As part of our mission here at Why Daddy Drinks to revel in the humorous lunacy that is fatherhood, and to promote the drinking of quality beverages, we bring you our erratically scheduled segment highlighting something that should be in your glass. This is The Drink Of The Weekend.
I have always had a thing for Australia. It might have started back when I was a kid and Olivia Newton-John was singing and acting her way into my dreams when she was in “Grease”. I’m sure it involved kangaroos and koalas and the mystery of why these animals were only found in this strange land where everyone spoke English, yet also seemed to live about as far south as anyone could get without ending up in Antarctica.
And there’s no denying that Men At Work and their still-monstrous hit “Down Under” played its part in piquing my Aussie interest.
(True story: Men At Work’s “Business As Usual” was one of the first two cassette albums I ever bought. The other was the self-titled debut from Asia. You may laugh if you want, but I KNOW you are enjoying “Heat Of The Moment” as it plays in your head right now.)
Of course, as soon as “Down Under” was played for the first time, I knew it was a hit. I probably heard that song a thousand times before figuring out what a vegemite sandwich was. And once I eventually did try vegemite years later, I completely understood what someone meant when they had told me that vegemite was “something only an Australian could like.”
So, here was Australia, a country very much like America, but with just enough twists to make it “foreign”. Cars with right-handed steering. Driving on the left-hand side of the road. Kangaroos. Koalas. Platypuses. Crocodile Dundee. Baby-eating Dingoes. A prime minister who went swimming and disappeared. AC/DC. Mad Max. Oh, Lord, Mad Max. How awesome was Mad Max? He had torn up the Outback twice before The Terminator ever pulled a trigger.
And then there is how Australia came to be. The British thought so much (or, maybe it was so little?) of the place that they figured to turn the whole continent into one gigantic penal colony. Starting in 1788, the Brits began shipping some of their worst criminals approximately eight bazillion miles across the world in order for them to serve out their sentences under the auspices of the King’s legions and start a new colony, and eventual country.
Now, in order to get sent off to Australia, you had to do something pretty serious. In fact, the British came up with a list of 19 crimes that, if committed, could get someone shipped out to Sydney. Grand larceny. Bigamy. Stealing a shroud from a grave. Impersonating an Egyptian. (I am not making any of these up.) These were just some of the offenses that could end you up on the big boat Down Under. All in all, Britain sent about 164,000 cons to Australia over 80 years.
But, instead of being embarrassed about this colorful period in their past, Australians have embraced the fact that their country’s modern roots stem from a bunch of outlaws. From what I have gathered, it’s a Big Deal in Australia today if you can trace your ancestry back to one of the criminals that rode the boat over back in the 18th and 19th centuries and helped put Australia on the map. So, when I recently was in our local Cost Plus World Market and came across a brand of Australian wine called 19 Crimes, I knew I would be taking a bottle or two home.
Produced by the 19 Crimes Winery in Nurioopta in the state of South Australia, 19 Crimes celebrates Australia’s past via its really good wine that brings some of the country’s most-notorious to life. Or, at least as alive as augmented reality technology can.
The labels on each of 19 Crimes’ seven wines features a mug-shot image of a notorious criminal who survived the journey from Mother England to Australia. But, as traveling from England to Australia is much easier now than when the practice of “Punishment by Transportation” was in place, your smart phone makes learning about the criminals something more than just reading the small print on the wine bottle labels.
If you download an app called Living Wines and then use that app to scan a criminal’s image, the picture will start telling you his or her story. It’s not just audio, though. The image actually moves and speaks to you. And the one my wife and I recently tried, the 2016 cabernet savignon, allowed us to learn a bit about Michael Harrington. I had never heard of the guy before, but this is Harrington’s basic biography from the 19 Crimes website:
“A British conscript turned infamous convict, Michael Harrington is perhaps best known for orchestrating one of the most daring escapes from Australia. In 1876, Harrington, along with six others, braved a massive typhoon in nothing more than a tiny rowboat to board an American whaling ship in what is now remembered as The Catalpa Escape.”
An angry British army draftee. A typhoon. An American whaling ship? All that alone should make the guy a folk hero of some kind. Take out your phone, scan Harrington’s label and he will tell you, himself, his thoughts about how he ended up in Australia and why he thought his escape efforts were heroic. It’s more interesting than your typical wine bottle label.
The cab sav inside the bottle is pretty spot on, too, especially served up with a rare ribeye steak. And at $8.99 a bottle, the price is such that you can afford to learn about, and drink up more than one of Australia’s criminal founders.