Wine Spectator magazine aimed to make media history today as Publisher and Editor Marvin R. Shanken announced the imminent opening of “Wine Spectator Café 90+,” a Manhattan wine bar catering to hordes of cherry-picking subscribers who crave even more guidance than is already provided by the magazine’s voluminous Buying Guide.
“In our market research,” explained Café 90+ manager Matthew Thomas (no relation to Spectator editor Thomas Matthews), “we discovered that hardly anyone was reading the buying guide anymore. They were merely seeking out and finding highly rated wines at the countless lazy retailers who so willingly regurgitate the extremely precise Wine Spectator ratings. Café 90+ makes readers’ zombielike behavior more directly rewarded.”
The new café—located virtually across the street from the Spectator editorial offices, in the space formerly occupied by the cheese-centric bistro Artisanal—will offer exactly 90 wines by the glass, all rated 90 points or higher on the so-called Wine Spectator 100-point scale (not to be confused with any other publication’s 100-point scale). The ratings-driven, magazine-spawned wine bar is clearly one more step in the evolution of the American wine market, which has been mesmerized by 100-point-scale ratings ever since Robert M. Parker Jr. popularized the system back in the 1980s and copycatting of the scale spread faster than new Merlot plantings in the 1990s.
“Let’s face it,” said Marvin Shanken, “Americans don’t want romance and nuance. They want to get right to the best. These 90 wines are certified to be 90 points or higher by our highly experienced editors.” Mr. Shanken added that Wine Spectator ratings are guaranteed to be more accurate than any other ratings, thanks to the fact that his editors are strictly forbidden to taste wines beyond the region they are responsible for grading with their subjective, unvarying, tattoo-like numbers.
Although Café 90+ was originally planned to start pouring on April 1, 2008, the grand opening has been delayed at least one week, or, as Mr. Thomas put it, “until that stench goes away.” Indeed, Artisanal was known for its collective, pungent cheese waft. “Café 90+,” he explained further, “is a return to basics—blind tasting, in a pure, calm, sterile environment that Spectator editors know is the only true way to evaluate wine.”
Mr. Thomas confirmed that no food is being planned for the so-called café—“not a crumb”—and that spitting will be mandatory, in keeping with the goal of helping consumers replicate the experience Spectator editors undergo when testing wines in the sterile magazine offices. No wine bottles or labels will be visible, although guests will be given tasting notes taken word for word from the magazine database. “This is a breakthrough in pure wine appreciation,” he asserted. “No longer will our readers have to wonder what a 95-point wine really tastes like. Moreover, they will never have to suffer through the sampling of any wines rated 89 points or lower.”
Word of Wine Spectator’s new café rippled through the wine world this morning, and by noon Wine Enthusiast Companies had already announced its impending wine bar, called “Drink the Label.” This move surprised no one in the wine industry, as the Enthusiast has been imitating its larger, more influential rival for years now.
Like the Spectator’s model, the Enthusiast’s wine bar is an extension of the magazine’s buying guide, but the tastings will be far from blind. “For years we have encouraged marketers to promote their wines in our magazine by purchasing full-color label reproductions to appear right along with the reviews, even though the labels are not identified as advertising,” explained Enthusiast marketing intern Erik Sturm (no relation to publisher Adam Strum). “We are going to use a similar approach here. Drink the Label will serve only wines from producers who are willing to pay us to put their label reproductions on our menu.” Asked whether the featured wines will be rated 90 points or higher, Mr. Sturm replied, “Trust me, that won’t be a problem.”