Wine, Awards, and Telling the Truth

Not until I started working with a handful of foreign-born musical artists was I aware of the honorific “multi-awarded” — as in, “the recipient of numerous awards.” Good singers (or actors, or authors, or whatever) get an award. Really good ones are “multi-awarded.” The more awards, the better the artist. It’s pretty easy to follow. 

Several amusing academic studies have shown that to most people $12 wine tastes as good or better than $120 wine — unless the tasters are told that one wine costs ten times more than the other. Then they much prefer the expensive one.

A restaurant in Milan called Osteria L’Intrepido (The Fearless Restaurant) recently earned Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence, which recognizes excellent (i.e. “expensive”) wine lists. Unfortunately, Osteria L’Intrepido won’t have a chance to reach the exalted “multi-awarded” status, since, it was recently reported, the restaurant doesn’t exist — except in Cyberspace, and on paper.

Speaking of paper, Wine Spectator determined that the imaginary restaurant, dreamed up by a prankster wine critic, was worthy of the magazine’s prestigious award based on the restaurant’s published wine list. Fair enough. Aside from the Guide Michelin, few arbiters can afford (or care) to send inspectors to every potential honoree for on-site visits. But The Fearless Restaurant’s wine list, the one they submitted to the magazine for review, was speckled with selections that Wine Spectator had judged to be “swampy, gamy, harsh and tannic” and akin to “paint thinner and nail varnish.” Excellent! (Full disclosure: I was a contributing editor at the Spectator’s sister publication, Cigar Aficionado, where I wrote the gambling column, and I published a couple of non-wine-related stories in Wine Spectator.)

According to the Los Angeles Times, 4,500 restaurants spent $250 each to apply (or re-apply) for the vaunted award. 4,181 got it, or an even loftier kudos. Winners receive a plaque for wall-mounting and a listing on the magazine’s Website. It’s great advertising.

Sure, $1 million in revenue has a way of clouding one’s judgment. But, practically speaking, it doesn’t take that much money to influence the gullible. Simply telling uncritical thinkers that something or someone is “multi-awarded” is usually enough to produce an aura of desirability, of assumed excellence. Most folks are too busy, uneducated, or lazy to form their own opinions, craft their own arguments, or refine their own taste. We rely on others who are putatively smarter and better informed — like the good people at Wine Spectator — to tell us what we should like. If he/she/it won a Grammy/Emmy/Oscar/Award of Excellence, then, obviously they’re worthy of our attention.

The only thing that’s obvious is that P.T. Barnum was wrong. There’s not a sucker born every minute. There’s one born every second, and you can find him reading his glossy magazines, taking note of all the glorious achievers who have experienced the unimpeachable honor of being multi-awarded.

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