what's behind all the ratings and reviews we read . . . The level of scrutiny is not sufficient," said Goldstein, who revealed the prank while presenting a paper at an American Assn. of Wine Economists meeting in Portland, Ore., last weekend.
In response, Wine Spectator Executive Editor Thomas Matthews listed in a posting on the New York-based magazine's website its "significant efforts to verify the facts".
. . .
In a telephone interview, Matthews denounced Goldstein's actions as a "publicity-seeking scam."
He also denied that the award of excellence was designed to generate revenue for the magazine. "This is a program that recognizes the efforts restaurants put into their wine lists," he said.
Matthews said the magazine did not attempt to visit the phony Milan restaurant; it never visits about 200 of the establishments that get its award each year. But he said the awards had contributed to the growing popularity of wine since they were started by the magazine in 1981.
Getting the award, however, isn't exactly like winning an Olympic medal. This year, nearly 4,500 restaurants spent $250 each to apply or reapply for the Wine Spectator award, and all but 319 won the award of excellence or some greater kudos, Matthews said.
That translates to more than $1 million in revenue.
Tom Pirko, a beverage industry consultant who lives in Santa Barbara County's wine country, said the hoax would dent the magazine's credibility.
"This gets down to what the Wine Spectator is all about. It's not exactly Wine for Dummies; it's more Wine for the Gullible," Pirko said. "This gives the appearance of paying for advertising disguised as a contest."
Well done, Mr. Goldstein! I've long maintained that the huge list of "awards" won by restaurants, wines, hotels, etc. are fraudulent. For example, if you see a hotel proudly claiming to have been "rated as one of the top 100 hotels in the world", you might ask yourself: who gave the rating? What was their experience in the field, that gave them the right to make such a judgment? What fee did the hotel pay to get into the "competition"? How many entrants were there? I wouldn't be surprised to find that entry was limited to 100 hotels only, each paying a substantial fee for the privilege.
Guess what that "winning rating" means in the real world? That's right - precisely nothing.