Wine Spectator is a magazine and online resource for the world of wine. While the main focus of the magazine is almost exclusively on wine reviews and tasting notes, the magazine and website also include lifestyle articles, recipes, food reviews, and a highly controversial restaurant rating system known as the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. More on the controversy later.
History of Wine Spectator Magazine
The history of wine spectator magazine is relatively young since it began in 1976 as a small collection of wine notes printed on newsprint — a far cry from the massive and attractively designed oversized magazine it is today. Wine Spectator presents 16 issues every year — monthly issues as well as special editions — and their editors review thousands and thousands of wines, culminating in a “Best Of” edition at year’s end.
The website for Wine Spectator (www.WineSpectator.com) can naturally offer more updates than the magazine, and a wider variety of content. When stories like the current wildfires in Australia pop up in the news, the Wine Spectator website can address the story from a wine lover’s perspective — perhaps this is a little insensitive, but there are a ton of solid wineries affected by or in the way of the fires, and wine aficionados do want to hear about how these wildfires affect the wine industry. The website also offers a large number of editor’s blogs (7 as of this writing) as well as a useful archive of past editor’s and guests blogs.
Now for the controversy — since 1981, Wine Spectator has handed out an award to restaurants it deems “Excellent”. The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence is meant to identify restaurants around the world that not only feature excellent food but an excellent wine list. In other words, this award points restaurant seekers and wine lovers towards what the editors at Wine Spectator believe to be the best places to eat and enjoy great wines.
To apply for an Award of Excellence, restaurateurs submit a cover letter, a menu, a wine list, and (here’s the tricky part) a $250 application fee. In August 2008, an Italian restaurant called Osteria L’Intrepido (the Fearless Critic . . . get it?) received the award. The only problem is that Osteria L’Intrepido does not exist — it is a hoax perpetrated by a wine author and critic of Wine Spectator. Not only does the restaurant not exist, but its wine list was made up of some of the worst wines ever reviewed by Wine Spectator itself. The implication is that all that is required to earn the “Excellence” award is the application fee. As embarassing as this has been for Wine Spectator, however, the editors apologized and came up with some passable excuses, and the incident has blown over for the majority of the magazine’s audience.
Aside from the controversy and the magazine’s naysayers, most people respect the opinions of Wine Spectator. Often when you’re hunting for a good bottle of wine, you’ll find the Wine Spectator rating displayed prominently by the wine retailer, especially if the wine has an 85 rating or above. I must admit using this rating as a selling point myself, even convincing friends and family to purchase one bottle over another simply because of the Wine Spectator rating. The truth is you should take these ratings with a grain of salt. Just because a few editors at a wine magazine think a bottle is a 90 or a 92 or an 88 does not mean you will like it. Take your own tastes into account before purchasing.
If you’re looking for a general guide to wines, or enjoy reading about wine culture and wine reviews, there may be no better source than Wine Spectator. You can pick up a copy at most large magazine retailers and bookstores. Just don’t trust those Awards of Excellence.
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