Author Robin Goldstein created the fake Italian restaurant to vet the magazine's award process. He sent Wine Spectator a phony application, cover letter, a bogus menu and a wine list along with the $250 application fee. Then he waited for Wine Spectator to take the bait.
And it did. At which point Mr. Goldstein presented his findings publicly. You can read all about it on his blog.
Wine Spectator immediately pulled the award off of its website, but it lives large in its August 2008 print edition, which Mr. Goldstein reproduced on his site. WS, calling it an "elaborate hoax," says it does not visit every restaurant it judges. In the magazine's online forum, WS says it called the restaurant multiple times and only reached an answering machine. It did note that that the restaurant got reviews on Chowhound (since removed).
It also says that only 15 of the total 256 wines submitted were subpar.
The 15 wines were the restaurant's "reserve list," consisting of wines that WS had trashed over the years. Mr. Goldstein's post includes WS's reviews, ranging from "earthy, swampy, gamy, harsh and tannic" to "smells barnyardy and tastes decayed. Not what you'd hoped for," "memorably bad vintage" and "Unacceptable. Sweet and cloying. Smells like bug spray." Mmmm. Sounds like a winner.
Many comments on WS's forum have been unabashedly in support of the magazine, but their sincerity can be hard to gauge; for example: "Thanks for the information. Hopefully this will put an end to the countless posts that proclaim all one needs to do to get an award is write a check."
The postings on erobertparker.com aren't quite so charitable. The award, one commenter writes, "smacks of low-paid interns hammering through applications."
Maybe if WS looked at the menu a little closer, it would have found a telltale clue: Tortelli con sugo di lepre, burro e salvia, or, a little more succinctly, jackass stew.