The Scam Behind Restaurant Guides

Do you believe in those hoity-toity restaurant guides? When a guide or a critic recommends a particular restaurant, or a particular wine or even a particular cigar, should you believe it unquestioningly?  Should you swallow it hook, line and sinker?

For decades, wine critic Robert Parker has championed a rigid system of ethics, paying for all of his travels to wineries and shunning gifts from the trade. “It is imperative for a wine critic to pay his own way,” Parker wrote in his latest book.

But Parker, it recently has been discovered, hasn’t held some fellow writers at his influential newsletter, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, to the same standard.

Last September, when critic Jay Miller visited Australia to review various makers’ wines, an industry group, Wine Australia, paid about US$25,000/- for his air travel, hotel accommodations and meals, says James Gosper, the group’s director for North America.

The trip was one of more than a half-dozen instances of such paid-for travel by writers for the newsletter in recent years. The trips haven’t been disclosed in the newsletter. Miller also has vacationed and enjoyed lavish social dinners in the company of wine importers whose wines he reviews, according to his own writings and interviews with industry executives.

Parker largely has defended the two writers in question – Miller and Mark Squires – and apparently approved at least some of their trips. A half-dozen other writers contribute to the newsletter; allegations haven’t been raised about their travel.

Posting in a forum on Parker’s site recently, Squires said he has taken trips to Greece, Israel and Portugal financed by governments or industry groups. All, he said, were approved by Parker.

Parker has been controversial, but mostly because of his palate. Critics claim he favors a particular set of winemaking styles, and say many winemakers in disparate regions of the globe are making similar wines designed to appeal to him alone, “Parkerizing” wine.

But that’s not the only wine scandal in recent times.

Last year Robin Goldstein performed a sting operation on the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards and exposed them as a total farce, as part of his ongoing investigations on the perceptions of value and quality in wine.

Long story short:

1. Researcher invents fake restaurant – Osteria L’Intrepido – in Italy.

2. Researcher builds web site for fake restaurant.

3. Researcher constructs wine list of the lowest scoring Italian wines from Wine Spectator in the last decade.

4. Researcher enters Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards.

5. Fake restaurant wins Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

Wine Spectator is published by the same people who publish Cigar Aficionado.

Go figure.

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