Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

The spoof on Spectator

By Jessica Yadegaran
Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 at 2:38 pm in Uncategorized.

The ultimate joke has been played on the most reputable wine publication around. Have you heard? In the August issue, a restaurant in Milan, Italy named Osteria L’Intrepido was awarded the coveted Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its impressive wine list. There’s just one teensy problem. The restaurant doesn’t exist.

Talk about August Fools. The faux submission was the brainchild of author Robin Goldstein (“The Wine Trials”) as part of his research for an academic paper on the standards of wine awards. The Spectator’s annual wine awards, which started in 1981, often go to the world’s best and most expensive restaurants. You can read about the hoax from Goldstein’s perspective here.

In a nut shell, Goldstein selected 250 highly-rated Spectator white and red wines plus a reserve list (many of which scored poorly with the Spectator, ironically), added some sleek Italian fare and sent it in. The name of the restaurant is a play on the name of a restaurant guide series Goldstein founded called “Fearless Critic.”

But the Spectator folks didn’t notice. Their fact-checking included calling the fake phone number of the restaurant and leaving a few messages, in addition to Googling the restaurant and reading a few reviews on Chowhound. They were planted by Goldstein, of course.

I’d say I’m shocked that Spectator doesn’t have a correspondent somewhere in Italy who could’ve sniffed this hoax out, but the fact is that most of these awards programs are not bastions of journalistic criticism. Rather, they’re huge money makers. There is a $250 fee for submitting a wine list, and two thirds of restaurants who submit win an award. And with more than 4,000 restaurants making the 2008 list, that’s a profit of $1 million. Heck, I’m surprised the Oscars don’t charge a fee. The Webbys do!

Anyway, the Spectator responded by saying they never promised to visit every restaurant but that their mission is to evaluate their lists fairly. You can read their side of the story here. I think consumers would much rather see the magazine send reporters out to visit the restaurants and evaluate the menus and wine lists in their hands, not to mention the restaurant’s ambiance, service and, er, location. Heck, I’d be much happier with a list of 400 restaurants that exist and pay a way smaller application processing fee. Like $25 instead of $250.

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