I never paid much attention to how these awards were parceled out, vaguely harboring the notion that Spectator editors dispersed teams of secret diners to peruse wine lists and menus of unsuspecting restaurants then surprising the winners with awards.
My naïveté on this matter was shattered in 2008 when it was disclosed that Osteria L’ Intrepido in Milan, Italy, was the recipient of an Award of Excellence in Wine Spectator’s annual restaurant poll. There was only one problem, Osteria L’ Intrepido did not exist.
Osteria L’ Intrepido was the brainchild of Robin Goldstein, the author of “The Wine Trials” and the “Fearless Critic” restaurant guidebook series. A graduate of Harvard and Yale University School of Law, Goldstein gained notoriety when he published the results of an experiment he undertook to determine what was required to receive an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator.
Working with a colleague, Goldstein put together a wine list comprised of wines rated at 80 or under by Spectator reviewers. A rating of 80 or under from Spectator is the kiss of death for most wines, but those same poorly scored wines offered on Osteria L’ Intrepido’s imaginary wine list brought the fictitious restaurant a Spectator Award of Excellence.
According to the magazine, awards recognize restaurants with wine lists offering a varied selection of interesting wines that pair appropriately with the restaurant’s cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.
“To qualify for an award, an application must be submitted with wine list attached. The list must present complete, accurate wine information. It must include vintages and appellations for all selections including wines available by the glass. Complete producer names and correct spellings are mandatory, while the overall presentation and appearance of the list is also taken into consideration.”
After the basic requirements are met, lists are judged for one of three awards, according to the magazine.
Of the 20 Alabama restaurants named to this list, 19 received the Award of Excellence including beach eateries Cobalt, Cosmo’s, Sunset Cork Room and Villaggio Grille. For these restaurants to receive the Award of Excellence, they had to submit documentation showing they offer, “a well-chosen selection of quality producers along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Typically these lists offer over 100 selections.”
The Award of Excellence was conferred on 2,870 winners who paid a $250 processing fee for application review. Refunds are not given to applicants not making the cut.
One restaurant in Alabama received the higher award, Best of Award of Excellence. There were 850 restaurants receiving this second-tier award giving special recognition to restaurants “that clearly exceed the requirements for the Award of Excellence. Wine lists for this category typically offer 400 or more selections along with superior presentation and display either vintage depth with several vertical offering of top wines, or excellent breadth across several wine regions.” Congratulations to Cotton Row Restaurant in Huntsville for capturing this award.
The highest honor, Grand Award, went to 73 restaurants. No Alabama restaurant made the cut. Among the stringent requirements for Spectator’s most prestigious award is a minimum of 1,500 offered selections and the restaurant must show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their program.
For a complete listing of awarded restaurants, go to winespectator.com and search “restaurant wine list awards.” If your favorite fine dining establishment is not listed, don’t hold it against their wine program. The owners simply may not have chosen to apply.
Email Pat Kettles at email@example.com