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... or that's what this research seems to indicate. Link found thanks to Patricia's FARK linkage.

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

Their reviews might still be okay, but given this, the awards on restaurant walls seem to be more of a revenue stream for the magazine than an actual indicator of a quality wine list. It's too bad, because I have a friend who is a sommelier, and the wine list he created is, in my opinion, worthy of recognition. He really puts a lot into what he does.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 21st, 2008 06:43 am (UTC)
I've got a few thoughts on the matter...

1) WS had indeed made and broken lots of wineries and restaurants. Some of them didn't deserve to be made, some didn't deserve to be broken - but I'm not sure that means they are truly trying to do a bad job and are solely motivated by greed. Instead I think it's like a lot of industries - there's a hell of a lot of crossover between the folks who sell it, the folks who are experts on it, and the folks who
buy it. Are their reviews gospel? No, of course not. Are their reviews more reliable than random chance? Yes, I think so. Here's my evidence:


2) WS doesn't make huge promises about the meaning of their 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." I think people's biggest issue is that they expect more out of an award with such a high-falutin' name. (And I kind of agree, the name sounds impressive.) Still, I know of a ton of places that have gotten it - I've never thought of it as a particularly amazing award, but a sort of certification of a minimum standard.

3) For fairness' sake, you might read the WS response: http://forums.winespectator.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/6826053161/m/835102245

I'm not sure that WS should be faulted for thinking the restaurant really existed, if their response is factual. If Goldstein really had set up an answering machine and put it on Chowhound... WS doesn't claim to visit the restaurants at the A of E level, they only claim to have evaluated a submitted list and menu.

4) The two higher awards are more thoroughly checked up on. I work in a Grand Award winning place, and yes, they have come out to visit us. (I train new servers, and that's one thing I always have in mind - these servers have to be good enough to serve the WS guys.)

5) So, Goldstein is accusing the WS of making an award that exaggerates a restaurant's accomplishments in order to make money.... but Goldstein himself is selling something (his book, recently published, will no doubt benefit from all this publicity). Is it possible that Goldstein is exaggerating a bit himself? Should we consider how much greed plays into Goldstein's motivations and perceptions, while we also think about the same with regard to the WS awards?

6) Anyway, if you want a good restaurant guide, there's always Zagat's or the Michelin Guide. If you want serious wine ratings that are not influenced by commercial interests, there's always Parker's Wine Advocate (though many people do not like Parker's wine preferences, he is *very* consistent and honest). If you don't like the WS, there's always Decanter (I get both).

But my advice is that you shouldn't ever take anyone's word as gospel - trust your own taste first! Be adventerous, and if you get a meal that isn't perfect, well... have a good time anyway (hey, life is short, and at least you've got food to eat!), just don't give them your business again.
Aug. 21st, 2008 03:16 pm (UTC)
Um, on your first point, I did say in my initial post that the WS reviews may still be okay. It was my impression that the awards seemed to be something of a reciprocal marketing device for the magazine and the restaurants.

However, I appreciate the link to the response from Wine Spectator. Thank you. I had not seen that, and should have investigated to see if they had a response. Two sides to every story, and I know better. ;) It's interesting that, according to the additional information they provided, Goldstein appears to have told quite a few lies of omission. If he indeed went to the lengths of creating Chowhound commentary and the answering machine, then I think that WS did basic research and verification, and had no reason to this this was any more unusual than other applications they've received. Somewhere in the middle likely lies the truth.

Regarding your second point, how the magazine defines their award and how the general public perceives it are two different things. As you point out, an award with a name like that creates certain expectations ... this is exactly where I suspect the magazine's marketing department likely got hold of it, and made it shinier and prettier than it really is to sell the idea. You're knowledgeable in the field of wine, so you're aware of where such an award really stands. However, to the average consumer, it looks pretty impressive hanging on the wall. They don't know what you know, and they think it means more than it does.

As for restaurant guides, yes, I am quite familiar with both Zagat's and Michelin. I have dusty copies of the former lurking around on my shelves from over a decade ago. It's sometimes fun to flip through them and see what's gone and what's remained. I still miss Sitar of Tandoori - they had the best mulligatawny soup.

I'm also aware of Parker's newsletter, and bought my father a subscription to Decanter a few years ago as a birthday present. He found that one a mite frustrating because he'd read about all these lovely wines that he couldn't obtain locally. It worked out better to get him a subscription to The Wine Report.

While I can respect Parker's palate, and recognize that he has a tremendous amount of influence, I find his overweening self-important attitude off-putting. Although Mondovino definitely had a point of view and its own biases, as I said in my thoughts on it, Parker came across as a condescending narcissist in love with his own tongue without any help from the directors, in my opinion.
Aug. 21st, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)

I only made the first point because I feel like this has to be put in a larger context - WS has made a lot of enemies over the years. (Sorry if I came off as going OT or ignoring your post.) They are the magazine that everyone loves to hate. The absolute glee that this news has been met with in the wine community stems from disagreement about reviews, perceptions of commercial interests skewing their service to readers, and yes, absolute distrust over the various restaurant awards. So somebody took a poke at them, and there are a heck of a lot of people who are thrilled, despite how underhanded (and greed motivated) it might be. We're a culture that loves the underdog, and loves watching the establishement get the wind taken out of its sails.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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