"A wine merchant makes a New Year wish"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted December 22, 2013
Gay / Lesbian Romance
SYRAH is another name for the Shiraz grape used to make a
rich dark red wine. On Christmas Eve, as snow falls in
Portland, wine merchant Royce gets a late customer. This
friendly man, Shawn, needs to bring a few bottles to a
family gathering, and while he likes wine he doesn't know
much about it. Well, that's something Royce can help
with. To sip with the ham and green bean casserole he
recommends a Grenache, and to complement the chocolate cake
and blueberry cobbler, a Syrah.
Shawn hasn't mentioned bringing a significant other along,
but even if he's single and gorgeous, that needn't mean
he's gay, and Royce doesn't want to be too friendly with a
first-time customer. He'd like to see Shawn again, and
wishes him a good Christmas. By the time Shawn reappears
looking for wine for a New Year party, Royce has adopted a
calico kitten, which helps to break the ice. Next Shawn
turns up to one of the store's popular wine tasting
evenings. Is it just the chance to learn about wine that
keeps bringing him around, or could Royce be about to get
his New Year wish come true?
There's easy reading wine information through this
pleasantly chatty story, such as about how Californian and
French Chardonnay wines differ, and why one white tastes of
peaches but another of pears. A taste of food alters the
flavour of the wine, which is why wine and cheese evenings
are popular. The setting of Portland is well described,
with some history thrown in, and just out of town there's a
vineyard to visit. The nature of Shawn's relationship with
Royce however becomes a major issue with his elderly, old-
fashioned employer, who doesn't mind having a gay person in
the workplace but refuses to sell his business to Shawn as
he'd been hoping. This old man just doesn't want his firm
owned by someone who dates other men.
While this short novel by Nessa Warin is a male romance it
is mainly about people living their busy lives, with less
focus on the bedroom than in some other gay stories, and
SYRAH should appeal to a wide variety of readers. I thought
it was well written and
good for a night by the fire with a warming glass of wine.
Learn more about Syrah
All Corked Up: Book One
All Shawn Neale is looking for when he stumbles into All
Corked Up on Christmas Eve is some wine recommendations.
What he finds is an instant attraction to Royce Wilkinson,
the shop’s owner. After a few weeks of flirting during
shopping and some semi-dates at Royce’s wine tastings, they
decide on a real date. It goes well, but life isn’t that
Shawn wants to buy Delicto, the local pub he manages. He’s
been planning his life around this for years, but when the
owner, who believes being gay is an illness, discovers Shawn
went out with Royce, he gives Shawn an ultimatum: stop
dating guys or he won’t get to buy Delicto. It’s a
heartbreaking quandary: Can Royce and Shawn be happy with a
secret relationship until Shawn buys Delicto or is Shawn
going to have to choose between his dream job and his dream
ExcerptTHE jingling of the door chimes startled Royce from his
contemplation of the unusual snow falling outside, covering
the roads and sidewalks faster than the deicer could melt
it. He turned, a ready smile on his face as he tried to hide
his surprise that he was getting a customer now—after nearly
two hours without any and an hour of wondering if he should
close like every other business in Portland—and rested his
hands on the wooden counter he'd been leaning against.
"Welcome to All Corked Up. Can I help you find something?"
"I am so glad you're here." The customer pulled off a pair
of black leather gloves and dropped them on the counter next
to the computer before he pulled down the red scarf wrapped
around his face and grinned. "The other place I tried was
closed because the roads are freezing, and everywhere else
is completely out of my way. I thought I was going to have
to get wine from the grocery store, and that would have been
"Their selection isn't horrible," Royce offered
diplomatically as he looked up—and up—to meet the man's
eyes. His heart twisted a little as he took in the guy's
chiseled good looks, and he reminded himself that hitting on
a first-time customer was a really bad idea, despite the
mostly accepting atmosphere of Portland. Royce wasn't in the
closet, per se, but he didn't walk around advertising he was
gay either. Conservatives liked to drink wine too, and
unless they came in ranting about things that would offend
him, his employees, or his customers, Royce didn't mind
selling it to them. "If you know what you're looking for,
you can usually find something worth buying there."
"That's the problem." The man twisted his lips up into a wry
grin, and Royce's stomach flipped. He haddimples. "I don't
know what I'm looking for." He leaned forward, resting his
hands on the counter, and looked Royce straight in the eyes.
"You have to help me. Please."
"I can try," Royce assured him. He could easily guess what
the man wanted help with, but even if he was wrong, he
wasn't about to turn away a tall, built guy with hazel eyes
and a gorgeous smile. "What are you looking for?"
"Um…." The guy rubbed at the back of his neck and ducked his
Royce pointedly looked over his store. The counter he was
standing behind was mostly devoted to the computers he used
as registers, but there were open cases of wine behind it
and wine accessories on either side and between the two
computers. In the back corner was a wooden bar with a
refrigerator underneath and a few bottles of resealed red
wine sitting on the counter behind it. Three of the walls
were devoted to shelves full of wine organized by region and
type, bins in the middle held more bottles, and several
cases were arranged in artful displays not too far from the
bar. There was a cooler along one wall, holding prechilled
whites and rosés, and the other room, where he held
tastings, had another bar and several cases of wine stacked
along the walls.
"I think I can help with that," he said dryly when his gaze
returned to the man on the other side of the counter. "What
kind of wine would you like?"
"Yeah, see, that's the problem. I don't—" He shook his head.
"I like wine. It's just, I tend to hang out with people who
prefer beer, you know? I usually only have wine with my
family or get whatever the server recommends at a restaurant
if I want to splurge. But my sister-in-law is hosting
Christmas dinner tonight, and she always brings a bottle of
something that tastes amazing with whatever my mom cooks for
Royce chuckled. "And she told you to bring the wine this time?"
"Well, my mom did, but yeah. Karen is making the ham and the
green bean casserole and my mom and my sister are bringing
the other sides. I would bring one too—I have this amazing
spinach casserole that I love to make and sometimes I even
actually mash potatoes—but we've been really busy at work
and I've been pulling extra shifts. I knew I wouldn't have
time to cook, so Mom told me to just bring the wine. Only, I
forgot last week and I ended up working this morning.
Everywhere is closing early because it's Christmas Eve and
it's snowing. I can't just bring a bottle I grab at random
off the grocery store shelf to Karen's."
His chest was heaving when he finished, and Royce's brain
was scrambled from trying to keep up. "Do you always talk
this much?" He didn't mean to say it aloud, but the words
left his mouth before his brain could tell his lips it
wasn't a good idea. "Shit. Sorry. I don't usually—"
The guy chuckled self-deprecatingly. "It's fine. I know I
can be a little, ah, overwhelming." He flashed a grin that
made Royce's heart thud wildly in his chest. "I guess you
don't usually have customers coming in and spilling their
life stories to you?"
"Not before they've sampled a few at the tasting bar."
The guy's chuckle turned into a full-fledged laugh. He threw
his head back, clutched at his stomach, and almost smacked
his forehead on the counter when he bent over. His whole
body shook, and it was a good minute before he managed to
look up and meet Royce's eyes again. "I'll try to keep that
in mind. No life stories sober. Got it."
Royce actually wanted to hear this guy's life story, but
saying so might come across as a little creepy. "I don't
mind," he said instead, flashing what he hoped was an
indulgent grin. "It's more entertaining than watching the
"I don't know." The guy peered around Royce to look out the
window behind him. "It's coming down hard. Might be a good
"From the safety of my living room, sure. Not when I have to
think about going out in it later." If things went to plan,
he wouldn't have to step outside at all until the snow
stopped, but at the very least he'd have to go out and clear
the sidewalk later. It was a liability to leave it icy.
"How much later?"
The sign on the door said eight, but with the way the snow
was falling, Royce knew he wouldn't stay open another four
hours. "I was thinking about closing when you came in,
"You should. Well, I hope you'll help me first, because I
really can't go to Karen's with something I grab at random
from the grocery store, but after I leave. When I leave.
He looked so earnest Royce had to laugh. "I might."
"Great!" The guy rubbed at the back of his neck. "So, uh,
what should I take to dinner tonight? Please tell me you
have some ideas."
Royce did. He needed more information before he gave any
suggestions. He would really like it if this particular
customer became a regular—for the eye candy if nothing
else—but he definitely had a few bottles in mind. "You
mentioned ham and green beans. What else are you having?"
"Mom's making sweet potatoes, and Megan—that's my sister—is
making my spinach casserole. I think she's bringing
cranberry sauce too, but just the kind from a can. Oh, and
my dad bought dessert. Chocolate cream pie and blueberry
cobbler, I think." He held his hand out over the counter.
"I'm Shawn, by the way. I figured since I'm telling you half
my family's names you should know mine too."
Royce took it and shook firmly, marveling at the way Shawn's
hand wrapped completely around his. "Royce Wilkinson. Owner
of this place."
"No shit? Really? And you're working on Christmas Eve?"
"It's not exactly fair to expect my employees to work today
if I'm not willing to." Royce headed around the counter so
he could show Shawn through the store. "Besides, they all
have family in town. Mine isn't supposed to get here until
about eight thirty tonight. If they're not delayed," he
added wryly, glancing over his shoulder at the snow
blanketing the ground. "It might be later, the way this is
"Are they flying or driving?" Shawn fell into step as Royce
led the way to the back of the store.
"Driving, thankfully. If they were flying, I don't know that
they'd get in at all. At least if they have to stop, they
can find a motel and not be stuck in an airport." Royce
stopped in front of the section of French wines. "Do you
have a preference for white or red?"
Shawn looked flummoxed. "Um. No? I mean, I usually drink
red, but I like white too. What do you think we should have?"
"Personally, I would suggest red. But I can find a white
that would go well with your meal too, if you'd prefer."
Royce crouched down in front of the shelf, then twisted to
look up at Shawn. He looked like a giant from this angle.
"There are several of either that would work well with ham."
"I think everyone coming drinks red, so let's go with that."
Shawn crouched down next to Royce, knocking their knees
together and almost sending Royce tumbling to the ground. He
grabbed Royce, steadying him, and Royce had to work hard to
focus on the wine in front of him instead of the warm hand
curled around his shoulder.
"Okay, well, I would recommend either a Rasteau, the Meiomi
Pinot Noir, or the Atteca Grenache," Royce said, pointing to
three bottles on the lower shelves. "The Rasteau is the
lightest, best if you have people who prefer whites or
rosés, and the Meiomi Pinot is our most popular of these,
but for what you're having, I'd pick the Grenache."
Shawn looked at all three bottles, pulled them off the shelf
one at a time, rolled them over, and read the descriptions
on the back. "This one?" he asked, holding up the last one.
"It's what I'm serving tomorrow."
"Will it go with dessert too, or should I get a different
bottle for that?"
"For chocolate cream pie and blueberry cobbler? I'd
recommend either a Pinot Noir or a Syrah." Royce pointed to
a bottle of Pinot Noir just above his head. "This is one of
my favorite Pinots. Very good, but less expensive than the
Meiomi, by about ten bucks a bottle, so for the money…."
"I'll take it." Shawn grabbed the bottle of HobNob Pinot
Noir off the shelf, along with two bottles of Atteca
Grenache. "Karen is the only one who really knows a lot
about wine. My mom wouldn't notice if I brought wine in a box."
Royce shuddered, glad Shawn at least knew enough not to get
that, even if he was otherwise clueless. "Wow."
"Yeah. I didn't even like that back in college. I'm not
bringing it to Christmas dinner." Shawn flashed a grin as he
climbed to his feet and held up the bottles. "Is this going
to be enough? There are six of us drinking. Maybe seven if
Meg brings her boyfriend."
"Depends on how much you want to drink." Royce said as he
eyed the bottles thoughtfully. "That'll give you about two
glasses each with dinner and one with dessert."
"Grab me another one of each." Shawn nudged Royce's shoulder
as he tucked the bottles back into his arms. "I'd rather
have too much than not enough. It'll keep, right?"
Royce grabbed the bottles off the shelf and started back
toward the register. His shoulder was tingling where Shawn
had bumped him, and he couldn't stop smiling despite the
knowledge that he might never see this particular customer
again. "If you don't open them. Or you can seal them with a
vacuum sealer and they'll keep for about a week."
"Do you sell those?"
Royce set the bottles on the counter. "Yeah, but your
sister-in-law probably already has one if she likes wine."
"Not with my luck." Shawn set the bottles he was carrying
down and turned to look at Royce with a teasing smile on his
lips. "Besides, aren't you supposed to want to sell me things?"
"I think you're buying enough." Royce chuckled as he crossed
to the shelf and grabbed one of the vacuum sealers with a
spare plug. "But if you really want to spend more, far be it
from me to stop you."
Shawn took the package, read the back, and tossed it on the
counter. "Hey, if I buy this, I'll have to come back and buy
more wine some time so I know I'm getting my money's worth
out of it."
"Oh well, in that case, I think I need to insist that you
buy it." Royce couldn't stop grinning as he moved around the
counter and pulled up the computer. "Did you want to create
an account here? I send out newsletters with specials and
details on our upcoming wine tastings."
"Is it from you personally?"
Shawn's smile made Royce's knees go week. He leaned heavily
on the counter and reminded himself that just because the
guy was friendly, gorgeous, and hadn't mentioned bringing
any sort of significant other to Christmas dinner, it didn't
mean he was available or interested. He was a customer, not
someone Royce was chatting up in the bar. "No," he managed,
"it's from the store."
"Shame." Shawn gave his e-mail address anyway, revealed that
his last name was Neale, and paid with a credit card. While
Royce packed up the wine in a carry box, Shawn pulled his
gloves back on. "Thanks." He curled his fingers around the
handle of the box. Royce swore that he felt a little tingle
even through Shawn's gloves. "Really. You saved me from
"Just doing my civic duty."
"Right. It's so helpful to society for you to stay open on a
snowy day just so I can bring the right wine to my Christmas
"Well, if you were embarrassed, who knows what you might do?
It could be bad."
"Oh, absolutely." Royce managed to keep a straight face
longer than Shawn, but he lost it the minute Shawn started
laughing, and ended up doubled over the counter despite the
fact that it wasn't that funny. Shawn's laughter was
impossible to resist.
It was a few minutes before he was able to straighten.
"Enjoy your Christmas dinner," Royce said.
"Thanks." Shawn took the wine and grinned. "You too. I'll,
uh, see you around." He pushed the scarf back up over his
face and disappeared out the door.
Royce watched him go with a fond smile on his face. It
wasn't likely that he meant what Royce hoped he meant, but
even repeat business would be good. And repeat business from
Shawn? Even the idea of it made staying open through the
snow worth every bit of the hassle it was going to take to
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