You used to write a wine column for Slate, quite a departure from foreign affairs and politics. How did that start?
My first boss at The New Republic, Mike Kinsley, was starting up Slate magazine [in 1996] and asked me if I would write a column on foreign affairs. But I had just agreed to write a column for Newsweek. So I said, "I'll tell you, there's something I know as much about as I know about foreign policy, which is wine. Do you want me to try that?" I was so nervous about it that the first two columns were actually pseudonymous.
What was your pseudonym?
This will mark me as a nerd forever. It was George Saintsbury. George Saintsbury was the first great wine writer. He wrote a famous book [in 1920]—famous in the obscure world of wine—called Notes on a Cellar-Book. I still use his name as my handle every now and then on the theory that nobody would have taken it.
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What first sparked your interest in wine?
The master of my college at Yale was interested in wine and he would hold tastings for students. He was a history professor, so he was able to talk about the history and geography of the wines, and I just loved that. And then as a bonus I really liked the taste.