Making bad wine isn’t a crime, but it probably should be. How many times have you dropped some hard-earned cash for a bottle advertised as a fine vintage that turned out to be useful for nothing more than marinating tough meat? It’s like stealing, damnit!
Turns out that stealing used to get you a one-way ticket from England to Australia, back when the latter was considered one step above Purgatory rather than a vacation destination.
Petty theft was just one of the 19 crimes for which bad guys and gals could get sent to the British Empire’s furthest corner in the late 18th Century. Stealing fish and bigamy were also “transportable” crimes. America had recently earned its independence, so the colonies were no longer a dumping ground for British baddies, leaving the Land Down Under as the preferred destination.
The handsome, but scowling, young lad on the bottle is Mr. John Boyle O’Reilly, an Irish-born poet and novelist who was shipped to Australia after being given a reprieve from the death penalty. His troubles began when he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and eventually was convicted of supporting an armed uprising against the British government. Apparently being a Republican in those days was a severe crime. Hmmm.
It’s not clear from the winery’s website exactly how the scion of the Bailey’s of Glenrowan winery, Mr. Richard Bailey, ended up down under. But we can be glad that he did. And we can be glad that his descendants have a sense of history — and a knack for making good wine.
The 19 Crimes 2012 Red Blend is an excellent table wine with balanced berry and spice notes. It’s strong enough to stand up to a hearty meal, but smooth enough to be enjoyed while impersonating an Egyptian (another of the 19 crimes punishable by “transportation”). This medium-bodied blend of Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon manages to retain its unique character despite its mutt origins — kinda like the place where it’s born.
The winery is located in Victoria, in southeastern Australia. It was established in 1870 when Mr. Bailey, a former shopkeeper, needed to find a new gig after the gold rush dried up and took much of his mercantile business with it.
Just as well. Nobody remembers the guy who sold salt pork and dungarees to ex-cons-turned-gold-miners. But plant some grapes, and you can grow a legacy that extends for generations.
That alone ought to make up for whatever crime ol’ Richard Bailey — or his forebears committed — to get a one-way ticket to Aussie Land. Was he the child of a clandestine marriage? Was his old man a riverboat captain who carried too many passengers on the Thames? Or was he just an incorrigible rogue? Any of the above was enough to get banished from Britain proper.
Whatever the case, it is well that he ended up in what has become one of the world’s finest wine regions, and that we can pick up one of his family’s wines for around $10 at the local Fred Meyer. 19 Crimes has a 2012 shiraz and shiraz grenache on shelves now. It would be a crime not to give them a try.
Aromatique: Spicy with berry and plum undertones.
Sip Quips: In the glass, the berry comes to the fore, with a hint of spice, and round finish.
Kitchen Couplings: Pork, seafood, lamb chops. Medium cheeses.