Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Bring Me a Bottle of Your Finest Sokal

I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with the Alan Sokal hoax. Sokal, a physicist from NYU, pulled a classic hoax on an academic journal called Social Text by writing a paper that was, quite literally, gibberish but that flattered the ideological preconceptions of the journal’s editors. Needless to say, the editors were so excited to have a genuine physicist confirm to them that there is no real world and that the laws of nature are merely a “social and linguistic construct,” a “dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook” that they printed that gibberish. They were quite embarrassed to see an article in another journal come out the same day to reveal the hoax to the world. A similar hoax has now been perpetrated on the magazine Wine Spectator, the editors of which have now granted a prestigious award to a non-existent restaurant.

My name is Robin Goldstein, and I’m the author of a new book called The Wine Trials (book here; website here). Lately, I’ve become curious about how Wine Spectator magazine determines its Awards of Excellence for the world’s best wine restaurants.

As part of the research for an academic paper I’m currently working on about standards for wine awards, I submitted an application for a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. I named the restaurant “Osteria L’Intrepido” (a play on the name of a restaurant guide series that I founded, Fearless Critic). I submitted the fee ($250), a cover letter, a copy of the restaurant’s menu (a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes), and a wine list.

Osteria L’Intrepido won the Award of Excellence, as published in print in the August 2008 issue of Wine Spectator. (Not surprisingly, the Osteria’s listing has since been removed from Wine Spectator’s website.) I presented this result at the meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists in Portland, Oregon, on Friday, August 15.

To make the hoax even more amusing, the most exclusive and expensive part of the wine list was taken from the pages of this very magazine — they were wines that Wine Spectator had panned in its reviews:

The main wine list that I submitted was a perfectly decent selection from around Italy that met the magazine’s basic criteria (about 250 wines, including whites, reds, and sparkling wines-some of which scored well in WS). However, Osteria L’Intrepido’s high-priced “reserve wine list” was largely chosen from among some of the lowest-scoring Italian wines in Wine Spectator over the past few decades.

Ouch. That’s gonna leave a mark. Brilliiant, Mr. Goldstein.