City Pages Wine & Dine supplement ran into a little snafu recently when its wine writer, freelancer John Glas, asked the 10 finalists for best wine bar to provide him with free food and wine for evaluation so he could consider them for the top 5 list.

Not everyone was happy to get the note, including the one who passed along Glas' memo to the Star Tribune. The Association of Food Journalists addresses this issue in its code of ethics for restaurant reviewers. These are the standards that most restaurant reviewers of the mainstream media follow, as does the Star Tribune. The quick version: pay for food, review anonymously, make multiple visits. 

Matt Smith, managing editor at City Pages, noted later in an e-mail exchange with me that the request for free food/wine was done without his knowledge. He shut down the process after a couple wine-bar owners had contacted Rachel Hutton, the weekly-newspaper's restaurant critic, and him to complain about the letter, though by that time John had already evaluated several wine bars in this way.

Matt noted in his e-mail: "John is a wine expert and does frequent posts for our Hot Dish blog, but he's not a professional writer and certainly not a trained journalist. I think he honestly thought that, with a limited budget, that was the best way to tackle the story. My fault, I guess, for assuming most people understood how reviews are done and for not explaining the assignment carefully enough. In any case, it is definitely NOT our policy to ask for free food, and we put a stop to it when we found out. Our writers are supposed to review anonymously and pay for their meals."

Lenny Russo, chef/owner of Heartland restaurant in St. Paul, was one of those who received a note from Glas. He was emphatic when he declined the offer. "I don't give away free food," he told me later.

In this new frontier, with anyone with an appetite blogging, it's surprising that more restaurants don't take that stance. 

This is the letter that prompted the complaint, in the manner in which it was sent (boldface and underlining are from the original):


The Top 5 Wine Bars in the Twin Cities
This is the first time that anyone has accurately rated wine bars in the Twin Cities. You are one of 10 finalists for top wine bar in the Twin Cities, which will be the main article in the upcoming CITY PAGES WINE & DINE. You will also be featured on my website along with an individual blog for all top ten candidates on the Hot Dish on
Due to the zero budget I am working with, the 4 courses and 4 wines will have to be complementary, but if you win or are a top five the free advertising is priceless. 
I have created a scoring sheet based on 100 points for each wine bar.
Food & Wine Pairings (40 points)
This section of my scoring rubric will be known by all participants. 
You will provide 4 small plates with 4 wines from your list. I have assigned one hour per wine bar so please plan 15 minutes per course. A server, not a manager, must serve each course.
No wine can cost over $50 a bottle and 3 out of 4 wines served to me must be on your By the Glass selection of your menu.
The breakdown of this segment is as follows:
*Food & Wine Pairings complement each other (10)
*Quality Food (10)
*Quality Wine (15)
*Additional 5 points not stated
Total Points: 40 points
Another 60 points will be available but not stated prior to my visit as I want the experience to be as authentic as possible.
You will receive a copy of my scoring sheet with comments, which will be helpful in areas you are doing well and areas to improve.
Good luck.
John Glas
City Pages Wine Blogger
Wineglas LLC


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