Totally Fake Restaurant Wins Wine Spectator Award of Excellence

Hey, did you know that with Microsoft Word, $250 and maybe a foreign language dictionary — your lemonade stand can get a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence? That’s what one enterprising fellow set out to prove.

Dr. Vino says:

[Robin] Goldstein, the author of The Wine Trials has a posting up on his new website describing how he invented a restaurant name, Osteria l’Intrepido, a riff on “fearless.” Then he typed up a menu (”a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes”) and then put together a wine list, and submitted both to Wine Spectator–along with the $250 fee. The list was approved and given an Award of Excellence.

The best part is that Mr. Goldstein included “the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past 20 years.”

“I didn’t have any empirical evidence of the quality of the restaurants other than my own impressions,” he said. “I wanted to see what the standards of the Awards of Excellence were. The results speak for themselves.”

Dr. Vino also notes that in a Times article from 2003, a reporter estimated that Wine Spectator was bringing in $625,275 from the award each year– and that was when the application fee was only $175.

Fictitious restaurant wins Wine Spectator Award of Excellence


Edit Your Comment

  1. logicalnoise says:

    I’ll cancel my non-existing subscription immediately!

  2. magic8ball says:

    So it’s basically like all those “Who’s Who” directories that you can pay to be in.

  3. ”The basic award is not that hard to get,” said Thomas Matthews, the executive editor of Wine Spectator. ”At that level,” Mr. Matthews added, ”we’re trying to bring people into a wine consciousness. We’re trying to be as inclusive as possible. If they fail, it means they have done something fundamentally wrong, like not listing vintages.” []

    Fair enough. The fake restaurant listed all the vintages, even if they sucked.

  4. @Michael Belisle: They’ll just have to add “restaurant exists” as one of the criterion.

  5. bohemian says:

    But do they have $8 nectarines on plates?

  6. MissPeacock says:

    @magic8ball: My parents and I fell for that one year when I was in high school. :(

  7. Quilt says:

    Great, now I’m going to question every award of excellence that I come across. Mind you, if the place I see on the list actually exsists, that’ll be a plus.

  8. corkdork says:

    The whole “Wine Spectator” thing is a joke — for a wine to be reviewed by Spectator, they submit 6 bottles in pristine condition and several thousand dollars “to cover labor expenses.” Hmm, money-making opportunity? I also notice that wines that get high reviews in the magazine also tend to have large (and expensive) advertisments.

    IIRC, when I looked at their annual review of 2007 wines, 10,000+ wines reviewed, something like 87% of wines scored 80 or higher (scores will range from 50 to 100, with 75 being presumed to be “average.”). Grade inflation anyone?

    /works in retail wine

  9. Wes_Sabi says:

    I was talking to the owner of a restaurant that has a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence (two wine glasses on the award). He said basically it’s based on how many wines you have in your cellar. If you want their top award, then they come out and evaluate how well your menu goes with the wines in your establishment. I think he said you need to have like 1,500 wines.

  10. james says:

    What else is new? There are more examples of this type of scam (advertisement?) than we can recount.
    Just recently I received a “magazine” of local restaurants that was nothing more than 80 pages of advertisements paid for by the restaurants listed. The front page said something like “Finally, a resource of local restaurants” or something along those lines.

  11. dodongo says:

    @corkdork: Re: Grade inflation — But you can’t just hold WS responsible for the abuse / misuse / misleading nature of the 100-point system. My money says you’re not going to get a standard distribution using 5-star or 20-point scales, either.

  12. purplesun says:

    Oh, shoot. Guess I better cancel those reservations to Osteria l’Intrepido. The wine list looked so promising, too.


    Sad lesson from this? Trust no one.

  13. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Wine newbs, please ignore any Wine Spectator blurbs you may come across in your friendly neighborhood wine shop. They are so full of shit, as this article clearly points out. Look for a rating from Robert Parker instead. Even if you don’t agree with his palette, he gives truthful reviews.


  14. oneliketadow says:

    When its time to cull the douchebags in our society, subscribers to a magazine such as Wine Spectator will be in the first round.

  15. thelushie says:

    Geez, you want to know how many times to how many businesses that I have wanted to do something like this to. Submit fake news articles to see how gullible people are and the like. This really shows how screwy our society can be. (It is also hilarious.)

  16. Botticelli711 says:

    why is it called wine spectator. Doesnt spectate mean to watch? Eyes /= mouth

  17. khiltd says:

    You mean people who drink rotten grape juice aren’t the world’s foremost authorities on matters of taste? I detect notes of shock underlying my bouquet of disillusionment.

  18. Frank_Trapasso says:

    @khiltd: Great point! People never drink other beverages or eat foods made by utilizing natural bacterial processes!


  19. audiochick says:

    @khiltd: Ha! I feel the same about coffee. Hot roasted bean juice? The hell? I love my red wine, though.

  20. GeoffinAround says:

    Wine Spectator provided an official response to the scam. Both sides leave me feeling a bit grubby.


  21. oldheathen says:

    Dammit – I want an award! A major award!

  22. phil28 says:

    This is pretty well known in the restaurant trade, but it’s great that someone outed them for it. Not only is the wine list a placement for pay, but so it the Wine Spectator’s annual directory of the best restaurants. Now if they really wanted a directory of the best restaurants they would not force the restaurants to pay.

  23. corkdork says:

    @dodongo: If they list, as they do, their scoring rubric and have 75 as “an average wine, unremarkable either way” (sorry, don’t have a copy of WS handy to look at the exact text), then they should make at least an attempt to have the average (either mean or median, I don’t care which) around 75. But, when more than 3/4 of the wines listed in a near-encyclopedic review of wine from 2007 score over 80, there’s something seriously (statistically) wrong.

    I think it is that the nice folks at Wine Spectator know that 90’s sell wine, while 80’s don’t, and wine that sells means more advertising for them. So… there’s some not-so-subtle pressure on them to score wines high.

  24. @phil28: Kind of like the Webby’s.

  25. MercuryPDX says:

    @oldheathen: A winner is you!

    Brought to you by ImageShack!

  26. balthisar says:

    To be fair, the Wine Spectator rankings aren’t an average in the statistical sense, and so no natural bell curve will ever form. It’s more like an exam grade… each individual receives a grade based on its own merits.

    And just like in a classroom where an instructor will grade on a (true) curve, if 5 students got 100’s, and 5 students got 80’s (normally passing), those five students would be pissed to be assigned their grade based on falling at the low side of the curve!

  27. @GeoffinAround: The part about posting fake discussions on Chowhound (with fake broken english, even) is pretty sneaky:

    houstonian: My favorite in Milan these days is osteria l’intrepido, a fairly new, cozy place with a good creative menu and nice wine list. it’s on via filipetti (sp?), near the bocconi university. not cheap, but a great find, not yet well known (just opened last year, i think), amazing chef, and sommelier really knows his stuff. he dug a great 1990 brunello out of the cellar.

    umbertomilano: yes i know the place, they have the website at [] is not a bad restaurant but sometimes the owner close for private event.

    And if Google Maps says it exists, it must be true.

  28. @phil28: If they really wanted a directory of the best restaurants they would not force the restaurants to pay.

    Sure they would. It reduces the number of applications, presumably weeding out some of the people that shouldn’t be applying and would be rejected anyway. It’s not free to process >3500 applications. Wine Spectator claims they still reject almost 1/3 of the applications.

    But does it cost $600,000? Probably not. It’s a tough call. If they charged $10,000, then people would really intensify the “placement for award” cry, even though all it would do is reduce it to the restaurants that are really serious. You’d expect that everyone who applies at that price would get it. It’s just supply and demand.

  29. quail says:

    The business world is watered down with plaques of achievement and excellence and the like. I’ve learned not to trust any of it. Word of mouth works much better.

  30. mcjake says:

    As Nelson in the Simpsons once said “Ha Ha!”

  31. Antediluvian says:

    I think one other reason you don’t see that many poor reviews of [wines|plays|restaurants|vacation spots] in magazines is that there’s only limited space, and why print reviews of crappy places|wines? Use the limited space to review good things. While I appreciate knowing what’s bad that to avoid, I prefer knowing what’s good that I should seek out.

  32. cockeyed says:

    So he paid $250 just to prove a point? Who is the stupid one here??

  33. oldheathen says:


    I’d like to thank all the little people who helped make this possible. Every time I quaff a jelly jar of Chateau Boone’s Farm 2007, purchased from the clearance rack at Aldi’s, I’ll think of you!

  34. WhirlyBird says:

    Wine drinkers are pretentious snobs, so this is sweet justice.

  35. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    Isn’t this similar to how those “Best Places to Work” lists operate too? Whichever company buys the biggest ad just happens to be the best place to work.

  36. balthisar says:

    @WhirlyBird: Why do you think I’m a pretentious snob?

  37. geckospots says:

    @oldheathen: Heh, that made me think of this:

    “Old Smokey 1968 has been compared favourably to a Welsh claret, whilst the Australian Wino Society thoroughly recommends a 1970 Coq du Rod Laver, which, believe me, has a kick on it like a mule: eight bottles of this and you’re really finished. At the opening of the Sydney Bridge Club, they were fishing them out of the main sewers every half an hour.”


  38. KatieKate93 says:

    @corkdork: Or it could be that the sampling of wines reviewed is self-selecting.

    When I took the Mensa exam (several years ago), the proctor stated that a full two-thirds of us would likely pass even though admission required that one’s score be in the theoretical 98th percentile. Because we had submitted ourselves to be tested, we knew we had a likely shot at scoring well.

    Just a theory.

  39. AlexPDL says:

    Damn lots of anti-wine rants on here. Ouch! Sounds like some folks have some sort of ax to grind. ;-)

  40. Jrsy says:

    Perhaps someone should open a restaurant and name it Osteria l’Intrepido so as not to let that prestigious award go to waste…

  41. hustler says:

    I wouldn’t expect anything less from a magazine with $100 annual subscription fees.

  42. Preppy6917 says:

    This does show a problem with the “system”, if I should call it that, but that doesn’t mean that the entire ratings framework should be thrown out the window. I’ve had the luxury of working the last two years working at a “Best of” award-winning restaurant (2 glasses), and have been fortunate enough to learn as much as I could about wine and really hone my palate.

    While there are PLENTY of people who just like to be seen drinking wine and acting as though they’re sophisticated because of it, doesn’t that apply to just about every sort of consumer niche? Luxury cars? Designer clothes? Whole Foods? It isn’t fair to pigeonhole all wine drinkers because of some asshole who probably only drinks wine based on the label (Silver Oak comes to mind) rather than based on varietal, appelation or vintage.

  43. Meathamper says:

    Consumer Reports will be all over this one day.