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.
Thank you for this post. You have given quite a few additional details that Mr. Goldstein failed to mention. It appears on the surface that he is a dishonest person.
Wine is like potato chips around me...if it's open, it's gone.
MyBlog @ www.wineismylife.net
Very nice to hear the other side of the story, sounds like Robin is a liar.
pissing people off since 1971!
Censorship reflects society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. ~Potter Stewart
TM: As someone who has consistently called on Wine Spectator to do some legwork before conferring an award, I applaud the cleverness and diligence of your staffers to do things like call, and check Chowhound. Certainly not the same as asking your readers if they have ever been to L'Intrepido. But admirable none the less. Thanks for the information. Hopefully this will put an end to the countless posts that proclaim that all one needs to do to get an award is write a check.
There's a lot of things wrong in what was done, but the most troublesome to me is demonstrated in the statement above.
It's always good to be reminded that the internet is NOT a definitive source of information, and the greater bulk of what we read should be taken with a grain of salt.
Sometimes, a very large grain.
What is really amazing is that this knucklehead "presented" his findings on August 15. On August 18, he was back on Chowhound posting about the restaurant. Enuf already!
NOTE: Moderators over at Chowhound are quick. Alerted them to the fraud and TM's post, and the thread was edited in 5 minutes. No more Osteria L'Intrepido to be found.This message has been edited. Last edited by: JimmyV,
Thanks for coming on line and telling the WS side of the story. It is appalling, but not surprising, that only a handful of wines were chosen by Robin to try to get his point across . . .
Had this been a term paper, he would not have received a passing grade . . .
One more question - will this make WS change its criteria or fact-checking in the future? Just curious to hear what might be done differently to try to avoid this . . .
Thanks again! Cheers!
Mr Goldstein must have a lot of time on his hands. All he has proven is that, with enough effort, you can create the basis of a fraud. What's the point? Just to prove that he is a fraud?
Thank you for posting your explanation.
Appreciate the response and detailed explanation, Thomas.
Wow, another person with to much time on their hands. To go to all that trouble, and for what?
Thomas, thank you for this. In light of these facts, I'm sorry for my previous post. I should not have jumped to conclusions.
Personally I was foaming at the mouth to respond to the thread in our Forums regarding this - but an in house investigation of the facts had to be completed first...
I hope my colleague Tom Matthews' explanation answers all of your questions. I am however, disappointed at how many people jumped on the 'trash WS' bandwagon before both sides of the story had been told...
its amazing how one person's relative carnival barking can stain the hard work of so many people who do care about wine, and want to make sure other people get to learn about great wine and where to find it...This message has been edited. Last edited by: James Molesworth,
Thanks for being clear about this issue.
Thanks for your participation in this thread as well . . .
This situation certainly shows the power of the web and blogging - and how quickly information gets disseminated - whether it is accurate or not.
Will this change the way people react to 'news' in the future? Most likely not . . . but hopefully people will try to consider whether all facts are present before coming to conclusions.
Larry: This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research, but rather they just slap some hyperlinks up and throw a little conjecture at the wall, and presto! you get some hits and traffic...
but frankly, I'd rather talk about wine...
An applause of appreciation for your endeavors (Thomas and James) to handle this situation appriately. And respect/kudos to laying out the facts in a very clear and concise manner. Well done.
Shame on Goldstein. Was he trying to make a point? Sure. But he failed miserably by resorting to fraud to accomplish this. In the end he accomplished nothing more than demonstrating that he's a complete tool.
I don't think the entire blogosphere should be clumped together - there are some very good blogs out there on all subjects, including wine.
The problem is more in the readership and how they interpret the information provided . . . Things are often presumed correct until proven otherwise in all forms of 'communication' and this is certainly the case here.
Thanks again for your participation here and hope to see you, Thomas, Jim L, and the rest of you on these boards more often!
I think this may be the ideal time to tell everyone EXACTLY what the COMPLETE process is for evaluating a wine list for consideration in your dining awards after it is submitted.
I didn't hear about this until you posted this thread... And I've had bad wine experiences at WS award winners, but I have no problem with what and how WS does their restaurant awards. Someone scamming you is their waste of time, and I don't see it as any skin off WS's back. I still don't like paying full price for online and magazine subscriptions when you have both, but other than that... I still have the love for WS!
I appreciate the explanation. The fact that Goldstein was deceptive not only toward The Wine Spectator, but also in his attack leaving out his Chowhound and wine list scams, is enough for me. The people who jumped all over The Wine Spectator should have waited until they had read the response from Thomas Matthews. Anybody can fool virually anybody if they are deceptive and dishonest enough.
Just one more sip.
cuffthis: try this link...nothing is being hidden. It's all in the mag too...
but methinks we have had this conversation with you before...
Just one more sip.
Let me get this straight. You try to do some due diligence (if anything was done) and you are coming up empty so the decision is to give them an award. This response is more damning than the scam. You need to get better spin control.
There was no need to run a scam to uncover the scam. Anyone was has wasted time in one of the crappy "winners" (and I have) knows that it is a worthless money grab.
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