Robert Goldstein’s – The Sting, or a Sting in the Tail?

Robert Goldstein, after declaring that he won an award for excellence from the Wine Spectator magazine by conning them with fictitious details, has set a war of words in the dispute-hungry blogosphere and wine circles. Vir Sangvi got us Indians also onboard last Sunday. But more on that a little later… Kulpreet Yadav reflects on the controversy that’s gotten the wine world buzzing. ws1a.jpg

His argument, with which he went public on the 19th of August while presenting the sticky subject ‘Are expensive wine better?’ at the American association of Wine Economists in Portland, and the consequent Spectator Magazine’s retaliatory response the very next day, sure has provided a lot of fodder to the dulled and bored wine-addicted-old-boys-and-young-girls, intellectually seeking some really slick and gluey argument for supper for the next few months.
Caveat Emptor (Lat. Let the buyer beware) or a Sokal Affair
The latter is a hoax, and the former clearly hides no facts that the seller of the product cannot be held responsible for its quality unless covered with a specific guarantee. Wine spectator, according to me, follows the former as a matter of principle. They neither have the wherewithal to send so many people across to such an oversubscribed list of venues, nor, perhaps, have any inclination to do so. In management terms, it is a logistical challenge to plan such an adventure. So, I think they, and rightly so, analyze the details provided taking the entry as true, and go by the guidelines and principles they believe in. If people craftily make up things, including even telephone and fax details, besides a phony but impressive looking menu and a made up but exhaustive wine list, like the case of Robert Goldstein’s fictitious restaurant in Milan, Osteria L’Intrepido, there is little anyone can do. Is there a term for such an adventure? Is it not a case of bilking? Well, it may not be so, if Robert is to be believed. He says on his wordpress blog, the whole exercise was a part of a research for an academic paper. Wow!
Wine spectator is not amused…
This certainly is on expected lines. Thomas Matthew executive editor of the 32 year old magazine put forth some perplexing facts that seem to make the tall claims of Robert fall flat on the face. He says, for the first time in the 27-year history of the Restaurant Awards program of the magazine, a fictitious restaurant has not only entered the competition with its wine list, but has also won the ‘award of excellence’. And to achieve this, the sting operator, did not hesitate to state that the details provided by him in the entry are correct. He has also stated that the magazine doesn’t claim to visit all of the restaurants that participate in its award programme. Having evaluated over 4500 wine lists in its 27 years history of the awards, I have little doubt agreeing with him.
But why is Vir Sangvi siding with Robert Goldstein?
That said, for those of us who woke up last Sunday to the scam-impregnated Vir Sanghvi’s article titled ‘the great wine scan’ in the Weekly magazine of Hindustan Times called Brunch, it sure must have felt like a rip-off. But believe me, far from it, any wine promotion exercise, like the Wine spectator awards talked about in the article for example, is solely intended to allow the human interest in the subject to blossom, for the overall benefit of the industry than anything else. In fact, most literary awards too, do the same. You send in your copy, with an entrance fee, and get reward in most cases. It is something similar to a college social get-together where everyone who participates gets a prize.
I disagree with Mr Vir. He has sadly missed the point. By the way, going by awards, what happens in the music industry, film industry, media awards for that matter, housie game gifts, HT first-to-call prize etc, all fall in the same league? I think the premise of an award is to recognize an effort. And if someone has taken the pain to send in his entry and paid the paltry fees indicates his is seriousness and passion about what his doing. That said, the write-up must have made a clever impact on most Indians who are not much aware of the wine industry. And in that way, he has unknowingly done a great service to the nascent industry that is trying its best to emerge from the spawn it has sustained itself in since many decades. So, hey Mr Vir, thanks and cheers!


  1. Bravo Kulpreet , for writing this article.We the wine lovers must thank writers of your breed to keep the wine revolution in India alive.Your article is an intelligent way of informing the environment about the realities of wine-biz.Your crafty writing is what we need for treating such matters.Hope to read more articles of yours .By the way ,for the likes of Vir Sanghvi ,dont bother, no sensible person takes him seriously.

  2. Avininder Singh on

    Ladies & Gentlemen, Welcome to our featured bout of The Great Award Scam fisticuffs. In our Right Corner we have ROBERT GOLDSTEIN aka horrible, loathsome forgerer and faker, and in our Left Corner we have WINE SPECTATOR aka fair but not so lovely Wine Magazine, all of 32 years old. Our Referees – and yes, in this bout, Ladies & Gentlemen, we have TWO Referees; Kulpreet Yadav and Vir Sanghvi Oh. what have we here – a Ring Jester (or should it be a clown called Andy.
    What a superb cast my friends!! And just what has Horrible Bob done? This really crafty villian has actually had the gall to make up a story to diss our poor old WS. Please do not forget – Kulpreet Yadav won’t let you – that in 27 years of its awards WS has actually reviewed just over 4500 Wine Lists and distributed app.4129 awards!! Of course to lessen the pain of all that hard work WS has made some $1 million in the process. And who, according to Kulpreet, has done the “bilking” – why Horrible Bob of course. No, Kulpreet, disagree with Vir all you want, but it’s you who have “missed the point”.
    The point is not the hideous craftiness of Horrible Bob. The point is that our fairest of fair WS had not, till now, really been required to disclose just how they awarded their “Awards” and a credulous public swallowed them up like chocolate. Your sweeping attempt, Kuldeep, to tar all awards with the same brush just will not work.The mind boggles at the sheer speciousness of your argument that, “Awards are solely intended to allow the human interest in the subject to blossom for the overall benefit of the Industry”. And then you thank Vir, in sarcastic vein, for casting light on our nascent Wine Industry and our not-so-knowledgeable Indian public. Rest assured that there is very little that Vir does “unknowingly”!!
    And as for you, friend Andy, wake up and smell the coffee; for you neither know your Wine nor your Writers!!

  3. Thanks Avininder!
    I am happy to note that my article evoked such a frank and candid response. First, for the record, I think the correct figure for the wine lists reviewed by the Spectator is 45000 (in excess of, that is) and not 4500 as I erred in my write-up, and you quoted.
    Second, though I would like to believe that I might be looking like tilting towards the weaker argument, but an award, still, and for me, is a pat on the back of someone who comes to you with an impressive declaration. Its like your child declaring that he got full marks in maths exam at school and asking for a reward. And you award him his favourite toy. But the next day when you find out that he lied, you get furious. Now tell me who was wrong: The child, or you.
    Andy is someone who is trying his nose sniffing at an unfamiliar terrain. And he sure looks bold. If Laxmi Mittal is to be believed, ‘boldness changes everything’… So, I guess, it would be a bit unfair to ridicule him that harshly.
    Finally, that only leaves Mr Sanghvi. I think, he struggles, in his articles, with perceived problems toying a cluster of words and on most times fares well. Except, off course in the said article where my judgment found him short of the point that I mentioned. How knowingly (or unknowingly!) he does his wordy acts, is however, too ambitious an attempt to garland him a philosopher.

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