Wine Spectator Has Been Scammed

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.
Original Post
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.
quote:

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.


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.
quote:
There's a lot of things wrong in what was done, but the most troublesome to me is the statement above.


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!

Link

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.
Thomas,

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!
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...
James,

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.

Cheers!
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.
James,

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!

Cheers!
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.
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.
Ne Kulturny:
Is it fair to blame the victim for the criminal's action? Do you blame women who are raped by evil guys because they wear alluring clothing, or do you blame banks for being robbed because they keep money in their facilities.

If a person is dishonest, and thereby injures an honest person, so far as I can tell, the bad guy is the dishonest person, not the victim.
quote:
Originally posted by James Molesworth:
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...


James,

I read these guidelines. More than once. They do not say anymore than send in a wine list, a menu and $250.

What EXACTLY does WS do after these items are submitted?

I want to go on the record. I would like to have WS recognize the effort I put into my wine list with an award.

But, as I've said since my first post on this subject, why should I participate in a program that doesn't meet the standards of excellence for a lot of the serious readers of this forum, including myself?

James, when I read your tasting notes and the articles you write, I read and see your passion. And I love it.

When I read the WS Dining Awards, I see BS, plain and simple. And I don't respect it. And I speak up. And I offer solutions, not just complaints. WS never responded to my request to help make the Dining Awards more credible.

I'm still waiting..............

Tom
1) Last time I checked Wines & Vines was a print publication that also ran a website, like WS, not just some pesky little blogger sniping from the sidelines.

2) How many people scammed you with bogus checks for payment of awards or subscriptions? I bet none. You have systems in place for that. Therein lies the focus?

3) There are clearly weaknesses in the system. Something more than “…lists are then judged for one of our three awards” after submitting a menu and a check. I think those few dissenters are simply asking for an accounting or breakdown of HOW you make these determinations. We know how your 100 point system breaks down…

4) Calls to mind the great Gallo Chard ABC’s of Wine debacle where we all received our “Encyclopedia of Food” issues poly-bagged with mini-catalogs from wine.com that promised an “Exclusive Offer” for subscribers. On page 17, there it was, plain as day: “Wine.com and Wine Spectator are proud to bring you… the perfect pairing of wine selections and wine knowledge.” Save $10 off the $99.99 Wine Spectator’s ABC’s of Wine Tasting package that includes the official Wine Spectator School course AND six varietal wines. The kicker? Five of the wines were in the E. & J. Gallo portfolio (nothing wrong with that in and of itself)… including the Gallo of Sonoma Chardonnay that WS gave a 55-point rating to previously! But then you turned around and endorsed the wine as exemplary of its type… makes me wonder what kind of wine knowledge pairs perfectly with a wine that you gave a barrel-scraping 55 to (I mean they got 50 points just by having a glass bottle, a label, a cork, and some liquid inside.) It’s just that kind of lasee faire attitude that opens you up to this kind of thing.

5) May we see a copy of the entire menu with all the wines you say were on there?

6) While this is not the way one should go about proving their point (hey wine.com!) it does show that perhaps the wards are a tad hollow if everyone is getting rubber stamped once the simplest of criteria are met.
I feel bad for Thomas and the whole staff at Wine Spectator - because I know this type of thing could have happened to me.

We used to have a page on our website that listed the restaurants and retail shops that carried our wine. I eventually deleted it because it was impossible to keep up to date... and because I hated getting calls from places asking why they weren't on the list. If someone had emailed me claiming to be the somm at a restaurant that carried our wine, and there was a working website, I'd have added them to my website without any hesitation. So I could have been scammed too.

Let's not forget that no one would have been actually misled or "hurt" by this scam of Wine Spectator. No one was misled into having dinner at this restaurant - any more so than someone would have been if another award winning restaurant closed after publishing the list - which I'm sure has happened more than just a few times.

And any restaurant that sent in a fake list would just be hurting themselves since anyone who went there explicity because of the award would be pi$$ed off - which usually gets broadcasted far and wide. No business wants that type of "publicity" or word of mouth.
I see this whole thing as a prank and not a a scientific study, even though it was presented to the American Association of Wine Economists (is there really such a thing or is this the name of a drinking organization?). However, I have to admit that it should not be so easy to dupe or "scam" the WS review board. It would behoove the editors to vet the applicants more rigorously in the future, and I hope that they are working on this for the next year's issue.

Tannat Madiran: let me guess. You work for Wines and Vines?
It irks me the way people are attacking WS about this issue. WS has never had a similar instance like this happen to them before. Were they setup? YES. WS has already let us know what happened. Isn't that enough??? They probably will take measures to insure that it doesn't happen again. Do they have to explain to us what they will do??? NO. WS is there to provide a service that we have the option to use. I believe that most of the people that post here are aware of what a good wine list is and that an award doesn't mean that you or I are guarenteed to agree with them. I feel blessed because I don't need an award to tell me if a place has a good wine program. I either go by recent word of mouth, or just give a place a shot. If I am not happy w/ the results then I'll take it into consideration next time. How many true wine lovers who post here actually go to a restaurant only because WS gave them an award? I can speak for myself and say that a WS award or lack of has never been a factor in where I dine.
quote:
Originally posted by Brian Loring:
No one was misled into having dinner at this restaurant


Actually Brian, according to Chowhound.com, some diners liked the food there Smile though they did post that it was closed quite often due to odd hours by the proprietor.
quote:
Originally posted by Board-O:
quote:
Originally posted by cuffthis:
I would like to have WS recognize the effort I put into my wine list with an award.


They recognize it. We all recognize it. You tell us ad nauseum.


You say ad nauseum - I say consistency and firm resolution.

Enjoy your night.
Sorry, but this episode only reinforces what I consider to be the lack of any value that the first-level award holds, due to the fact that any restaurant with a printer, spell-check, Word skills and $250 can garner an "award".

The repeated comments by members here and elsewhere who do not ever use it to direct their dining choices means to me that I am not alone in judging the award's value to be so low.
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