Last week I received the sad news that Howard Goldberg, a longtime editor and wine writer for the New York Times, had died. He was 86.
Goldberg was a journalist of the old school, a veteran of the Times, where he began in 1970 and rose to senior editor for the Opinion page. He started writing about wine for the paper in 1984.
I first met Howard in 1990 at the International Wine Center (IWC) in New York. New to the city, I had signed on as a teaching assistant, setting up and breaking down tastings to further my wine education. Goldberg sat in with the Wednesday Night Wine Club as a participant, also to pursue his interest in wine.
As a journalist, he had humility and strong ethics. “Howard had an open invitation to attend, and often did, but he attended as a simple participant,” said Mary Ewing-Mulligan, IWC’s owner. “He had too much humility to share the head table with us; I believe he saw himself as a student of wine rather than as any kind of authority. And his principles as a New York Times writer, before the days of his wine column and after, held so much importance to him that he would not risk even the appearance of impropriety by seeming to be partial to one producer or trade organization over another.”
Soft spoken and kind, Goldberg had an incessant curiosity and passion about wine that made him a regular at wine events in New York in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s. “He was a fixture at so many Lauber tastings, where we met in the early ’90s,” recalled Tony DiDio, who worked for Lauber Imports for 16 years before founding Tony DiDio Selections in 2009. “We became fast friends, as I was in awe of his knowledge, both of wine and the world. His encyclopedic knowledge of wine and the wine world, set him apart from most journalists, for it was coupled with honesty and passion.”
I last saw Howard in August 2018, when he dropped by Wine Spectator’s offices before going to lunch with the magazine’s then–executive editor, Thomas Matthews. He looked frail and had recently lost his wife of nearly 50 years, Beatrice.
Tom reported that Howard had enjoyed a glass of Italian white wine with a dish of linguine with clams, but confessed that he had largely stopped drinking any kind of alcohol. “He was saddened by that,” Tom reported, “but he said his memories of many great wines enjoyed over the years kept him company.”
Wine writer Peter Hellman, who lived in the same building and became more friendly with Goldberg after Beatrice’s passing, relates that Howard’s father had a small variety store for a time in Pleasantville, N.Y. “As a young boy, Howard’s job was to go early in the morning to meet the train and pick up the bundled newspapers to bring back to his father’s store,” said Hellman via email. “He loved the scent of ink still fresh on newsprint, and that was the beginning of his affair with newspapers.”
Though he retired from the Times in 2004, Goldberg continued to write about Long Island wines through 2013. He also wrote two books: The Complete Wine Cellar System (2003) and All About Wine Cellars (2004). His articles were part of The New York Times Book of Wine (2012), a compendium of columns from various Times wine writers. He contributed wine stories to other publications and developed a significant following for his trenchant observations on Twitter.
Aldo Sohm, wine director for Le Bernardin and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in New York, met Goldberg in 2004. “He was classy, full of life experience and knowledge. So thoughtful, he listened so closely and he expressed himself eloquently, yet never short of wit and humor,” he recalled. “When people in Europe asked me to describe a New Yorker, I often described Howard. He was also the one who first wrote about me in the very beginning. I’ve never forgotten that.”
It was that generosity and kindness I remember most about Goldberg. He always had kind words, especially for younger wine professionals, and was thoughtful and witty. Though he may have been from another era of journalism, his passion, endless curiosity and high ethical standards were traits all journalists should aspire to today.