In the course of damage control, Wine Spectator Executive Editor Thomas Matthews and others have made several questionable statements. Although it had been my policy not to respond to them (or to the name-calling–“mugger” has been my favorite), there seems to be enough uninformed debate going on in the blogosphere that I wanted to set some of these facts straight here.
1. WS writes: “We make significant efforts to verify the facts…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.”
If it’s true that WS called the restaurant’s number (+39 02 4074 6174) multiple times during their “efforts to verify the facts,” and had trouble getting through, why didn’t they ever leave a message? Or send an email?
The only message WS ever left at the restaurant’s number was left after the award had already been granted, by an advertising salesperson asking if I wanted to buy an ad (starting at $3,090 and going up to $8,860). I’ve posted that message as an MP3.
The ad department also emailed me–again, after I’d already won an award (but, interestingly, before the level of the award was determined). The email read as follows:
In short, the only “significant efforts to contact” the restaurant were made by Wine Spectator’s ad sales department, and were made after the Osteria had already won an award.
2. WS writes: “A total of 102 [out of 256] wines earned ratings of 80 points (good) or better.”
Setting aside the fact that the “reserve list” contained the most expensive and lowest-rated wines, this is their justification for why the list was “excellent” overall? If you look at all wines in Wine Spectator’s database, 167,710 of 190,071 wines ever rated–88%–earned 80 points or higher. Only 40% of Osteria L’Intrepido’s wines did. Even if you look only at the 117 wines on the Osteria’s list that were rated by WS, 102 of 117 (87%) earned ratings of 80 points or higher–lower than the average of all wines that WS has ever rated (88%). Is that their definition of “excellence”? Below average?
3. WS writes: “The restaurant sent us a link to a Web site that listed its menu.”
It would not have been possible to apply for the Award of Excellence without filling out the restaurant’s web site, phone number, street address, menu, wine list, and so on. As I explained in my initial post, I created a basic online presence for the Osteria. This included posting some basic information to Google and making one or two posts to Chowhound in February (though none in August, as the magazine suggests). I wanted to see if Wine Spectator’s level of expert scrutiny in determining award winners went beyond the sort of basic online research that anyone could do in two or three minutes.
Yes, this experiment was mischievous. Deception was required to expose what I saw as a wrong against the readers and the public. But the deception was hardly elaborate. Everything I did took only a couple of hours.
Wine Spectator’s readers and the public have systematically been led to believe that the Awards of Excellence represented an expert stamp of approval for a restaurant with a wine program that has been judged “excellent” by the magazine’s wine authorities, rather than an advertising scheme. You can decide for yourself, based on the evidence set forth here and in my previous post, which it is.