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Public to choose wines for top London restaurant using Twitter

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That’s the attention-grabbing headline from Decanter, explaining how L’Anima, an Italian restaurant, is asking the public to vote for wines to go onto its wine list, in an online election to be held via Twitter. Decanter says this is believed to be a “world-first.”

That’s a pretty clever idea. As soon as I read it, I was reminded of Murphy-Goode’s “A Really Goode Job” contest, which was also a world-first, in a way: the first time (to anyone’s knowledge) a winery hired a Director of Social Media. (There was also a sort of online election-that-wasn’t-really-an-election tied to that one, but let’s not go there.)

As we all know, in retrospect it turns out that what was so interesting about “A Really Goode Job” was that the ensuing media attention, which was worldwide, gave Murphy-Goode around $17 million worth of free publicity. I wonder if that’s behind L’Anima’s move? After all, here I am, in California, reading about this London restaurant I’ve never heard of, and probably never would have heard of, had they not done the Twitter thing. And Decanter in all likelihood never would have written about L’Anima otherwise.

The restaurant certainly seems keen on the contest. I went to their website to read their sommelier praise “the power of Social Media [to] help me select those [wines] that should be given a chance.” Two comments here: One, are we now capitalizing “social media”? Who makes these decisions anyhow? And two, has there ever been a self-respecting sommelier who didn’t feel capable of making his own wine list selections, without asking a bunch of total strangers, with no obvious skill set, for advice? I mean, on L’Anima’s website they say this about their wine list: “When writing the wine list, we had the challenge of finding wines to accompany [chef’s] innovative menu and representing the true Italy and its diversity.” I don’t quite understand how they’ll be able to use the word “we” after thousands of voters with, one suspects, no particular skills, and with little reference to “chef’s innovative menu” or even what “true Italy” means, do the actual selecting.

I suppose the least you could say is that all wines on the ballot were pre-selected by the sommelier and his team, so they were all qualified to be on the list. I guess, but still… Is this the ultimate challenge to authority, sponsored by no less than the Court of Master Sommeliers?

Meanwhile, the P.R. train seems gearing up for action. Jancis Robinson has already tweeted about it (“Creative use of Twitter to shape excellent London restaurant, L’Anima’s, wine list”). And when Jancis publicizes something, it will be noticed. (I know, the irony is that I’m publicizing it too.)

I wonder if this use of social media for P.R. purposes isn’t emerging as one of its main features. I mean, given social media’s tendency to talk about itself, if an organization (restaurant, winery) uses it for some sort of contest, and then the straight press (e.g. Decanter) picks up on it, the social media users will repeat the straight press’s account, creating a tornado of endless repetition of the sort we saw with A Really Goode Job and are seeing with L’Anima. It’s all very phony, in a way — a computer virus that self-generates, like a nude celebrity video leaked to a tabloid — but it obviously works. It generates buzz. Imagine a couple of tourists who hit London for vacation. They’re looking for a nice place to eat and the concierge suggests a couple of restaurants, including L’Anima. “Isn’t that the place that had the Twitter contest?” one of the tourists asks. “Why, yes, it was,” her friend replies. So they decide to try L’Anima. When they get back to Cleveland, they tell their friends, “We had dinner at the most amusing place.” “How was the food?” their friends inquire. “Oh, it was all right, but it was that restaurant that had the Twitter contest for the wine list.” “Oh. How was the wine, then?” “It was all right, too. The sommelier told us all about how some of the wines were chosen by the world’s first Twitter contest. They’re already calling it the Twitter restaurant.” “Cool! You must give us the address so we can go next time we’re in London.”

And so it goes.

  1. Steve, thanks for picking up on this idea. As one of the people advising L’Anima on the technical aspects of the event I am very excited about it, and I can understand your scepticism but I think it is unfounded.

    There is nothing wrong with the restaurant and Gal Zohar, the sommelier, using social media (capitalised or not) to raise their profile. What would you rather, an event where you can learn about and interact with the business, or another dull page of advertising no-one reads (with apologies to dead tree media)?

    However, if you take a look, the format is a little bit more than a beauty contest and social media PR talking about itself. L’Anima prides itself on a wine list full of wines from unusual and indigenous Italian grapes, and customers enjoy learning about these from Gal. You mention that those who take part may be “thousands of voters with, one suspects, no particular skills”. I think that is the wrong way to look at this. These are existing and potential restaurant customers – and their views matter.

    There are many, many wines on this carefully constructed list. This event today is an insight into some of the process that goes into putting such a list together, and an opportunity to learn a little more detail about a few of these wines and also the regions/categories.

    All the wines in the event today are already pre-qualified as wines suitable for the list, after all the sommelier and the restaurant have a duty to their customers. In addition, those who will be tasting and making the recommendations that the public will be voting on, will all have some knowledge of wine.

    I hope this puts you mind at ease. There is no reason that something interesting and educational cannot be more interactive and fun.

    It is all about the love of wine after all.

    Oh, and when you are next in London I will personally invite you to a meal at L’Anima and you will see why it is already rated as one of the best Italian restaurants and wine lists in London.

  2. Gal Zohar says:

    Dear Steven,

    Thank you for your well written post.

    Just felt the need to comment and and clarify that our aim wasn’t at all to generate publicity. You might have not heard of l’anima before but the English public has. We are a succesful and busy establishment with outstanding food and a great wine list.
    The aim of this project is to try and show how a wine list is made. I always enjoy tasting with experienced tasters and feel this contributes to my understanding of the wines. In addition, why not make wine and the understanding of it more accessible to people? I always believed that as a sommelier my duty is to simplify the process of choosing wine to the customer.
    I have shortlisted the wines myself and giving the public the chance to choose out of these doesnt make me feel less “self respecting”. Try to remember that these are only 3 wines out of a much longer list. the list is available on the website you are quoting from so feel free to have a look!
    after all this is what this event is all about – the wine list.

    Gal

  3. The above mentioned “world-firsts” are clever ideas. They naturally grab the attention of a great number of people, certainly as many bloggers, twitterers and websites report in one or another way about them. The “world-seconds, world-thirds etc.” might be more problematic, as news can quickly become surfeited (not sure if I use the correct adjective here, as English is not my mother tongue, but boring sounded a bit banal).

  4. You make it sound all ill-intended. Do not forget, only three wines will be added to the list, it is not all of them. And you seem to ignore that the wines to be voted by the public will be tasted and offered by a panel of expert wine tasters. Just some details…and, what is so wrong about involving intersted public in the excitement of making good products?

  5. Steven Mirassou says:

    I’m curious to see how these non-organic uses of social media work out. While the restaurant will enjoy the brief bump in customers and attention, I’m sure, to be known as the “Twitter restaurant” after that would be Hell.

    I still see Twitter’s value as a small part of an entire story. No single tweet is especially earth-shaking, but taken together, the tweets contribute to something compelling.

  6. My questions include: How long will this publicly-voted list remain in effect? Are there a predetermined set of wines for the public to choose from or is it literally a free-for-all of personal suggestions?

    Depending on the answer’s they could be doing themselves more harm than good. It’s one thing to tap into the power of your audience, it’s another to completely remove control/standards. A long-ranging list provided by the sommeliers to be voted on by the public–that creates a standard. It’s a list of wines upheld by the restaurant that say, “we’d choose from any of these, but we’d like to hear from this wide list what you, the public, would like best.” That’s holds the standard while remaining effective. The audience gets the final word on what would be a top Sommelier’s decision-making. In a free-for-all of suggestions, there is no longer a standard. As you mentioned Steve, there’s no filter for predetermined skill level nor knowledge of the restaurant and its menu. In that case the list becomes a “What I would drink, personally” rather than what would pair well with the restaurant’s mission for a wider range of customers.

    Not to mention, what’s to stop winery’s from going on public campaigns to flood the votes with their own wines?

    I’m interested to see how it all will be managed.

  7. I’d be willing to bet that this can only be good for them. They seem to have set it up well for success, or at least decent word of mouth as you pointed out.

  8. You assume the food and the rest of the wine list isn’t WOM worthy already (I have not heard of this restaurant, so I cannot confirm nor deny this).

    I think this contest will generate some buzz within the wine blogger/wine Twitter community and maybe in the regions the wines are from, but it doesn’t have the same viral aspect that the MG contest or another everyday consumer contest might have. Having the date of the panelist tasting is today shortens their “15 minutes” as does the fact that I have only tasted two of the wines on the list, meaning the average consumer has probably tasted zero.

    Never-less, I still applaud them for their efforts…. It has gotten all of us talking and like 1 Wine Dude said, this can only be good.

  9. I wonder if the restaurant paid/hired Jancis Robinson to tweet about it.

    If the restaurant’s online election doesn’t garner enough interest then the tourists will talk about “that lame restaurant that couldn’t get a twitter election organized”.

  10. More “crowd sourcing”. Great. Power to the people!!!

  11. There is no downside here. Either the idea will draw interest, and thus customers or it will not. No one is going to stop going to the place if the food is good. No one is going to stop going because their wine list is lame–because obviously, it is not.

    There is an upside. It is all potential, but it is an upside. Attention from folks who have heard of you but have not gone there, attention from folks who have never heard of you, free publicity from Jancis Robinson.

    If the whole wine list were going to be determined by a vote of the people from virtually everything on the market, that would be one thing. This is three wines as part of a major list. If no one votes. so what?”

    There is no preset way that SMEDIA are to be used. Tom Merle has it right. Power to the people–but not too much. :=}

  12. Dr. Horowitz – You clearly don’t know Jancis Robinson MW very well, do you?

  13. Philip Woodrow says:

    Agreed here that this can only a good thing for L’anime.

    It’s important to note that Lisa DeBruin (@winedivergirl) was Director of Social Media at Hahn Family Wines long before the Murphy Goode campaign. (With all due respect to Hardy…a really goode guy!)

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