Thursday, September 15, 2016

A curious thing: Every Wine Advocate-rated sake from one exporter

On the day that the Wine Advocate released its first ratings of sake since 1998, I discovered a curious thing. On Aug. 31, the Wine Advocate released ratings of exactly 78 sakes, giving each 90 points or more.

On that same day, an exporter based in Tokyo called The Taste of Sake offered for sale exactly 78 sakes, no more no less, from the same 78 producers. It sells 78 sakes, all sakes rated by the Wine Advocate and ONLY sakes rated by the Wine Advocate.

The Financial Times has already written about the Wine Advocate sake ratings and the rush for the top-rated sakes they engendered (the article mistakenly attributes the ratings to Robert Parker, but they were done by Wine Advocate critic Liwen Hao.)

The top-rated sake, given 98 points by the Advocate, was offered by The Taste of Sake for $160 a bottle on the day the ratings were released (it previously sold for $45 from the brewery). Within a week, that price was up to $5000 a bottle.

So clearly somebody hopes to profit from the Wine Advocate's sake ratings. But how did we get here?

Here's what I know:

The Taste of Sake is a corporation licensed on June 6 of this year in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. It registered its website on July 1 of this year.




The Taste of Sake's product list, first page


On Aug. 31, the day the Wine Advocate ratings were released, The Taste of Sake offered for sale all 78 sakes that received 90 points or more.

The Taste of Sake did not offer any sakes for sale, not one, that did not get a Wine Advocate rating.

The Wine Advocate did not give a review of more than one sake from any producer, even though most producers make several (or many) different bottlings. The Taste of Sake did not offer for sale more than one sake from any producer, though most exporters and merchants offer multiple different sakes from the same producer.

The Taste of Sake says on its website, "We ship worldwide. Inquiries from distributors are welcome."

Many of the prices quoted by The Taste of Sake in English were significantly higher on Aug. 31, the day of the ratings' release, than those listed for the sakes on websites in Japanese.

Yep, that's $5000 for the top-rated sake
Several of the sakes reviewed by the Wine Advocate are made by producers whose U.S. importer did not handle that specific sake.

I sent an email to The Taste of Sake asking how they got access to so many great sakes, and if The Taste of Sake has any connection to the Wine Advocate. In it, I said I was a consumer interested in buying the top-rated sake. The response from The Taste of Sake president Hirokazu Yoshida included this line: "Actually we are a wine importer Le Caveau Inc. in Japan and working on Parker high rated wines, and recently started to export sake." Less than two hours later, without any additional email from me in the interim, I got another email from Yoshida that included this line: "We have no relation to the Wine Advocate."

I sent an email to a sake producer, Daishichi, which has a sake on the list. The company President responded that he does not have any dealings with The Taste of Sake.

Here's what I don't know:

I don't know how The Taste of Sake got worldwide export rights for sakes from 78 producers, many of which already have import agreements in the U.S. But The Taste of Sake president Yoshida told me, "We, of course, have the rights to export the sakes on our list but the import rules vary from country to country."

I don't know how any exporter could wrangle for export 78 sakes from 78 producers in less than a single day. I noticed The Taste of Sake within an hour of the Wine Advocate's ratings being posted. I don't know how, even if The Taste of Sake bought the sakes retail with the intention of reselling them, that could have been accomplished in under an hour.

Through a PR agency that works with the Wine Advocate, I asked Wine Advocate Editor in Chief Lisa Perrotti-Brown for an interview about the sake ratings. She did not agree to an interview. I later sent an email to the Wine Advocate reading, "A single company in Japan, The Taste of Sake, sells for export all 78 of the sakes given 90 points or more by the Wine Advocate and had all of them listed for sale the same day the Wine Advocate's ratings were released. Do you have any idea how The Taste of Sake could have gathered these sakes? Does The Taste of Sake have some connection with the Wine Advocate? Or is it possible that The Taste of Sake got access to the Wine Advocate's ratings ahead of time?" I have received no response.

It's a curious situation. I do know where you can buy the 78 sakes rated 90 points or higher by the Wine Advocate. But I don't know how that happened.

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16 comments:

Unknown said...

I would be interested to hear what a stateside expert- someone like Stuart Morris- might have to say about this. This isn't the first instance a Parker-influence has been connected to a pay-to-play type of arrangement. This is the start of some fine investigative journalism.

Michael said...

Why is this necessarily devious? Let's say you find out from your pals in the industry that WA is going to review sakes. You think "Hmmm, that'll really create some demand for sake... why don't we wait for the reviews, list all the best ones at high prices, accept orders and then go buy them from the breweries and ship them overseas?" Oooh, awesome idea Blake-san... Let's spend 100 JPY on a domain and type in the data when the WA comes out. Then we'll wait for the emails to roll in.

I tried this with cat pelts a few years ago after Cat Pelt Enthusiast released their holiday shopping guide. While I wasn't terribly successful, perhaps it'll work with sake.

Robert Wolfe said...

Nah, this has to be prearranged. No retailer or web site can move so fast as to secure supply of 78 sakes in a day, much less small batch or private label stuff. I've 26 years in internet wine retailing, and this story if true creates a serious stench over the already degraded Wine Advocate brand.

W. Blake Gray said...

Michael: Perhaps I should have included this piece of data in the post. On the day the sake ratings were released, The Taste of Sake had photos of each of the sake labels for sale on its site. Many of these sakes are extremely small-production brews for which photos may not be easy to find.

If you look at the label photos, they are all presented at the same diagonal angle. They do not look like a collection of photos downloaded from the Internet.

Patrick Frank said...

Bravo, Blake. You are the right person to sniff BS in this, and you're doing it.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown said...

W. Blake Gray, In the event that you have not yet seen this response, I thought I would post it here. This has also appeared on our RobertParker.com Bulletin Board:

“We are investigating the facts behind these allegations. I will make clear however that Liwen Hao was hired specifically to review Asian wines and sake, because we feel there is a small but growing international interest in these beverages. He did not just taste 78 sakes, he tasted a few hundred, and they did not just come from one company. He shortlisted 78 of the sakes that came in at 90 points or above for his first report, because these were the ones he believed would be of international interest. We made no secret of the fact that we would be publishing a sake report and Liwen was in Japan tasting with brewers for a couple of weeks in April, which must have created a good deal of local interest. So I’m not surprised that an opportunistic company was set up to take advantage in increased international interest in sake as a result of the report. I’m also not surprised that the newly established company decided to offer the 78 sakes we reviewed. What we need to establish is if that company had access to any of the sake notes or scores prior to publication, which is a situation we take the utmost measures to avoid. Even the suggestion that this could have happened is a matter we take very seriously.”

Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Editor-in-Chief, Robert Parker Wine Advocate

W. Blake Gray said...

Thank you for posting this, Lisa. I would appreciate it if you would keep me posted on the progress of your investigation.

pinotdroit said...

I understand that The Taste of Sake is a related company of wine importer Millesimes, which has organized several Robert Parker events in Japan. Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW used to work for this importer when she was living in Tokyo.

UrbanSake.com said...

I just read your interesting post and went to check out their site, but as of this morning at least, the-taste-of-sake.com appears to be offline. Curiously, they didn't just remove the products from their site, the php files themselves were deleted. Every single image, file and scrap of code is gone. I'm glad you took those screenshots for your post. I looked at the google cache and the last snapshot of the site homepage was Sep 15, 2016 07:38:43 GMT

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:i0izD2l1lrAJ:www.the-taste-of-sake.com/&num=1&hl=en&gl=us&strip=0&vwsrc=0

rocco@mulvanewineco said...

It sounds a little fugazy to me. What's the probability that ToS , or anyone for that matter has 78/78 of WA rated sakes? Also what is the probability that sakes that were randomly tasted all score 90 and above? Either the sake is that good, or WA scoring is too liberal!

the boris said...

And there goes one more nail in the coffin of the idiotic point-rating magazine scheme. I generally find that people who spend extra money for high-point wines or Sake, very often get what they deserve - mediocre wine that someone has a covert financial interest in.

Unknown said...

As pinotdroit mentioned, The Taste of Sake is a related company of Millesimes, and the president of Millesimes, Mr. Ernest Singer helped creating the sake list for the issue. So Mr. Singer might have a chance to know the entire list in advance. At least he knew part of it.

Chardonnay said...



The Taste of Sake website is registered to Asian Business Consultants. Asian Business consultants is a related company of Millisimes. As shown on their website (in Japanese) here.

http://www.millesimes.co.jp/company/company.shtml

If you look up the web registration on this site: www.aguse.jp (go to the site and type in the address www.the-taste-of-sake.com) you will see that the site lists its contact details as Asian Business Consultants with the contact e-mail of erobert@millisimes.co.jp !! So there is clear evidence that the Taste of Sake is related to Millisimes.

As mentioned Millisimes is run by Mr Singer who is the representative of Robert Parker in Japan. In this interview (in Japanese) with one of Japan's top journalists it is mentioned that he is responsible for assembling the selection of the 800 samples that were tasted. http://winereport.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-2553.html




Chardonnay said...

Mr Hirokazu Yoshida - President of Taste of Sake is ex-Millesimes staff. See link below:

http://www.golanwines.co.il/en/Disributors/Asia/Millesimes

pinotdroit said...

According to www.aguse.jp, the site www.robertparker.co.jp/ is managed by Asia Business Consultants, same as www.the-taste-of-sake.com!