Fraud is no fun. My Facebook account has been hacked. My wife’s identity has been stolen. If it’s happened to you, you know how tedious and aggravating it is.
Fraud happens in the wine world too. It’s happening with increasing frequency in the auction market—you can read more about that in our recent cover story.
Fraud also happens at the retail level, the most common practice being the use of misleading or outright false "shelf talkers." These are the bottleneck tags or small cards posted alongside wines on retailer shelves that tout a review and score for the wine being sold. Unfortunately, often times they don’t list the vintage for the wine whose review is being quoted, a misleading practice. Other times, the vintage doesn’t jive with the wine being offered. Sometimes it’s laziness, other times it’s more nefarious in intent. Either way, it’s fraud and unacceptable.
Fraud in the wine world took on a new meaning for me at the end of last week. A reader brought to my attention a newsletter from a Finger Lakes winery, touting reviews from an unnamed Wine Spectator critic (presumably me), and boasting of a half-dozen 90-point scores for their wines, along with a quote from the writer. It immediately raised my suspicions since, for starters, I’m the only Wine Spectator editor authorized to review the wines of the Finger Lakes and I’ve only given two 90-point scores to the winery in question.
As if that weren’t enough, when I finally got a copy of the newsletter in front of me, several of the wines being touted had never been reviewed by me, nor was the quote being used ever written by me.
Whoa, not cool. Not cool at all, I thought to myself.
Needless to say, I immediately reached out to the winery to find out what was going on. After a few days of back and forth, it seems (according to the winery) that a person who intimated that they were connected with Wine Spectator asked for a tasting at the winery, claiming they would review the wines. The winery then wound up using reviews that they thought were ours, when they weren't.
The lesson here is simple. If you’re a consumer and someone is touting scores and reviews to you, be it importer, retailer or winery, double-check those reviews for yourself. You can easily look up all of our official reviews here at WineSpectator.com, using our online Wine Ratings Search or our mobile phone application. (Don't forget to check the Insider and Advance newsletters and Tasting Highlights for the newest ratings.) It’s very easy to avoid being duped by a misleading shelf talker, over-enthusiastic winery newsletter or retailer e-mail blast if you simply do a little due diligence to confirm the information you’re being provided.
In addition, if you’re a winery and someone is claiming to be from Wine Spectator, saying they want to review your wines, take a few minutes to vet their credentials. It’s not hard. The editors here are not exactly anonymous or unreachable.
I guess in a world where people lie their way in to state dinners at the White House, it should probably come as no surprise that folks are playing games with wineries to get a few free bottles of wine or receive special treatment. We don’t need the Secret Service to help us out here though. We just need you, the reader, to remember a simple tenet of journalism: Always get your information directly from the source. Always.
[You can now follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1]
Lawrence Newcombe — bay city, mj — November 30, 2009 10:03pm ET
David Peters — Mission Viejo, CA — December 1, 2009 11:52am ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — December 1, 2009 12:36pm ET
William Buck — Baton Rouge, LA, USA — December 1, 2009 8:54pm ET
John Lawrence — Michigan — December 2, 2009 12:39pm ET
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