There's been some scandal over at the Wine Economics blog (hosted by the American Association for Wine Economists - of which I'm a proud member). Economist, wine drinker, and blogger Robin Goldstein applied for Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence" for restaurant wine menus. The only problem is that Goldstein doesn't own a restaurant. He fabricated a food and wine menu and a restaurant web page, and Wine Spectator deemed it good enough to win the most basic of three awards. Goldstein, who is writing a book on wine, then exposed the fraud.
Not surprisingly, Wine Spectator is not pleased and responds. Goldstein responds to their response, and then Wine Spectator responds again.
There seems to be two points of controversy. First, the restaurant didn't exist, so therefore should not receive an award. Second, Goldstein suggests the phony wine list was below average and not worthy of an award (with some not-too-subtle hinting that the award is just a gimmick to sell advertising to restaurants).
I think Wine Spectator (WS) is getting a bad rap on the first count. WS has some incentive to guard the integrity of its award list. If all of the restaurants on it were fictitious, it wouldn't be worth much to their customers. Second, it seems like the only person who would benefit from getting an award is an actual restaurant owner, which leads me to suspect that few non-restaurant owners would take the time to trick WS. I could send in a TPS wine list, but the only benefit I would receive would be from tricking someone. Moreover, given the amount of human capital required to pull off the trick (knowledge of high quality food and wine menus and website creation), it seems like most potential tricksters would bear substantial opportunity costs. Given the seemingly low benefits of tricking WS if you don't own a restaurant, WS shouldn't invest too much in certifying the existence of restaurants. In fact, they claim this is the first fraud in 27 years.
As to the actual quality of the fictitious wine selection, I'll leave that to more sophisticated palates than my own.