What does it take to get a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence?

My name is Robin Goldstein, and I’m the author of a new book called The Wine Trials (book here; website here). Lately, I’ve become curious about how Wine Spectator magazine determines its Awards of Excellence for the world’s best wine restaurants.

As part of the research for an academic paper I’m currently working on about standards for wine awards, I submitted an application for a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. I named the restaurant “Osteria L’Intrepido” (a play on the name of a restaurant guide series that I founded, Fearless Critic). I submitted the fee ($250), a cover letter, a copy of the restaurant’s menu (a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes), and a wine list.

In order to make the application appear genuine, I also obtained a Milan phone/fax number, as required by the application, and established a small online presence. Aside from creating the menu and wine list, all of this took less than three hours.

Osteria L’Intrepido won the Award of Excellence, as published in print in the August 2008 issue of Wine Spectator.

Since then, the Osteria’s listing has, not surprisingly, been removed from Wine Spectator‘s website. After the story broke, one of Wine Spectator‘s main claims (aside from calling me names) was that its staff had “called the restaurant multiple times.” However, the only message that was ever left on the restaurant’s voice mailbox (before this story broke) was on May 22, 2008, after Osteria L’Intrepido had already won the Award of Excellence. The message was from the magazine’s ad sales department, asking me if I’d like to buy an advertisement for Osteria L’Intrepido to appear in the August issue along with my listing. You can listen to the voicemail here: GSM format or MP3 format.

The main wine list that I submitted was a perfectly decent selection from around Italy that met the magazine’s basic criteria (about 250 wines, including whites, reds, and sparkling wines–some of which scored well in WS). However, Osteria L’Intrepido’s high-priced “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among some of the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past few decades.

While it’s interesting that the reserve list would receive such seemingly little scrutiny, the central point is that the wine cellar doesn’t actually exist. And while Osteria L’Intrepido may be the first to win an Award of Excellence for an imaginary restaurant, it’s unlikely that it was the first submission that didn’t accurately reflect the contents of a restaurant’s wine cellar.

Restaurants, like all businesses, have strong incentives to embellish their images online. We turn to experts and awards bodies to help navigate the chaotic world of information and misinformation that results. If Google, Chowhound, and a couple of unanswered phone calls suffice to verify not just the existence of a restaurant but also the authenticity of its wine list, then it’s not clear what role the critic is playing.

I presented this result at the meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists in Portland, Oregon, on Friday, August 15.

Osteria L’Intrepido’s so-called “reserve list” appears in its entirety below (with scores and some excerpts from the Wine Spectator reviews of those wines added here):

I rossi italiani “riserva” della nostra cantina

AMARONE CLASSICO 1998 (Veneto) Tedeschi 80,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 65 points. “…Not clean. Stale black licorice…”

AMARONE CLASSICO “LA FABRISERIA” 1998 (Veneto) Tedeschi 185,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 60 points. “…Unacceptable. Sweet and cloying. Smells like bug spray…”

AMARONE CLASSICO “GIOÉ” 1993 S. Sofia 110,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 69 points. “…Just too much paint thinner and nail varnish character…”

BARBARESCO ASIJ 1985 (Piemonte) Ceretto 135,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 64 points. “…Earthy, swampy, gamy, harsh and tannic…”

BAROLO 1990 (Piemonte) Az. Agr. GD Vajra 140,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 64 points. “…Earthy, musty, lacking in charm…”

BAROLO RISERVA 1982 (Piemonte) Bruno Giacosa 250,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 72 points. “…Agressive [sic] tannins that are sharp and harsh…”

BAROLO “ZONCHERA” 1994 (Piemonte) Ceretto 120,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 74 points. “Quite disjointed…a coarse, chewy texture and an astringent finish. Hard to tell if it will ever come around…”

BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO RISERVA 1996 (Toscana) Gianfranco Soldera 235,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 74 points. “…Turpentine. Medium-bodied, with hard, acidic character. Disappointing…”

BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO “LA CASA” 1982 (Toscana) Tenuta Caparzo 200,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 67 points. “…Smells barnyardy and tastes decayed. Not what you’d hope for…”

BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 1993 (Toscana) Tenuta Caparzo 180,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 80 points. “…A bit lacking in concentration, but with pretty, round tannins and a soft finish…”

BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO RISERVA 1995 (Toscana) Tenuta Caparzo 135,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 81 points. “…The palate is light-bodied with a slightly diluted finish. Light for the vintage. Rather disappointing for this producer…”

CABERNET SAUVIGNON “I FOSSARETTI” 1995 (Piemonte) Poderi Bertelli 120,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 58 points. “Something wrong here. Of four samples provided, two were dark in color, but tasted metallic and odd…”

SASSICAIA 1976 (Toscana) Tenuta San Guido 250,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 65 points. “…Even Sassicaia could not apparently escape the wet weather of this memorably bad vintage in Tuscany. It lacks harmony, having oxidized…”

SASSICAIA 1980 (Toscana) Tenuta San Guido 280,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 77 points. “…Light, watery and diluted vanilla and milk chocolate character…”

SASSICAIA 1995 (Toscana) Tenuta San Guido 300,00 €

Wine Spectator rating: 90 points. “…Rich in currant, blackberry, dried herbs and tanned leather…”


  1. I just want to say that this is a phenomenal piece of work. Thanks for thinking this up!

  2. Wow, this is so good I wonder if it is a hoax 🙂

    If you managed to pull this off, this will become the equivalent of the Sokal affair in the world of gastronomy and wine ! You deserve an award for excellence too 🙂 I feel like making a post to this effect, let me know if we can converse by email first.



  3. AJM

    This is fantastic! Esp. the wine list heavy on the “swampy” selection. Now with the Award of Excellence, it sounds like Osteria L’Intrepido is poised for great things.

  4. Serious Reader

    …and I thought the Wine Spectator was a reputable source of information… what a mistake!

  5. adrian

    Dear Mr. Goldstein:

    Thank you for doing this! For a long time I have been wondering about these awards, since I have had some pretty disappointing experiences with wine lists all over the country in restaurants I had chosen because of the Award of Excellence.

    This was until I came up with a simple calculation for my choice: among the restaurants that have the Award, the more conspicuously it is displayed (website, front door etc.), the higher the chances that the wine list will be mediocre.

    Now we have the proof of the pudding thanks to you. Oh, they will be pissed… it was about time.

    PS: After reading this I went straight to get the Wine Trials book. Just glanced through but it looks terrific!

  6. Wow. Stunning and sad that Wine Spectator would do this.

  7. Looks like it got pulled from the website already…

  8. otto

    A wonderful wine for lying down, and not picking up……

  9. Robin, you are a genius.

  10. Clever.

    It all winds down to money. You paid the fee; you win the award.

  11. anonymous

    Last year, I had a meal at Doris and Ed’s Restaurant in New Jersey, a restaurant that proudly displays its WS “Award of Excellence” and one that features a wine list of more than 200 bottles, including some “cult” wines and some limited distribution wines from California. The wine list is heavy on the Chardonnays. I found some wines from small producers in the Santa Barbara Mtns. and wanted some guidance selecting one that paired well with our meal. Our waitress was clueless and, when asked to invite the sommelier to our table, responded that he was busy. Upon further questioning, she informed us that he was enjoying his own dinner in another part of the restaurant.
    A somewhat less clueless server was of little help and, ultimately, we decided to stick with a familiar white from Burgundy. We were then told that was sold out, but was offered the same wine from a different vintage. We agreed and asked that the wine be brought out immediately, as our appetizers were already being served.
    After several more requests, a less-than-chilled bottle of our requested wine was brought to our table. No adjustment was made in the price of the bottle for our hardship.
    After this experience, I wrote to Wine Spectator, criticizing their award to this restaurant and received a reply explaining how the Award works.
    The bottom line here is caveat emptor. Any restaurant can get the award for $250 and a wine list. There is absolutely no guarantee of quality, let alone excellence, in this award.

  12. I have to agree with Yell — sad but true.

  13. Holy….


    If WS cannot answer this acceptably as being a one-off issue, then they have a serious, serious problem on their hands!

  14. Tim

    Sad. I used to be a subscriber to Wine Spectator and I had great respect for it’s columnists and editorial staff.

    After reading this though, it’s clear that their award system is a gimmick. Just another slick marketing routine to drum up cash for the magazine and to get people into the doors of any restaurant that ponies up the $250.

  15. Cristoffero

    Well it goes to show that paper always has been patient. We should never forget that WS is a for profit publication which already has made and broken a many of wineries or restaurants with their god-like approach. Any other decent publication would fire their editor over an incident like this. What happened to journalistic integrity?
    It now begs the question: Since they are not checking the credentials of restaurants, are they tasting all the wines they write about, or all the cigars they rate in Cigar Aficionado? Marvin: you too have the face the music one day. Porco miseria!

  16. anonymous

    I subscribed to Wine Spectator for many years but quit because they review too many
    wines; alot of which are not available or if they get a good score the price goes up.

    I enjoy wine every night with dinner but when we go to a resturant, especially those
    with the Wine Spectator “awards” I refuse to over-pay for a bottle which has been
    marked-up double or more, plus tax, plus tip!!!

    I used to feel guilty about bringing my own wine to a resturant and pay the corkage
    fee but I think more people should do it.

    By the way, the only problem I have ever encountered was at an Italian resturant in
    Las Vegas; their corkage fee was $50 but after we bought a bottle from their cellar
    they waived the corkage on the one a brought.

  17. And we were so excited to have the Rational Denial Lab’s Christmas Party at Osteria L’Intrepido. I guess we’ll have to cancel our reservation and find another venue…

    Hopefully this hilarious effort will have a secondary benefit of silencing the critics of 100pt scoring systems. Turns out they are good for something: Fooling Wine Spectator!

  18. Tim

    Excellent work here. Rumors about Wine Spectator have swirled for years but this is the first documented case I’ve seen of the flaws in their process. Hope they don’t use similar practices for wine reviews.

  19. Kate Fitzpatrick

    What does it take to get a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence? Er eh $250 with a good cover letter, and wine list.

  20. Steve

    The award of excellence is the lowest of the awards that are out there. Basically if you meet the criteria for submission you will get one. the best of and the grand awards are the ones that you really need to have the reserve list analyzed, so before you go beating up a publication over it’s awards try doing ALL of your research first.

    i will agree though that checking to see if a restaurant is really a restaurant should be a little more rigid.

  21. for Tim at comment number 18, this isn’t their first snafu. I alluded to it at the vinography post on this piece of heaven, but you can also see it here: – another piece of greatness from our buddy Tish!

  22. duh

    i could’ve saved you $250 and just told you. but cheers for taking the time to put some real stinkers on the list. “smells like bug spray”… classic.

    one look at the list of restaurants from my city and I recognized the “award” had too many letters. it was just an “ad”.

  23. Watts

    @Steve (#20): “Basically, if you meet the criteria for submission you will get one.”

    I would suggest that if this were the “Wine Spectator Seal of Approval,” tacitly grouping it with all the other seals of approval that mostly meant “they gave us money to give us this,” there would be much less of a vague sense of betrayal. The word “excellence” and, even more so, “award” have specific meanings that taken together connote, how can I put this, an award based on excellence. Even if it’s the “lowest of the awards out there,” one should reasonably expect that, based on its name, it is in fact an award. If they drop one word or the other — “Seal of Excellence,” perhaps, or say, “Award for Giving Wine Spectator $250” — I think that should solve the problem nicely, don’t you?

  24. Roberto

    Fantastic! My compliments! A couple of notes from an Italian: The restaurant is faked very well, the Italian names, address and telephone are all right. Only the Discover credit card (that sucks, accordingly to a dedicated web site) is totally unknown in Italy. Also the prices of the wines in euros are totally unreal: nobody would pay such amounts of money, for a bottle of wine in Italy. Neither Marcello Mastroianni, if he was still alive. A good bottle of Barolo 2002 cannot be paid more than €70, for example. But I know that in the U.S. you’re used to pay foolish amounts for a bottle of wine at the restaurant, like it was pure liquid gold. Believe me, in Italy prices are much much lower than the ones you quote and we’d rather die of shame than bring our wine to a restaurant. And we do not pay any “corkage” fee… moreover, we do not know what the heck it is… My best regards and thank you for loving Italy.

  25. Joe

    This was just an all out fraud. Fabricated web site, phone number (with answering machine), and customer testimonials. The wine list was also actually very good, with most wines scoring over 80 points and many over 90 (on a 100 point scale). You didn’t prove anything bad about that wine magazine, you just proved you have a knack for fraud. Good job!

  26. Tom Lake

    Vorrei fare una prenotazione per il 14 marzo al ristorante di Osteria L’Intrepido

    Either I just requested a reservation at the Osteria L’Intrepido for March 14 or I told my wife where my girlfriend lives. I don’t know which since my Italian is so bad. In any case, Good Job!

  27. What a joke

    Why don’t you post the WS response? It only seems fair to let them tell their side of the story. What a joke you are, not only do you have to lie to WS, you also have to lie to us in order to make your story more believable. You are a moron-

  28. Liz

    You are a genius. Thank you for being bold enough to try something like this, and congratulations on pulling it off and exposing the magazine for being pretty loose on its standards of ‘excellence.’

    Now I need to find someone who speaks Italian to explain your menu to me. 🙂

  29. I have alays simply referred to that issue as “The Yellow {ages”.
    Pay for your listing! No one takes that seriously.
    Very funny expose, guy.

  30. Robin,

    Thomas Matthews claims that the wine list submitted:

    “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.”

    Will you please share the entire list as you submitted it?

    I am asking the same of the Wine Spectator.

  31. Anonymous

    You think that the Wine Spectator Award is a bloated piece of paper
    then go further and nominate your research for a James Beard Award.
    The some holds. All you have to do for a Wine Spectator award is pay the dues and submit the menus by the dead line date. For a James Beard all you have to do is register as a member and then nominate your writings.
    The business is rife with confidence schemes and publicist dreams, and it all boils down to the dollar, or lira in this case. Publicists convince the unwitting restaurateur that they cannot exist without the publicist, same as the ego starved “wine director” that needs that Wine Spectator Award,
    same as the same chefs and food critics get nominated over and over for James Beard Awards, ego. Go figure, with all the chefs, writers, journals, papers and bartenders at large that the same two dozen regularly rank across the boards. It ain’t because they’re all that great. There are thousands of great chefs in this country. Money. Money talks.

  32. H. Lamar Thomas

    Money talks and publicists convince.
    Wine Spectator and the James Beard Awards need to be set adrift
    to where outed grifters go. It has long been known that all one needs to do is to pay on time and submit the wine lists and menus and the award will follow. No secret there, same as the curiosity that out of the thousands of chefs, writers, restaurateurs and bar tenders in the nation that the same two dozen are regularly “recognized” for their work. The ego starved “wine director” pays on time and then gets an award, same for the restaurants that openly claim no publicist but it is an open secret that yes they do pay a group to see that they are written about. This all does a disservice to the industry as a whole. And the sad thing is that people outside the business buy this crap hook line and sinker.
    Go ahead, pay the James Beard dues, submit your work and see what happens.

  33. erin mcnoonoo

    way to go. you must bring down the evil empire! seriously, are you going to publish this or submit this to any media outlets? alice feiring will dig it – should email her.

  34. john

    From Wine Spectators’ response:
    “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.”

    That, and you don’t mention the other 230+ wines on your list that scored above 80 pts. You’re a douche.

  35. That, and you don’t mention the other 230+ wines on your list that scored above 80 pts. You’re a douche.

    Nor does Wine Spectator show this list.

  36. I have been an “Award of Excellence” winner since 1989..

    It was a great honor that we did not take lightly.

    However, once they started to charge for the award, we at Pizza Man felt it was no longer an award, but a form of advertizing.

    I realize the extra expense The Wine Spectator must be encountering having to look threw all the new wine hopefuls.

    However, we at Pizza Man take care and absorb extra expenses to serve a wine list of over 600 wines by the glass every day of the year.

    I am ashamed they felt they had to charge for an award they themselves came up with.

    One should not have to pay for an award.

    With all that said, they do provide a great dinning guide for those of us in an unfamiliar city where we can go to for a great wine and usually great food.

    Spectator has always stirred me to a great spot.

    Mike Amidzich (Pizza Man)

    Pizza Pizza !!!

    PS. If you find your self in Milwaukee, WI please come by and check us out. The 15th of every month is even a better time.
    There are no wine maker’s or specials, it’s just that I have a car payment on that day, and it seems to help us out.

  37. giovanni

    Sorry my English is not very good. I try hard to read the magazine. Then I reach disappointment. You see, I read “award” “excellence” and I think wow, there is something there that I should see. But you mean, there actually is nothing? Which is fine I think. But when I look at the magazine answer to this, I see they make excuses. And that makes me doubt everything the magazine says.

    It is sad for the Wine Spectator. Someone can come up please with better content and less commercial reasons for existing.

  38. Joe

    Anyone got a link to the Chowhound posts? I searched their site and the only result for “Intrepido” is a discussion of the hoax.

    Seems to me that an award ought to be based on more than a few web-searches, phone calls and cashing a check.

    Seems to me that a list with 230 90+ point wines and a dozen 60 point wines, priced as crazy as that list ought to disqualify the restaurant from an award even without the inconclusive phone calls and web-searches.

    Seems to me that Mr. Goldstein pretty much demonstrated that WineSpectator awards are designed to enrich Wine Spectator and not much else.

  39. benjaminl1976

    #30 Joe, #35 Arthur, #39 John:

    The original post states very clearly that “the main wine list that I submitted was a perfectly decent selection from around Italy meeting the magazine’s numerical criteria” and that the wines listed here are the reserve wine list.

    The magazine’s defense amounts to: “It seemed to exist although we never laid eyes on it.”

    Let’s see how the court of public opinion rules on this one…

  40. grande bluff! complimenti

  41. Dear Robin Goldstein,

    I, like so many bloggers and forum-rats out there, took your story at face value upon reading it. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t read it too closely – so ready was I to condemn WS.

    Thomas Matthews publicly responded, giving details which reveal that you did not simply submit a menu, cover-letter, and wine list. Instead you went to great lengths to legitimize the restaurant, and it is not immediately clear that WS was at fault for buying into your hoax. One immediate effect is that WS may have to raise their operation costs to include detailed background checks to stop such fraud in the future – good job!

    You did allow that your main list was “perfectly decent”, but from WS’s comments it appears that the list was excellently comprehensive, and contained only 5 sub-80 point wines (though the reserve list was almost all sub-80.

    While this might be an oversight on the WS’s part, it was by no means as “easy” to get the award as you implied.

    What puzzles me is why you would go to such lengths. Surely you must have known the complete truth wouldn’t be as flattering as your abridged version! Surely you must have realized that WS would tell the whole truth. Yes, you succeeded in drumming up publicity for your book, which will probably make you more money. On the other hand, I’m inclined to read your book for the sheer pleasure of ripping apart shoddy journalism.

    And at the end of the day, what have you contributed to the Wine World?



    okay, that note from PIZZA MAN was hilarious! such a great disovery and shame on the folks at wine spectator. it’s disappointing to hear.

    chicago, IL

  43. stefano

    I invite you to my home in Italy for a dinner…..

    Great job. no further comment.



  44. Fantastic! 🙂

  45. I bow to you Mrs. Goldstein.

    What puzzles me most then everything is: how is it possible to give “awards” without tasting, in this case food???????????
    Is it based on what? On the most sophisticated dish name?

    I am not at all surprised from Wine Spectators. It is another example that shows It in it’s true colors:
    just a big money machine.

    Thank you indeed Mrs. Goldstein.

  46. michael

    The Wine Spectator is a joke. I cancelled my subscription many years ago.

  47. KevinA

    That said..the fact remains, WS didn’t have any way (nor more importantly, any process) to physically check to see if the restaurant actually existed. This confirms their true hybrid status as a for profit entertainment publication in which the role of editor and publisher is shared by the same person. They are not, and have never been, a member of the fourth estate.

  48. giovanni

    Lei è grande! peccato per il ristorante perchè il menù non era male!!!

  49. Peter Anastopulos

    I have been in the Wine World for 30 years and have known Thomas Mathews as a true gentleman.He brought polish to what was a very unrefined magazine .At the beginning Marvin Shanken was very miserly in allowing Mathews to build a magazine to its current level.In many ways today it competes quit well against the Advocate.In no way do I believe they are mistake proof we have seen that New York Times and Washington post have been deceived.Robert Parker has many notorious change of minds most famously on the 1983 Burgundy’s .In many ways this altered his course and made him persona non grata in burgundy for years. I think you were involved in a deception to garner attention for yourself.This always sends me back to advice I give to wine lovers if you can’t taste it yourself chat with someone you trust who has.Thats why a good Wine Consultant or Sommelier is worth there weight in gold.One who can tailor to your preferences.PHA

  50. I hear Gordon Ramsey is coming to Osteria L’Intrepido Di Milano to straighten things out.

  51. Pipposniffo

    Complimenti a wine spectator, sono proprio dei truffatori ..e noi dei polli

  52. Nedo Paglianti

    Before trying to discover Mrs. Goldstein’s agenda or skeletons in the closet, those who defend that magazine should really think about a few facts: in order to award a prize, all the most famous guides check (and usually do it anonymously) a restaurant, its menu, its wines, the relevant prices and the service.
    Not only the magazine charges restaurants in order to participate – and this is suspect in its own – but:
    – nobody checked if the restaurant actually existed
    – therefore, it questions if in other cases anybody actually checked the quality of food, wine or service (even the best wine if it isn’t properly preserved or served can make the experience awful)
    – furthermore, as to justify themselves, Mr. Matthews says that they checked the phone number and that the street actually existed in Milan. So Mr. Matthews, do you mean that this is enough to read the list of wines and award a prize ?
    It seems to me rather an admission that you can discover only badly organized scams…
    Any reader who referred to that magazine to learn more or simply find a restaurant where enjoying to taste a good bottle of wine now can legitimately suspect that the awards were given not out of a serious check and choice, but out of other interests.

  53. ed

    I knew these wine snobs were frauds because I found many of their highly scored wines just acceptable. You need to connect your discovery with the fraud at wine stores, where Wine Spectactor ratings are posted along with the bottles of wine, and priced accordingly.

  54. STILL waiting for the complete wine list….

  55. Nedo (#67)

    According to the WS, efforts WERE made to locate the restaurant and to contact its staff by telephone.

    the ‘awards’ are based on the wine lists, not ambience, food etc. for those you need to go to Michelin or Zagat.

    No contention on my part that the word ‘award’ is misleading, but that does not absolve Robin Goldstein of his intentions in carrying out what looks, sounds and smells like a hatchet job.

    Why not spell things out in an intelligent essay on his own website? The information is readily available here:,2839,RAP,00.html

    and here:,2839,NEGl,00.html

  56. dan

    The “explanation” WS gave for this travesty is such self-serving drivel. They got their asses handed to them, plain and simple. Frauds.

  57. KevinA

    Agree with Dan on that one…the charade has been exposed…it will be interesting to see how the trade will react…especially those that have actively marketed their “award of excellence” and particularly when consumers come in–armed-with the knowledge that it’s nothing more than pay for play.

  58. Dan, Kevin:

    How is it a charade if the information about the ‘awards’ and how to be considered for one is available on the WS site?

    *STILL* waiting for the full wine list – and I’m not the only one.

  59. stefano


  60. Anonymous

    come mai tutti sti’ coglioni scrivoni i commenti in inglese?

  61. @Anonimo: because Wine Spectator is an english magazine and probably this news had more visibility in foreign newspapers.

  62. chocolate_tort

    To the people defending WS in this – and I say this as someone who’s generally a fan of the mag – step back and think. Award of EXCELLENCE. There is simply no way to measure the excellence of a restaurant by googling the address, calling the place, and reviewing a wine list. Excellence is a quality that can only be measured by in-person visits, ideally more than one, and the fact that WS gives out this award after no more than a background check is ludicrous.

  63. KevinA


    I echo chocolate_tort in answer to your question. The charade to me is not how easily you can receive the award, but that a publication that presents itself as a bastion of lifestyle journalism does do one basic fact check! (albeit for a specious “award”) That to me speaks volumes about all of the “information” they present in their pages, and the quality and care they take in researching…also, interesting to note that so far this thread has been more negative than positive…appparently the WS brand advocates are not weighing in or quietly acknowledging the oxymoronic situation.

  64. Kevin & Chocolate

    Do either of you have a subscription to WS?

  65. noone

    nice work!! i heard about you just now and i got to ws site before this.. they still try to exit as “in truth” from this situation.. very good work..

  66. noone

    can i reserve for tomorrow?? =)

  67. Jacques

    Oh very good !

  68. Anonymous

    well done

  69. Max

    Dear Robin, your job has been great…..absolutely. As italian, i an very surprised that no italians take care about this kind of comments in a foreign magazine. Luckily, there is someone like you: you did a very great job and i believe this is a real piece of real journalism.

    To Anonimo: impara l’inglese, quando hai tempo, cosi puoi fare qualche commento intelligente anche tu senza sentirti escluso

  70. I second Rob Freeman’s notion: POST THE REGULAR LIST

  71. rossdibi

    great work! I heard it yesterday at Italian news

  72. LOL!
    Like Rai Uno would cover this! bah!

  73. JJ

    Congratulations on a great piece of research but I am not entirely surprised. Near my home there is a small shopping center which had a pizza parlor. One day, they started to offer a more extensive dinner menu. In fact to get to the restaurant seating area, you had to walk through the pizza take out area. I never ate anything but pizza there because I didn’t see how they could get very far beyond their pizza skills. Not much later they posted a large sign that said they won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. I couldn’t and didn’t believe it. I just didn’t know how they could win such an award. I think it fooled a bunch of people though. Thanks for revealing the true value of the WS award.

  74. Dennis

    Great! Congratulation for the great work!

    I never think about WS like a reference.
    After the movie ”MondoVino” you know how this ”magazines” and business work!

    So..I really hope more and more onest people will reveal the real value of the awards and magazines!


  75. Mark Dirsa

    As the owner of a very well-known wine bar (before wine bars were everywhere), I stopped submitting our list to the “Wine Speculator” after they started charging a fee to win an award. It was a money-grubbing scam then and it is one now. Almost everyone who submits “wins”. Bravo to you for finally exposing them for the weasels they are!

  76. Carl

    Now, on to Cigar Afficianado!!!

  77. midnightmartini

    I’ll make a post in my blog Midnight Martini (about eat, food and dance in São Paulo – Brazil) about this historical hoax and, of course, I will make reference to WS defense (although I believe they are defenseless).

  78. Here are the final sentences of my blog post:

    Thomas Matthews, Executive Editor of the Spectator, called Goldstein’s hoax a “publicity-seeking scam” in the magazine’s online forum.

    Hmmm. From a consumer perspective, it’s the Spectator that’s been running the scam, collecting millions of dollars from restaurants over the years for a fraudulent award with one purpose: to impress gullible consumers. The “Award of Excellence” has more in common with a diploma-mill university degree than something a savvy restaurant-goer should vest with any credibility.

    Once again — Caveat Emptor!

  79. If this “award” (and I have said multiple times, that this program should have a different name and give out marks of merit named something else than “awards”) is paid advertising, should not there be different fees for being considered for each of the tiers? There are three (increasing) levels to the “award” but as far as I can tell, there is only ONE consideration fee.
    I think the lines are lot fuzzier than people would like and there is more gray than black or white.


  80. I think most of us in the industry have suspected as much not only in relation to the Wine Spectator but local press, magazines, Michelin (they reviewed a restaurant not yet open) for some time. Validation is heart warming. I have just learned that at least one very popular social networking site in SF which takes comments mostly on restaurants allows restaurants to pull bad reviews and negative commentary if they “join” ..meaning pay a membership fee. What you might want to call blackmail under any other circumstance.

    While any good press for chefs I place in restaurants is always welcome, I run more and more into cases of employers choosing press over substance. I wish I thought that this kind of revelation would put the industry mind set back to the issue of quality trumping boot black ink, but ..well, never mind.

  81. “That said..the fact remains, WS didn’t have any way (nor more importantly, any process) to physically check to see if the restaurant actually existed.”…..

    Then why rate it?

  82. Damiano

    This is exactly what I’ve always suspected.

  83. Damiano

    Chef’s Professional Agency, you must be talking about Yelp, I’ve heard it first hand from a restaurant owner who had a negative review removed.

  84. t haus

    Yes, Robin, let’s see the whole list. Or at least respond to Matthew’s comment, “Goldstein posted reviews for 15 wines. But the submitted list contained a total of 256 wines. Only 15 wines scored below 80 points.” What’s the story? What was actually submitted? In any case, I still think it’s brilliant work.

    By the way, I, too, live in Milwaukee. You may chuckle at the name, but Pizza Man is an old favorite among Milwaukeeans for thin crust pizza, conch, or even wild boar ravioli. I can almost guarantee that you will hear Vivaldi playing as you enter, and if it’s a Friday or Saturday night, it will be packed. This is how I’ve known it to be for twenty years, and it’s downright charming, just like the comment Mike made about his car payment on the 15th of each month. And yes, they do have a remarkably decent wine list, whether or not Wine Spectator says so. 😉

  85. Ivan Franklin

    It is only fitting that an academic restate the obvious. I remember a marketing study that affirmed the hypothesis that shoppers prefer buying clothing that fits as opposed to clothing that does not fit …… DUH

    So, it shouldn’t come as any real insight that the WS does not actually follow-up on what they are provided with as long as the $250 cheque is attached.

    Next off will be a study that affirms that the wines and wineries that advertise in the WS have higher scores than the ones that don’t — DUH

  86. Goldstein,
    Why are these people patting you on the back for this elaborate fraud of a publicity stunt? I’m no fan of Wine Spectator, but what you’ve done isn’t journalism. You haven’t even done a favor for the wine community. This is FRAUD, pure and simple, and you’re nothing but a crook and a liar.
    Welcome to the era of Fox News, friends; inventing stories and putting words into other peoples’ mouths. Goldstein is just another publicity-hungry scumbag.

  87. Gerald

    Great job Goldstein. You have exposed a fraud. How on earth can they expect to be taken seriously when now the whole word knows that they don’t even bother to check the restaurant they are awarding the prize to?

  88. Carlo Verguinni

    What is next .??

    The Cigar aficionado sell it`s ratings too ??.

    Well yes,………………………… talks….!!!

    So i hope we all learn our lesson, ……


    WS = BS…..

  89. Dear Robin,
    you have absolutely won me over! I have myself been accused of cooking up controversy in my own own country due to my writing with my gloves off…my recent post cites your brave and succesful experiment as well.
    i would like to associate (and cross-link web addresses to begin with), if that sounds feasible and to your interest.
    inspired by your fearlesslness,

  90. Tony

    I have dined at a number of WS listed restaurants and about half the time I have found the food and the wines hardly worthy of having an award. The WS restaurant list has no more creditability than all of those restaurants advertised in the airline mags.

  91. J-man

    Great. Anyone who pays $250 and sends a wine list gets an award of exellence. This is pure genius. Way to go Wine Spectator. 3 feet down…

  92. Nerea

    Dear Mr Goldstein,
    I work for the spanish newspaper El País and i´m interested in writing about your successful experiment. Please contact me at:
    Congratulations for the (fiction) prize!

    Nerea Pérez de las Heras

  93. John Reynolds

    It just goes to show you how this magazine does business. It’s all pay for placement and ratings. Ever wonder why the magazine’s advertisers get the highest ratings?

  94. K.Foley

    The WS has responded on their websites forum and rightly points out that this was a pointless exercise, since the method by which awards are give is completely described. Which you of course took advantage of. I would also suggest that this was unethical on your part, since you fail to mention that a very large % of the wines on your fake wine list are high scoring, and only point to the “reserves” as somehow indicative of the whole. Not surprising, frankly, give that silly book you wrote. You are obviously just a self-promoter in it for your own financial benefit. Pot calling the kettle black?

    Congratulations, you can scam well meaning people. Why don’t you try some grandmothers next?


  95. winecase

    In your statement above, you clearly underplay the extent to which your “scientific research” was an elaborate sting operation: if you’d just submitted a list and they had rubber stamped it, that would be one thing. But putting up a web site, plugging in an answering machine and getting fake reviews posted at Chowhound? That is actively scamming.

    Should Wine Spectator be more careful? They should certainly have asked for someone to return their calls to certify that the restaurant was actually in existence. But I’d call that a mistake based on good faith, rather than total lack of verification.

    I take awards lists with a big grain of salt. But obviously, we should take whatever you are writing with at least as big a grain of salt.

  96. Paul

    Congratulations Robin, excellent work. Of course one always suspected that such ‘Awards’ were meaningless and just another form of paid advertising, but it is great that you have taken the effort to prove it. The story was covered at length in ‘The Times’ on Saturday.
    What I find most amusing is the ‘response’ of the WS and their apologists like K Foley above- they are accusing you of pulling a scam, where in fact it is they who have been pulling the scam for years.
    There is so much BS in the wine world. What will you turn to next?

  97. Jeff

    You’ve done what all of us who have spent 250 bucks for a piece paper already knew–we paid 250 bucks for a piece of paper. The world is shocked.
    If your goal is to expose WS–get on the editorial staff of that stinking mag and tell us what really goes on (as if we didn’t already know).
    Thanks to you, my meaningless piece of paper is equally meaningless to my valued patrons. I suppose I’m better for the revelation, even though my submissions have heretofore been honest, opptimistic and an expression of our approach to food and wine. Thank you for exposing me for the shallow entreprenuer that I am. Robin is a genius.

  98. milo

    Brilliant. Nice to see the Wine Spectator award is the sham that many have long suspected it is.

  99. Now you know why we in the distribution and on-premise specialties call it ‘The Wine Speculator’…

  100. It sounds like everyone is pretty fed up with Wine Spectator…So am I, so I have done something about it and started a new beverage magazine called Mutineer Magazine that transcends the broken Wine Spectator format. Subscriptions are only $10 for a year, and the magazine comes out every 2 months. Please support us as we are the david to the goliath that is the Wine Spectator. http://WWW.MUTINEERMAGAZINE.COM

  101. Trackback in URL…

    John, come on. Granted, Social Text and their pomo courtiers reacted to Alan Sokal like a whiny bunch of little babies, but I didn’t see them threatening to sue Sokal. Nor did PublishAmerica threaten to sue the group that wrote Atlanta Nights. You know why? Because they were caught red-handed and really didn’t have any defense, just bluster and obvious lies.

    No, Wine Spectator took it on the chin for having low standards, and deservedly so. If the wine community wasn’t dominated by refugees from The Emperor’s New Clothes, this would be a major blow to their credibility.

  102. Wine Spectator will photograph a bottle of barnyard swill in the same lovely way they photograph the best bottle of a particular vineyard’s offerings. Their gushing blurbs over bad wines are incantatory, and confuse readers new to wine. Worse, high-end Foodie markets tend to xerox this nonsense and post it prominently on their display cases, thus ensuring that bad wine flies off the shelves. Beyond just handing out awards to places that don’t exist, Wine Spectator is helping to dumb down the palates of well-meaning culi enthusiasts. Mr. Goldstein has done us all a huge service by exposing this. He deserves congratulations.

  103. enzo zappalà

    fantastic !!!!

  104. I am Italian and I want to congratulate you on your excellent work, why don’t you try with the Michelin guide now 🙂
    I think there’s a world to shame keep on this way!

  105. Jon Jermey

    Frankly, anyone who is silly enough to let another person tell them what they will enjoy drinking is fair game to be fooled.

  106. joao monteiro

    you should try to fiil some well knowed wine into a non knowed brand and see the lausy score that it will get at a wine contest.

    regards from Portugal

  107. Mr Goldstein,

    You have carried on the great tradition of muckrakers from years past. This is exactly the type of journalism we need in the age of compressed sound bytes and a reticence or fear to ask questions, real questions, of institutions and the powers that be.

    I salute you, Sir, and offer a toast of the best Baby Duck I can find (hey, it all tastes good, right?)



  108. Anonymous

    Note to those defending WS: that’s not wine you’ve been drinking, it’s kool-aid.

    I highly doubt that WS would like it to come out in open court that they are (at the very least) possiby enabling the defrauding of the public by not checking anything. Good will? Hardly. If they hadn’t been so eager to sell ad space to the nonexistent restaurant, they might have gotten a clue when /they couldn’t actually talk to a human being there/.

    A Burger King could submit a wine list without a single bottle of wine (presumably under a different name – I used a famous one to make the point), and “win” the award.

    I don’t doubt the rules are spelled out to the entrants – but what about the public at large? Heh, right. That would interfere with $omething near and dear to W$’$ heart$, don’t you $ee?

    Thee is a item in the legal field commonly referred t as “dirty hands”. I doubt W$ could make it over that hurdle.

    But what do I know? I jut sample wine when I can, consider quality over hype, and ignore the snobs and their indecipherable jargon. Any field (my own included) clings to jargon to hide things from the public, almost exclusively to the detriment of that public.

  109. Daniel Couso

    From Buenos Aires, Argentina.
    Great job!! Another example of the power of markenting and the lack of serious people in the world of “critics” specially in the wine world. Wine Spectator sucks, more than ever!!

  110. puede ser..tengo un vasco viejo 2008
    muuuyyy bueno!!!!!envio la caja por 6 a cualquier lugar del mundo!!
    vino tinto generico,rico y barato!!!!directo de buenos aires al mundo!!!!!!!

  111. Seriously, I need reservations for next Friday around 8. Can you squeeze me in?

  112. Robin shook the wine world twice this year with The Wine Trials and Osteria L’Intrepido, pulling off a very imaginative stunt with The Wine Spectator Awards.

    We did a fun interview for our radio show. Catch the Classic Rock show on the air on 97.7 The River in Santa Rosa or on-line, every Sunday from 10- 3p Pacific. Hear a clip of it on the show live this Sunday, September 21st after 2pm Pacific during the program, which streams from the stations’ website. The entire interview can be streamed and downloaded at

  113. michael the log

    Why not just open the next one for Burgundy, “Restaurante du Merde”?

    Nice work…

  114. Horst Kissmann

    Dear Mr Goldstein,

    I work for the brazilian magazine and i´m interested in writing about your experiment.

    Please contact me at:

    Thank you.

    Horst Kissmann

  115. Estimado Señor Goldstein,

    Sin duda es un insulto a todos los amantes del vino, pero sobre todo a la opinión especializada; no puede ser posible llegar al punto de materializar lo poco que queda de dignidad. Es una verdadera verguenza, nuestra obligación es informar y contribuir a fomentar cultura, no ha destruirla.

    En nombre del mundo que ama ésta bebida de dioses, le damos las gracias.

    No olvidemos que el mejor vino es que el que te gusta, no importa que tan sofisticado sea tu paladar, lo importante es el respeto a tus gustos; cierto y claro de que hay calidad de calidades, pero no estoy de acuerdo en desmerecer el trabajo y sacrificio de quienes estan en la industria del vino y por una cuestion de marketing, compromisos o influencias poner sin ningun tipo de respeto numeros a algo que realmente desconocemos.

    Un abrazo.

  116. Vintage wine gifts of quality

  117. Nice post. I’m sure there is more info on

  118. Complimenti, Robin, me è triste pensare che tanti acquirenti si basano ancora sulle guide per giudicare un vino, invece di imparare un metodo di classificazione…

  119. Brilliant, Brililiant, Brilliant…..JUST BRILLIANT!

    – Semie Lee
    Professional Wine Packaging

  120. Looks like this person has plenty of free time…funny but useless

  121. Looks like this person has plenty of free time…funny but useless

  122. Hello webmaster. Not totally agree with you, but you just gave me an idea for a new eBook regarding \”What does it take to get a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence?\”. It is related to baby chocolate cigars. Thanks.

  123. A. Douglas Wauchope

    Have just finished reading “The Wine Trials 2010” cover to cover. I’;ve been a subscriber to Wine Spectator for years, and will continue but perhaps my dependence on their ratings may diminish somewhat. I have always been amused (and appaled) at the cost of some wines, (especially in light of the trajedy in Haiti) but the anchient human needs of status, and greed will always be WS and many winery’s driving force. To be fair, WS has been a great educator for me in a lot of ways ( I pretty much just skim over the reviews of hotels at 1200. a night, and private wine collections of 20,000 bottles, mostly first growths. WS should get credit for it’s sometime attempts for the rest of us (“Great wines for $25. or less”), etc. It was so great to see all of those old friends in your book, especially Trapiche, St. Michelle, Bogle, etc. wines I have bought by the case and given to friends. I guess the most disturbing was that they never recieved a 92, although I thought there was some evidence of integrety when you see a 600. bottle of wine getting a 87 rating. (rare)
    I will be reading WS in detail to see if any mention of the “Awards” controversy is owned up to. Doubtful. “Glossed” over, probably. I am going to Amazon to all my friends who love wine your “trials 2010” as new year gifts. Thanks for a great read.

  124. Max Torrent

    Wine Spectator
    They actually state clearly that they watch the wines. It is not necessary to taste the wines. Wine TASTER would imply a sipping of each entry. A restaurant guide from the Wine Spectator would provide an aesthetic perspective, eg. furniture, linens, and quality at a quick glance.

  125. Just remember, you can’t say James Suckling without saying “sucks”. Hahahahaahah, what a bunch of Donkeys!!!!!!

  126. Ratna

    There should be a whistle-blower award for lies in journalistic reporting, named after Robin Goldstein. This evening, I shall raise an extra toast to Mr. Goldstein with a glass of my $10 Chardonnay.

  127. Burris

    I have been telling all my friends this for years. It was always a scam. It’s time to expose it.

    Wine Spectator is a publication for wine sellers…certainly not for wine buyers..

  128. I can’t believe the Wine Speculator is doing that! Charging a fee for an award? That’s ridiculous! Thanks for exposing the truth.

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