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Dale Williams

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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Dale Williams » Wed Aug 20, 2008 6:55 pm

I've never been a fan of the WS awards, except for maybe the top level ones they truly don't mean anything. But in fairness, it sounds like Robin Goldstein's blog tells a rather incomplete story. This is the response from Thomas Matthews, editor of WS:


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."

__________________

I still don't think much of the awards, but it's clear that if WS is accurate in its description, Goldstein was less than candid in his description of the scam.
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Ian Sutton

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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Ian Sutton » Wed Aug 20, 2008 7:38 pm

IMO
A sham restaurant exposing sham awards. Any restaurant award based on no experience whatsover of the restaurant is a sham. I may not agree with the guy's methods (clearly underhand), but this setup needed outing and the outrage from Mr Matthews would be better turned into an apology for putting revenue before credibility. However this is the modern era and learning directly from politicians/lawyers, the best form of defence is to attack and discredit to deflect from one's own failings. That there is no acknowledgement of an issue with such awards shows that they've not learnt the lesson. As a wine-lover I'm saddened by the sheer commercialism of such 'awards' and at $250 an entry this is a handy little money-spinner for the publishers.

I'm frankly fed up of confetti awards for wines and in this case restaurants.

We marvel at 8 gold medals for Michael Phelps. For some Olympians, one in a lifetime is unqualified success, marking their name in time as a great.

There are some wines with 20-30 Golds to their name. They aren't anywhere near worth our respect as Phelps.

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Alejandro Audisio

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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Alejandro Audisio » Wed Aug 20, 2008 7:55 pm

If there is a WSpectator award of excellence in a wine shop category/version, perhaps I should consider investing $250 and applying for one....?

:mrgreen: :P :lol:
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Matt Richman » Wed Aug 20, 2008 10:36 pm

Preposterous.

Matthews is essentially saying "if 15 minutes of research doesn't lead us anywhere we decide that we'll tell the world that this place is excellent".

Look, the idea that they admit to not visiting all the restaurants on the list doesn't excuse their shoddy standards. "Sorry officer, when I got in the car I decided I was going to speed, so your catching me really shouldn't be a problem".

The fact is that those of us paying attention have always known these awards as a sham. But in the real world someone who reads Wine Spectator is considered an intense wine hobbyist. So that vast population who don't know these awards are all bull think that they mean something. They see the plaque in the window and are impressed. In reality it means almost nothing. I've of course been to many many restaurants with excellent wine lists that haven't ponied up their $250 to get the plaque. And many many restaurants with the award that have boring, lousy wine lists.

I don't have a problem with them listing restaurants that supposedly strive to have good wine lists and service. But if you aren't going to actually judge them, then DON'T CALL THEM AWARDS.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by David Creighton » Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:13 pm

i'm beginning to see a disturbing pattern here: wine director is 'crass', the chef is to 'gag' over, and then someone posts something 'audacious'. you just can't trust anything anymore.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by MikeH » Thu Aug 21, 2008 3:08 am

From Thomas Matthews response: "(Nearly one-third of new entries each year do not win awards.) "

Excuse me, but doesn't that imply that over two-thirds of new entries DO win awards? How selective is that? I mean, can't you just hear the proud momma saying, "Little Johnny graduated in the top 2/3 of his high school class!" (No smart-aleck comments about Kentucky. Robin and Bob will get po'd. ) And finishing 22nd at the Indy 500 is a real big deal, isn't it? I guess it works in the NBA and NHL come playoff time. But then the sportswriters go ballistic about the sub-par teams that get to play in the postseason.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by MtBakerDave » Thu Aug 21, 2008 3:29 am

I talked to a friend who applied for an Award of Excellence on behalf of a (then) new restaurant in Seattle. They had already applied and been rejected. The grounds for rejection? They didn't include appelations on the list. So, I guess there is at least some superficial checking going on, of technical criteria anyway. She edited and resubmitted the list and got the award. This is a good restaurant though, and a good wine list, so I'm sure anyone who dined there on the basis of the Award wouldn't have been dissapointed.

It seems to me that the ball is in Wine Spectator's court to revise their Award of Excellence program to make it mean something, since it's been outed as being essentially a form of advertising. I understand plenty of people rely on the Awards as a guide, not knowing how easy it is to obtain. Will that happen? I'd guess not. I gave up on them a long time ago.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Brian Gilp » Thu Aug 21, 2008 9:21 am

MikeH wrote:Excuse me, but doesn't that imply that over two-thirds of new entries DO win awards?


But what about those that are not new enteries? I thought I read somewhere that 3600 of 3800 enteries received and award. If one-third of the new enteries are rejected and the 3600 of 3800 is correct does that imply that once on the list always on the list?
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Carl Eppig » Thu Aug 21, 2008 9:40 am

Qualifier: Dropped my subscription several years ago. Having said that, we've been to maybe two dozen of their recommended restauratants over the years, and went there because they were so recommended. We have never been disappointed. Maybe we just got lucky.
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Dale Williams

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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Dale Williams » Thu Aug 21, 2008 9:41 am

Matt Richman wrote:I don't have a problem with them listing restaurants that supposedly strive to have good wine lists and service. But if you aren't going to actually judge them, then DON'T CALL THEM AWARDS.


Agreed. I'm on record here as saying the basic award is meaningless. It's totally based on a submitted list, and makes no investigation into storage, stemware, service knowledge, etc. I think it's a sham to call it an award, it's an ad that just requires someone to put together a list that shows a little breadth and decent organization (listing vintages and appellations). There's not even any verification it IS the actual list.

Brian Gilp wrote:But what about those that are not new enteries? I thought I read somewhere that 3600 of 3800 enteries received and award. If one-third of the new enteries are rejected and the 3600 of 3800 is correct does that imply that once on the list always on the list?


Yes, that figure was in a NYT article. I think basically once you figure out HOW the list is presented (list vintage and appellation, etc), you'd have to have an all-Yellowtail list to get booted. I'd bet that 99% of those rejected (about 60-70 from these figures) had lists that didn't list either vintage or appellation. So you apply, get rejected (with explanation), next year put the damn vintage and you're in.

All that being said, I did think that Goldstein was a little deceptive in his description of scam:
1) he didn't mention seeding Chowhound with fake positive posts, setting up a telephone number and website, etc. WS says they don't make physical visits to the lower tier award winners, and obviously choosing a non-US site was intentional.
2) he didn't mention that he was listing only 15 out of more than 250 wines listed, and that the rest had lots of high scoring WS wines.
3) the 15 low scoring wines he mentioned are mostly wines I wouldn't mind trying (Soldera, Giacosa, Ceretto, Caparzo, Sassacaia, etc), some from good vintages. Maybe the person lookign at the list had a better idea of what is good than just looking up unreliable WS scores. :)

This certainly didn't improve my idea of the WS awards. The only thing that seeing an Award of Excellence does for me is assure me they serve wine. But I thought it was worth posting Matthews' response, as Goldstein's presentation left out a few things.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Michael Pronay » Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:10 am

Brian Gilp wrote:But what about those that are not new enteries? I thought I read somewhere that 3600 of 3800 enteries received and award. If one-third of the new enteries are rejected and the 3600 of 3800 is correct does that imply that once on the list always on the list?

That implies that you apply yearly again and again, and as long as you don't make major mistakes, you get the award.

Dale Williams wrote:All that being said, I did think that Goldstein was a little deceptive in his description of scam:
[...]
2) he didn't mention that he was listing only 15 out of more than 250 wines listed, and that the rest had lots of high scoring WS wines.

Sorry to contradict, but this is not true. From Robin Goldsteins homepage (my emphasis:)

Although the main wine list that I submitted was a perfectly decent selection from around Italy meeting the magazine’s numerical criteria, Osteria L’Intrepido’s “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among some of the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past few decades.

But I guess this passage has been overread by quite a number of readers, both here and on Parker's forum.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Dale Williams » Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:39 am

Michael,
I didn't miss that. But as the basic WS award isn't supposed to be about rare and special wines, but a wine having good selections. The fact is that the reserve list had a lot of low scorers -but it made up less than 6% of the selections. When I read it originally, if you had asked me from context of what Goldstein wrote how many wines were on the main list, I would have guessed 25-50. A more honest description ("the main list had over 200 well chosen options") would make me respect Goldstein more.

I still think the whole thing is funny, but neither side looks like a paragon of integrity to me.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Michael Pronay » Thu Aug 21, 2008 11:11 am

Dale Williams wrote:I still think the whole thing is funny, but neither side looks like a paragon of integrity to me.

That sums it up pretty well, I think.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Daniel Rogov » Thu Aug 21, 2008 2:08 pm

Several of the senior writers and editors at the Wine Spectator have posted their reactions to this "event". In the larger sense, it is now up to individual readers to decide what they think of the affair..... Those comments can be found at http://forums.winespectator.com/eve/for ... /835102245


As for me:

(a) If I read about a restaurant and cannot contact them by phone, I simply do not go to dine there either as a critic or as a lover of dining out.

(b) Honest errors do occur. The questions that may remain for some, however, is how honest the error might have been and if it could have been avoided.

(c) The whole "affair" simply reinforces to me my skepticism about the validity and value of competitions in general, especially of competitions that have both a panel decision-making process and are done for profit.

(d) And let us not forget one very important question...... was this, as the Spectator feels, "a scam" or was it in fact a valid and intelligent way of demonstrating the lack of validity of their "awards"?


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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Dave Erickson » Thu Aug 21, 2008 2:16 pm

Oh, let's belabor the obvious, since it seems to be getting lost in the discussion: The Spectator rejects you for an award ONLY IF YOU DON'T FILL OUT THE FORMS CORRECTLY. And no, it's not an "award," it's a business transaction. You fill out the forms correctly, you send the check, you get the listing. End of story. The hoax is great, the Spec deserves it, I hope somebody does them in again next year.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Bob Henrick » Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:53 pm

David Glasser wrote:Not only did this guy make up the restaurant, but he populated the wine list with the worst-scoring wines from the last 20 years of Wine Spectator reviews:

http://osterialintrepido.wordpress.com/


Great story David. Satisfy my curiosity if you would, but aren't you a name from the past?
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Thu Aug 21, 2008 11:26 pm

I may be dim today (wink) but I do not see/understand the connection with Chouhound. Is Goldstein/whoever part of that set-up?
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by David Glasser » Fri Aug 22, 2008 12:59 am

Dale Williams. wrote:The only thing that seeing an Award of Excellence does for me is assure me they serve wine.


Dale, this episode shows you can't even be sure of that. :mrgreen:

Bob H. - you remember right. I'm a relic from the original Compuserve forum and early days of WLDG. Got lost for a while and found my way back. So now satisfy my curiosity - were you the guy who bought a third-hand VinoTemp from Linda B. many years ago?
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Nigel Groundwater » Fri Aug 22, 2008 10:51 am

Bob Parsons Alberta. wrote:I may be dim today (wink) but I do not see/understand the connection with Chouhound. Is Goldstein/whoever part of that set-up?

Bob This subject is so full of semi-demi information, selected ‘facts’ and preconceptions let me admit that what follows is only what I have read but I have attempted to check it against diverse sources:
1. Goldstein not only invented a website for the restaurant but supplied an Italian phone number
2. He then used Chowhound [an apparently bone fide site] to post fake diners reviews of the restaurant over several months.
3. Presumably both were intended to provide a 'legend' for the fake restaurant in case the WS did any checking.
One assumes he felt that a plausible 'legend' was necessary because he either expected the WS to do some checking or at least thought they might.
4. I understand that Chowhound removed the fake diners' reviews as soon as they were made aware of the scam.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Daniel Rogov » Fri Aug 22, 2008 11:10 am

I am here neither to bury nor to praise either Goldstein or the Wine Spectator but to make one three-part point about which I feel strongly.


1. Many people have Ten Commandments and a few additional rules with which to guide their lives. Con-men have only one iron-clad rule: "You can only con someone who is himself looking to con you".

2. I concur that Mr Goldstein (whose name, until this bruhaha broke,was unknown to me) set up a scam and got away with it. I do not concur with the Wine Spectator editors and writers in that they were "victims" of that scam. The Spectator fell victim to nothing more than their own method of accepting information and giving awards without adequately checking the validity of that information.

3. The simple truth of the matter is that setting up a scam in cases of investigative reporting is a standard tool, meant to build a trap into which only the guilty will fall. As to the motives of Mr. Goldstein, the claim that he had "ulterior motives" carries no weight because what he did harms no-one but those who fell into the trap.

Open, of course, to disagreement.

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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Robin Garr » Fri Aug 22, 2008 11:40 am

Daniel Rogov wrote:Open, of course, to disagreement.

No disagreement here, Rogov. I think you nailed it in one. Er, three, but still ...
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Nigel Groundwater » Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:08 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:I am here neither to bury nor to praise either Goldstein or the Wine Spectator but to make one three-part point about which I feel strongly.


1. Many people have Ten Commandments and a few additional rules with which to guide their lives. Con-men have only one iron-clad rule: "You can only con someone who is himself looking to con you".

2. I concur that Mr Goldstein (whose name, until this bruhaha broke,was unknown to me) set up a scam and got away with it. I do not concur with the Wine Spectator editors and writers in that they were "victims" of that scam. The Spectator fell victim to nothing more than their own method of accepting information and giving awards without adequately checking the validity of that information.

3. The simple truth of the matter is that setting up a scam in cases of investigative reporting is a standard tool, meant to build a trap into which only the guilty will fall. As to the motives of Mr. Goldstein, the claim that he had "ulterior motives" carries no weight because what he did harms no-one but those who fell into the trap.

Open, of course, to disagreement.

Best
Rogov


Well ok. I disagree or more precisely I see no proof with related evidence for you assertions - only assertions. In particular could you please explain the first one which seems to be saying that con-men only con con-men?

It certainly cuts across a well known aphorism from this side of the pond "Never try to kid a kidder' but seriously what are you on about?
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Bob Henrick » Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:46 pm

David Glasser wrote:Bob H. - you remember right. I'm a relic from the original Compuserve forum and early days of WLDG. Got lost for a while and found my way back. So now satisfy my curiosity - were you the guy who bought a third-hand VinoTemp from Linda B. many years ago?


David, I bought a Second hand Vinothéque QT Gold from Deene Lindsay and still have it, but it needs some repair attention. I think you are thinking of Mike Conner who bought the third-hand Vino Temp from Linda B. It's good to see you back and posting.
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Re: Wine Spectator gives Award of Excellence to fake restaurant

by Dale Williams » Fri Aug 22, 2008 5:10 pm

As Nigel notes, plenty of scams are perpetuated on honest people, who are not trying to "scam" the scammer. There are people who bring sob stories to churches, synagogues, and charities of how "they just need $40 to get back to their families." Scumbags collected huge sums of money after Katrina and the tsunami running scams on generous people. Ponzi schemes, "we've got an extra load of asphalt," and deposit overpayment schemes don't need a dishonest dupe. Con men prey on fears, hopes, and charity as well as dishonesty.

I don't have any sympathy for WS. I just don't think that Goldstein is such a shining light, as his report about the scam left out some significant details.
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