Excerpt – A Taste for It

Chapter One

Maura picked up her wineglass and spoke in a low, sexy voice. ‘I’m rich and full-bodied and you’ll savour my taste for a long, long time.’

‘It’s a wine label not Playboy magazine,’ her brother Nick said under his breath, not looking up from his writing-pad.

Maura took another sip of red wine and tried again. ‘What about ‘fruitier than Carmen Miranda’s hat and a lot easier to carry?’

Nick didn’t even smile. ‘Maura, you’re not taking this seriously, are you?’ He ripped out another page of scribbled notes from his writing-pad and threw it onto the growing pile on the floor.

She had been taking the label-writing seriously. For the first four days anyway. But they were now into day five of the process and she was rapidly running out of adjectives.

They went through this several times a year, when the various blends Nick made in their small winery were ready for bottling. Nick was usually very easy-going, but he fell into a high anxiety state when it came to his labels. He was convinced the perfect combination of words hinting at full flavours and bursting taste sensations produced extra sales.

Maura softened as she looked at her brother’s worried expression. ‘Nick, your wine is so good, it doesn’t matter what’s written on the label. Let’s just tell it like it is. “Here’s a fantastic Shiraz. It was made in South Australia. We hope you enjoy it.”’

‘No, far too straightforward. This is the wine industry, remember?’ He looked up at her with a glimmer of a grin. ‘Besides, I want it to be extravagant. There are three years of my life in those bottles.’

There was silence again as they both bent back over their notes. Maura surreptitiously checked her watch. She had half an hour before she had to start preparing for today’s lunch crowd. She picked up her glass again, letting the morning sunlight stream through the deep red wine.

‘What about “ruby rich in flavour, colour and appeal, a gem among Clare Valley reds”?’

‘Now, that’s more like it.’ Nick actually smiled, scribbling down her suggestion.

The sudden peal of the telephone made them both jump.

Maura got to it first. ‘Lorikeet Hill Winery Café, good morning.’ Her voice warmed. ‘Joel, hello! How are you?’

Nick looked up as Maura walked out into the garden with the portable phone. That would be the last he’d see of her for a while, if her usual conversations with Joel were any guide. Maura and Joel had become friends when she had lived in Sydney, where Joel worked as a freelance food writer. He moved from office to office, usually finding time to ring Maura for a good long catch-up at some editor’s expense.

Nick was surprised when she came back into the reception area less than five minutes later, a mischievous smile on her face.

‘I’ve got some news,’ she said.

That was no shock. Joel was the gossip king of the food world. Nick waited.

‘The Diner, the OzTaste magazine food critic, is coming here today.’

‘What! The Diner! How on earth does Joel know that?’

Maura sat down. ‘He was calling from the OzTaste office. He just happened to see a confidential list of the critic’s restaurant visits this month. And he just happened to read it closely and notice we’re the lucky one for today. Apparently The Diner’s travelling around the country with his wife reviewing regional restaurants.’

Nick looked worried. ‘That’s really bad news, isn’t it? Isn’t he the one who closed down Gemma’s restaurant?’

Maura nodded. Several years previously her friend Gemma had opened a small bistro in Sydney. All had gone well until The Diner had visited and written a vicious – and factually incorrect – review. Overnight it had destroyed her trade. Gemma had demanded an apology from the editor, and had received a well-hidden two-line retraction in the next issue. But the damage had been done. The customers had stayed away in droves.

‘Did Joel have any good news?’ Nick asked.

Maura smiled broadly. ‘Today’s review will never be published. OzTaste magazine is closing down. Joel’s heard the publisher’s been taken over by some international magazine group and there’s going to be a big change in direction. But it’s still hush-hush and the Diner wouldn’t have heard the news yet.’

‘So he’ll soon be out of a job?’

‘Just like Gemma was when he closed her restaurant.’

They were silent for a moment.

‘If this is going to be his last free meal, we really should make sure it’s one to remember, shouldn’t we?’ Maura said thoughtfully.

‘Make sure he never forgets us, do you mean?’

‘Pull out all the stops,’ she grinned.