A wine with a good back story is one thing, but when you find a good wine with a great back story, it makes the drinking all the better.
The South Eastern Australian line of wines 19 Crimes — a red blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon — are well crafted and honor the ancestors of 20 percent of the country’s population, the criminals who were transported there from Great Britain over an 80-year period.
From 1788 to 1868, it didn’t take much to win a free trip to Australia, complete with food and lodging at one of the country’s fine penal colonies. In fact, during that period, about 162,000 men and women were shipped to the antipodes — sentenced to “transportation,” according to the Australian government website.
Most of those who were punished by transportation were nabbed for petty larceny or stealing, but others were put on the boat for such offenses as impersonating an Egyptian (hanging out with gypsies or posing as a fortune teller), counterfeiting a copper coin, stealing a shroud from a grave or having a clandestine marriage. And you wouldn’t want to get caught for abducting an heiress or opposing the reading of the riot act at a meeting of 12 or more, a posting on the National Museum of Australia’s website says.
There were more than 19 minor and major offenses that qualified for transportation, but the wine draws its name from a list of 19 that was allegedly posted during the 80-year period.
More serious crimes, such as murder and rape, drew the death penalty, which, along with transportation, helped keep down the prison population in Great Britain.
One of the convicts lucky enough to escape the noose after he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years for being part of the Fenian conspiracy, a group that opposed British rule in Ireland, was John Boyle O’Reilly. A photograph of the young O’Reilly in convict garb is featured on the label of the 2014 vintage of 19 Crimes Red Wine.
O’Reilly was well known in Massachusetts, where he advocated for Ireland’s independence by the use of peaceful means and raising the self esteem of the Irish people. There also is a 135-year-old club in Springfield that bears his name, and a bronze sculpture in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood honors O’Reilly and his work as a newspaper editor, poet, and author.
But when he arrived in Western Australia on Jan. 9, 1868, at the age of 24, O’Reilly’s life didn’t look so promising, and by the end of the year, he had attempted suicide. A few months later, however, his life was a little brighter after he was able to pull off a harrowing escape with the help of a friendly Catholic priest and a couple of American whaling ship captains.
O’Reilly found a home in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood with its large Irish population and went to work for The Pilot, a newspaper known as the voice for Irish Americans, according to the biography published on the website of the John Boyle O’Reilly Club.
He used The Pilot to rail against discrimination, and became a prominent journalist of his day, promoting the rights of Jews, Native Americans and blacks as well as the Irish.
O’Reilly authored four volumes of poems, a novel, Moondyne, based on his time in Australia and collaborated on another novel, The King’s Men. His best known poem is “The Cry of the Dreamer,” which was set to music by Irish folk singer Sean Tyrrell and is on YouTube.
Also on YouTube and at 19crimes.com is a very entertaining clip re-enacting O’Reilly’s transportation to Australia.
The 19 Crimes Red Wine is produced by one of the oldest names in Australian winemaking, Baileys of Glenrowan, a company that’s been around for more than 140 years in the Victoria wine district, and is the maker of highly respected wines.
For the 2014 vintage of 19 Crimes, winemaker Paul Dahlenburg created a blend of Shiraz, Sangiovese and Grenache, aged it for six months in oak and turned out a full-flavored wine with a smooth finish.
The wine, first introduced in Canada in 2011, is now widely available across the U.S., including the Pioneer Valley, and it’s a great bargain. I’ve found it for less than $10 a bottle.
For the amusement of the wine’s consumers, each of the crimes that would have sent convicts to Australia is listed separately on the corks in the 19 Crimes bottles. You can pull the cork and see what crime has been committed and, perhaps, share a little empathy with the men and women who founded a nation. You might even want to raise a glass of the wine that honors them.
This is a wine to have fun with and to enjoy with a leg of lamb, hardy soup, stew or chili. Check it out.•
Recommendations for wines in the $10 range are always appreciated.
Warren Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.