I was very pleased to hear from Artusi Ristorante in Delhi last week that they were awarded ‘One Glass’ by the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards 2016, perhaps in their very first attempt. An excellent Italian cuisine restaurant-perhaps the best in Delhi, opened by the all Italian Oscar Balcon deserves kudos. Similarly the maestro Chef Vikas Khanna of Junoon in New York City saw his restaurant get awarded for the 6th time- and not one but ‘Two Glasses.’ There was a lo of media hype about the Michelin-starred restaurant run by an Indian. Truly marvellous feat- congratulations and all those restaurants in India or run by the Indians overseas!
But why this Kolaveri, Kolaveri Di?! (the term has several meanings according to Wikipedia but murderous anger is what comes up more often). What is about the Awards that makes one feel not kosher. Since I started following the Awards in 2006 when delWine was started, I have been watching these them every year and generally reporting them with gusto in delWine. I was very impressed- so was Ritu Dalmia of Diva, who was proud recipient of the Award (One Glass) more than once, with these Awards. She deserved it with a very interesting, though Italian heavy, wine list and good prices, perhaps the best in the business for years.
But Ritu decided to stay away from the Awards starting 2010, after applying and winning a ‘single glass’ award for several years. Referring to the reported scandal of 2008, she said, ‘When they don’t bother to check the details and want only the money, where is the satisfaction when I wine an award that I have achieved something?’ adding, ‘I’d rather spend the $250 they charge for application fee on something more productive. I am happier with my clients being satisfied.’
The 2008 Debacle
The genesis of her frustration and disgust was the scandal of 2008 when the Award lost some of its sheen. A fictitious restaurant in Milan calling itself ' Osteria L'Intrepido' was given an ‘Award of excellence’ despite the wine list that featured a 1993 Amarone Classico Gioe S. Sofia, which the magazine had earlier said, tasted like paint thinner and nail varnish. It also included a 1985 Barbaresco Asij Ceretto, which Wine Spectator had described as "earthy, swampy, gamy, harsh and tannic.
A wine critic Robin Goldstein who conducted the ‘sting operation’ entered the fictitious List from a non-existent restaurant, claimed that the Awards were merely a tool of making money from the participants and advertisements. The so- called fiasco was reported in delWine. Getting the award by Wine Spectator Awards isn't like winning a Gold, Silver or Bronze in Rio. According to Chicago Tribune at that time, nearly 4,500 restaurants spent $250 each to apply for the Wine Spectator award in 2008. All but 319 (7%) restaurants reportedly won the award of excellence or greater kudos’. Wine Spectator collected over a million dollars for the fees. (Entry charges for 2017 are even higher at $375/325 early birds).
This is only tip of the iceberg. Here are excerpt from themail sent promptly to the award winning restaurants: Congratulations,your restaurant has been selected as a Wine Spectator 2008 Restaurant Award winner! All award winners will be listed in our Annual Dining Guide of Wine Spectator, and will be mentioned in our restaurant database and online... to ask if you have an interest in publicizing your award by placing an ad in the upcoming Restaurant Award issue. We will be creating a special advertising section where ads will receive premium positions.....Special rates start at only $3,090 (Rs. 2 lakhs at today’s rates) for a 1/8 page 4-color.
In 2007, Taj Hotels made almost a clean sweep with Two Glasses in most of the cities they are present. Unfazed by Dalmia’s experience, Taj is the biggest Awardee year after year, bagging 80-100% Awards and perhaps impressing the hell out of the visitors to their restaurants. They bagged all the awards in 2014 while in 2013 they won14 out of the 18 Awards for their different properties the details of which may be viewed at:
Taj Wine List gets a Taj from Wine Spectator
WS gives Real Award to Fake Restaurant
Taj Monopolizes WS Wine List Award Again
Clean Sweep by Taj for Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards
Wine Spectator's Restaurant Wine List Awards recognize restaurants ‘whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers. To qualify for an award, the list must present complete, accurate wine information. It must include vintages and appellations for all selections, including wines available by the glass’, according to the company website. Complete producer names and correct spellings are mandatory, while the overall presentation and appearance of the list is also taken into consideration. After meeting these basic requirements, lists are judged for one of the three awards.
Wine Spectator clarifies that the awards evaluate wine lists and not restaurants as a whole. ‘While we assume that the level of food and service will be commensurate with the wine lists entered by award winners, this unfortunately is not always true,’ concedes WS. The magazine says it never visits the 200 establishments that get its award annually. It claims the awards have contributed to the growing popularity of wine since they were started by the magazine in 1981.
The purpose of the Article is neither to denigrate the Awards nor reduce the recognition given to Artusi or Junoon but trying to find an answer to ‘why this Kolaveri, Kolaveri Di’!!
And why the Junoon?! (Dictionary defines the word as insanity, madness, obsession)