John Curtas is …

Wine Spectator Whine

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Try as I might, I can’t get excited about the Wine Spectator “awards.”

Because they’re really not a measure of excellence; they’re only a publicity stunt that restaurants from coast to coast buy into for whatever free publicity it garners them.

They’re also a fraud.

In fact anyone can “get” a Wine Spectator “award” simply by applying for one. By the magazine’s own admission, about 99% of the restaurants who “apply” for these “awards” receive them.

In fact, non-existent restaurants have received these “awards” simply by sending in a non-existent wine list and paying the application fee.

This is not news. Everyone in the business knows what a sham they are, but hey, why not play along about their importance so we’ll get a mention in the magazine and can display a shiny plaque in our restaurant to impress the rubes?

And so it goes, year after year, and every year I get a press release and e-mails asking me to please do an article about the ultra-fabulous, ever-so-special, Wine Spectator Award winners.

So, just this once, I’ve giving the p.r. people what they want. Complete with a page out of their release showing some of the deserving winners! (See above)

Except of course, many of them aren’t. Deserving that is. And none of them has “won” anything. All they’ve done is mail in a copy of their list, paid a fee, and gotten it rubber-stamped into an exclusive club that is anything but. (The Wine Spectator makes over $1,000,000 in fees from these “awards” every year. And not for one minute do I believe the WS visits or inspects the lists, even of the Grand Award winners. At most, they probably show up for a free meal, and more likely, they just toss printed copies down the steps and the heaviest ones get the most hardware.)

Forget how these “awards” are so indiscriminate that they don’t reflect any quality on a national or international level, just look at them from a local standpoint to see what a joke they are.

Bar Masa? Its insanely-priced sake/wine list was crap from day one. Canaletto? Tuscany Gardens? The Charcoal Room at Palace Station? Puh-leeze. And don’t get me started about such weak sisters as Del Frisco’s, Morton’s, and Palm — none of whom have changed their offerings in 20 years. Yessiree, those Robert Mondavi cabs and Grgich Hills chards shore do make fer sum mighty fine drankin’!

The point is, everyone is not above average when it comes to wine lists. And the promiscuous bestowing of these “awards” cheapens the whole process.

But hey! It’s free publicity right? Well, yes and no. If you’re a worthy, deeply-invested establishment who has developed their list over years and deserves recognition (like Guy Savoy, Emeril’s, Picasso, Lotus of Siam, Ferraro’s et al), or a relative newbie who has taken the time to curate an interesting wine card of bottles that fit the food (like Table 10, Bardot Brasserie, Julian Serrano, et al), you deserve to be called out for being special, not lumped into a group with the likes of Fogo de Chao.

Imagine Meryl Streep holding up an Oscar next to Adam Sandler with one and you’ll get my drift.

So restaurants: quit yer crowing about an award that means nothing; and oenophiles (or budding oenophiles): quit thinking these damn things mean anything; and Wine Spectator p.r. people: quit bugging me to help you promote something that is so obviously worthless.

Or keep bugging me every year to publicize these damn things and you shall get what you ask for.

2 Responses to Wine Spectator Whine

  • I ain’t asking for you to make these “Awards” anything but what they are. But must add that the best CaliCab I’ve ever had (I DON’T drink Screaming Eagles, etc.) was suggested by a Somm at Del Frisco’s right here in Vegas — the ’09 VHR Cabernet. Wow. :D

  • These lists are right up there with those ‘Best Steakhouses’ ads in the back of in-flight magazines. Most of the ‘best’ are places that stopped caring decades ago – and nobody remembers that they keep getting auto-renew billed for those ads.

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