Wine Spectator Gives ‘Award of Excellence’ to Fake Restaurant

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  08.21.08 | 3:25 PM ET

imageYes, Wine Spectator magazine, which urges readers to “Learn More, Drink Better,” unwittingly gave an “Award of Excellence” to a non-existent restaurant in Milan. Wine writer Robin Goldstein is behind the hoax. Goldstein entered Osteria L’Intrepido and its fake menu in the magazine’s restaurant awards competition, paying the $250 entry fee, “[a]s part of the research for an academic paper I’m currently working on about standards for wine awards.”

Needless to say, the magazine’s editor was none too happy to learn the publication had been duped, writing:

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.

No, the magazine’s editors didn’t try to visit the restaurant. But the editor wrote that phone calls were made that reached an apparently bogus answering machine message, a Google search turned up an address for the restaurant on a map, and the restaurant’s merits were even debated by (phony) Chowhound users.

It would seem that the magazine’s editors are grousing all the way to the bank. As The New York Times points out, “More than 4,000 awards were granted this year, so Wine Spectator made more than $1 million in fees.”

A note about the restaurant’s award has been removed from Wine Spectatator’s website, Goldstein writes, adding that a mention of the award appears in the magazine’s August print edition.

Photo by conskeptical via Flickr, (Creative Commons).

13 Comments for Wine Spectator Gives ‘Award of Excellence’ to Fake Restaurant

Thomas Matthews 08.21.08 | 5:57 PM ET

For Wine Spectator’s complete response to this wine list scam, read this:

Yes, we removed the fake restaurant from our restaurant database. It’s fake.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Wine Spectator

Ling 08.21.08 | 11:38 PM ET

I do believe its not the magazine’s fault. They were conned, and expertly, it seems. Does raise valid questions, though, about how reliable these awards are. You can’t grade restaurants based on what you find using Google. That’s pathetic.

Sonoma Wine Diva 08.22.08 | 6:45 AM ET

While I believe that it was deceitful on the part of the author to submit an entry with fake information to the magazine, I also believe that many times Wine Spectator publishes “awards” and “recommendations” with out fully researching the site and/or product.

As a resident of the Sonoma/Napa area, I can vouch that some of the recommendations for restaurants, hotels, etc. that I’ve seen published by Wine Spectator are places that locals would NEVER recommend, and many times the best places are overlooked and left out. Wine Spectator should be more vigilant in their selections, considering how highly many people value their professional opinion.

Jorge Oteyza 08.22.08 | 8:57 AM ET

This is one big rip off and Wine Spectator should not charge that much for restaurants to be in the magazine.
This shows you that this magazine is all about their bottom line first, then
they take care of the public.
I have lost respect for this bloated
magazine any way.
Jorge Oteyza

Jim Benning 08.22.08 | 11:47 AM ET

Yeah, this is the danger of turning out so many awards. Sure, the writer duped them. But they put themselves in a position where they could be easily duped.

That’s the real problem. It was a question of volume. And that’s why these kinds of awards often become so meaningless.

Love 2 See New Things 08.22.08 | 1:18 PM ET

I agree with Jim whereas the magazine put themselves in a position to be duped.  When reading about awards for restaurants, wine, hotels, etc. I EXPECT that involved with the award has firt hand experience of same.  With all the money the magazine raked in—why couldn’t they send ONE of their staff members to investigate what they advertise.  I know the more enteries - the more investigations, but that only returns to the notion: Why so many enteries?

SeVi 08.22.08 | 3:08 PM ET

This falls in line with the theory that if you spend enough money advertising and such with Wine Spectator, the higher your score will be on the wine you submit. Once again showing how the magazine is money driven. If your wine at first earns a 87 rating, a full page ad in the magazine may get you a 90.

Connor Powers 08.22.08 | 4:36 PM ET

This is the same problem of credibility that Wine Spectator has with the wines they review.  Most (all?) of the reviewed wines are sent to the Wine Spectator rather than having the magazine actually buy the product out in the marketplace like the rest of us.  This method of accepting wines for review is rife with the chance of fraud by the wineries.  Several times I’ve tasted a wine that was absolutely NOT the same wine that was reviewed by the Wine Spectator.

Charlie 08.22.08 | 11:21 PM ET

What about the $250?  I’m sure Spectator is not burning tracks to get it back to anyone.  And, this is the first time it has happened?  Shocking!  They will allow restaurants with “padded” entries and “shared” or “consigned” labels to count.
But, when a restaurant builds a “Grand Award” worthy list without the help of auctions and consignments, they are given the same title as fake restaurants in another country.
As a sommelier, I spend more time de-sensitizing the public on not making buying and drinking decisions based on Parker and “Spec, I mean, Dictator” than I do pairing, introducing, and building love for wines without full page ads or camelot style tasting rooms on the Silvarado Trail.

Gig Meckumtuh 08.23.08 | 4:30 PM ET

The wine business is a cruel and shallow money trench a long corrider where theives and pimps run free and the weak die like dogs…..and there is a bad side as well.

William Trupp 08.24.08 | 10:04 PM ET

In my opinion, The Wine Spectator is the least reliable source for wine information and wine reccomendations.  They only give awards to wines that have HUGE full page adds in their magazine, or wines that have to pay to have their wine in the magazine.  I am happy to see someone bringing light to the terrible magazine/wine reviewer.  If you would like to recieve good wine tips and reccomendations, check out Robert Parker.  He buys his own wine, so you know nobody is paying him to review their wine!

Connor Powers 08.24.08 | 11:13 PM ET

William, I beg to differ on your recommendation for Robert Parker.  He also does NOT buy the wine.  Most (all?) of the wine Parker reviews is submitted by the wineries.  As much as he pretends to be unbiased, he most certainly is biased by receiving samples.

Sevi 08.25.08 | 1:07 AM ET

This is in response to William Trupp, I am a broker and one of my suppliers sends their wine to Robert Parker as well. I will admit, I do not know how the process works with Parker, but I know that he does not purchase all the wines he taste. Wine Enthusiast will review a wine and if the rating is good, they will at that time contact the winery and tell them that if they want the label in the magazine, they will have to pay for that type of exposure.

In the end, the wine drinking industry is growing and the newbies want a source to buy wine by. Grocery chains actually put wines into their sets based on ratings. It sucks but it is a part of the business that will not go away for awhile.

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