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Wine Spectator Hoaxed, 2008
Since 1981 the magazine Wine Spectator has given "Awards of Excellence" to restaurants that it deems to have exceptional wine lists. To win an award a restaurant must submit their wine list to the magazine and pay a $250 application fee. Over two-thirds of the restaurants who submit an application win an award, and the contest earns Wine Spectator over $1 million a year in fees.

In 2008 the magazine gave an award to Osteria L’Intrepido, a restaurant in Milan, Italy. It was later embarrassed to discover that this restaurant did not exist.

Robin Goldstein, author of The Wine Trials, had submitted the name of the fake restaurant along with a phony wine list that included a number of Wine Spectator's lowest scoring Italian wines. In order to make the restaurant seem genuine, he also created a website for it and posted some fictitious reviews online. He said that his purpose was to determine "how Wine Spectator magazine determines its Awards of Excellence for the world’s best wine restaurants."

Goldstein revealed his hoax at the August 2008 conference of the American Association of Wine Economists. He noted that while Osteria L'Intrepido may have been the first fake restaurant to enter the award program, "it’s unlikely that it was the first submission that didn’t accurately reflect the contents of a restaurant’s wine cellar." He characterized the Awards of Excellence as a mere advertising scheme.

Wine Spectator responded that the incident merely demonstrated that it could be deceived by an "elaborate hoax".

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.