The budgetary ax cuts Slate’s wine column

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Mike Steinberger tweeted that along with the high-profile layoffs announced yesterday at Slate, his wine column also fell victim the budgetary ax. While the decision may seem penny-wise for the bean counters at Washington Post (Slate’s parent), it’s pound-foolish to cut an original column with great substance; what are they going to run now, lower-cost, pageview-baiting slideshows? Ugh. It’s too bad since I have tremendous respect for the publication, both the crackling editorial and the internet-only, free model from their first day of publication.

Mike writes with tremendous verve, brio, wit, knowledge, and a nose for a good story as well as a great wine; this is a major blow for wine writing. Fortunately, his writing will continue on his blog, WineDiarist.com. Check it out, subscribe, do what it takes to keep his writing coming.

Since Mike would probably never do a roundup of his own columns, and you probably don’t have anything better to do on this rainy, August afternoon, here are a select few nuggets from his run there, 2002 – 2011.

Perhaps his most serious (and lengthy) piece was: What’s in the Bottle? An investigation into the startling fraud accusations that have upended the fine wine world.

He had a touching quest with his dad for 1996 Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne: An Oenophile and His Money: Is any bottle of wine worth $700?

And some more rarefied juice: “The Greatest Wine on the Planet
How the ’47 Cheval Blanc, a defective wine from an aberrant year, got so good.

Taking on big targets: “Grape Rot: The new Wine Spectator’s distinct aroma of fishiness.

Who will ever forget his takedown of Sauvignon blanc? “Why Sauvignon Blanc is overrated

Style and substance: “Cold Shower–How to spit with the wine pros.

He was early to the story of double-entry bookkeeping: “Grape Deceptions: Why most wine collectors are also compulsive liars.

A three-part examination of the physiology of taste: “Am I a Supertaster? The physiology of the wine critic.

How kosher wine got good: “Sure Beats Manischewitz: The revolution in kosher wine.

Sour Grapes: Why is there no such thing as a good, low-priced California wine?

Who’s To Blame for Expensive Wine? The trouble with Robert Parker’s point system.

His first Slate column, July 17, 2002: “The Great and Powerful Shnoz–Does the emperor of wine have any clothes?

See the complete list
Mike’s blog: WineDiarist.com

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11 Responses to “The budgetary ax cuts Slate’s wine column”


  1. This is a huge loss for wine lovers. Damn.


  2. This is a damn shame, but I’m as confident as I am hopeful that Michael Steinberger’s incisive perspective on wine will survive on an equally visible and influential platform. The New York Times, for one, needs a voice with more grounding and interest in New World wines, but as a supplement to the fine work by Eric Asimov, not a successor. Thanks for these helpful and valuable links.


  3. [...] latest round of layoffs. His column will be sorely missed, but I’m excited for whatever’s next. As Dr. Vino wrote, Steinberger “writes with tremendous verve, brio, wit, knowledge, and a nose for a good story as [...]


  4. It would be great if he could take over for the imbeciles at The Wall Street Journal. Jay is a complete lightweight and a serial name-dropper (it isn’t about wine, it’s about Jay!) and Lettie isn’t much better. Her columns have the weight of meringue and about as much substance, not to mention that they read like diary entries (me, me, me!). They are just awful.


  5. Definitely sad to see another national wine column ended, I’m sure that someone of Mike’s stature and ability will land on his feet.

    I’d also say that you might want to rethink your respect for the Internet free model of publication. Hasn’t exactly worked out and no one has made it work yet (making it work=turning a profit so you can stay in business).


  6. One I’ve read out loud many, many times: “Wine for Tightwads. Cheap wine you can actually drink.” http://www.slate.com/id/2085758


  7. Sadly it’s a problem manifesting over several years (since 2004 IMO) with practically all publications: they cut back or eliminate the fun and ingaging things (art, good writing, non-stock photography) that made the publication worth reading in the first place. And when it happens not enuff people ever complain, so it becomes a standard practice.


  8. Phil – I’ve always admired Slate’s writing. And I’ve been impressed that they have been able to make a go of it solely based on internet sales. But maybe they haven’t. Microsoft may well have been using it as a loss-leader when they founded it; WaPo may have purchased it for prestige (or to lead their online presence) rather than profits. Whatever the case, it appears the model is not working, which is too bad. Journalism has yet to grasp a business model that works today.

    Maybe Lucky Peach offers some clue? Here’s a NYT story about it if you’re not familiar with it.


  9. Actually, Slate tried and failed a subscription model. They evolved back to “free” because subscriptions failed, not because of a corporate philosophy.


  10. Is it true that the WSJ is planning a celebrity and wine column?(Fall). It would be nice if Mike could land a spot there. I’ve enjoyed his writing and always learn something from him.


  11. James, Yes, they did try unsuccessfully to add a paywall in 1998. Maybe now with the WSJ and NYT (semi-permeable) paywalls in place, there would be more appetite for readers paying for content?

    There’s a provocative call out now from Paul Smalera to “reboot” Slate and have them devise a new business plan. “What Slate needs is a CEO, someone who can lead a spinoff, attract venture capital, talent in the engineering, sales and business staffs with the prospects of equity and a clean, er, slate, with which to reinvent the modern online magazine.”

    Here’s a link to a summary.

    Carle – I had not heard about the “celebrity” wine column in the WSJ. It sounds frightening. Too bad Mike is not a celebrity–unless he has an upcoming reality TV show that I don’t know about.


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